2020 has eventually come, and in the run-up to the new decade, climate related issues are hotter than ever. The climate crisis can be a source of anxiety for many, as the feeling of helplessness can be overbearing for the ordinary, non-presidential and non-fossil-fuel-power-plant-owning people. Although it is true that we probably cannot make Donald Trump sign the Paris agreement any time soon, there are other ways we can make a contribution to the well-being of our Mother Earth.
Our shopping habits have a massive impact on the environment. Thousands of tonnes of clothing goes to landfill every year in the UK. We keep on buying new clothes, while our wardrobes are filled with unused items. So how can we stop this fashion crisis from getting worse? Hearing Greta Thunberg’s voice in your head saying, “How dare you!” every time you walk into H&M or log onto ASOS, will only make you feel ashamed, but probably won’t stop you from shopping. However, remember that there are ways that you can enjoy fashion without the guilt, and it will make you feel so much better than any number of cheap tops from Zara ever will. Here is a quick guide to sustainable shopping in the new decade.
5. Look closely at fabric compositions.
When assessing the sustainability of a piece of clothing, it is essential to look at the quality of the fabric. The little white label on the inside of your shirt does not only tell you whether to wash the shirt on 30 or 40℃, it can also give you an insight into the history of the clothing.
The evaluation process of fabrics demands not only information on the production of the fabrics, but also the extraction of the materials and (perhaps most notably) the biodegradability of the materials. What happens to these materials when they reach the end of their journey? With all of these elements in mind, the safest route to take is to stick with naturally sourced materials such as organic cotton, linen, hemp and other perhaps less known organic eco-friendly materials such as jute and Tencel. Another environmentally friendly group of materials are recycled fabrics. The use of recycled polyester (rPET) or recycled nylon (Econyl) has increased massively in the past few years. Neither Polyester nor Nylon are sustainable fabrics in themselves, as the production of the textiles demands huge amounts of water and fossil fueled energy. However, by recycling these materials and using them again to create new clothing, the use of the fabric is maximized and the need to keep producing new synthetic materials declines. Using recycled textile also give another life to clothing or other waste that has reached the end of its journey which helps reduce waste massively.
Tip: Try and do some research on what materials to stay away from and which to stick with. And look closely at care labels. What you’re ideally looking for is GOTS certifications, recycled and Fairtrade logos.
4. Think quality over quantity.
Changing the way we shop also means changing the way we see clothing. Clothes and fabrics truly are works of art, and they need to be seen as that. If you take care of what you have and see it as more than just something to use and then throw out, you will start to appreciate your wardrobe. One of the biggest contributors to the global carbon emissions today, in the constant consumption of clothes and appliances which are only used a few times before they go straight to the landfill. These commodities add very little to our lives and, due to their inexpensiveness, we do not really care enough about them to make sure they are well-maintained. This consumer mentality is what keeps the fast fashion industry in business. Today, almost everything is available to us. And with a constant pressure to keep up with every trend, the feeling of needing new clothes is constant. Nonetheless, no matter how much clothes you buy, it seems that it will never be enough. Nourishing the idea that we need to keep consuming to be on-trend, is how the majority of the fashion world make profit. We do, however have the choice to say no to this. Style is not about following trends, but about wearing things that make you feel good and confident.
The importance of good quality clothing cannot be stressed enough. As mentioned above, sticking to natural, environmentally friendly fabrics is sustainable in itself, but it also gives you longer-lasting articles of clothing which is both friendly towards our planet and your wallet. Although higher quality products often come at a higher price, they will last much longer than your average synthetic Zara T-shirt. In this way, the money you spend on sustainable items will be minuscule compared to the amount you spend on fast fashion items on average. The throwaway mentality that comes with buying clothes at reduced prices is the true threat to our planet at our personal budgets.
3. Second hand
Charity shopping, thrifting or vintage shopping. The growing trend of buying second hand is old but solid gold. Buying pre-used products is both affordable and leaves no ecological footprint. Although it is difficult to find the latest trend in charity shops, the feeling of finding a nice piece of clothing second hand is so much better than buying something at a low price from the New Look sales rack.
Buying second hand is not something that can only be done in local charity shops. Online thrifting, vintage shops, flea markets, outlets and even estate sales all offer second-hand products. Websites and apps such as Etsy and Depop are the thrift shop equivalent of online shopping and have become massively popular just within the last few years. The increased popularity of charity shopping has made it cool to express your style through unique, funky pieces. The shame of saying that you got something from a charity shop is practically non-existent today. When being asked where something has been bought, there is nothing cooler than to be able say that you got it from a charity shop.
Tip: Younger people often tend to look for either contemporary, on–trend pieces or older retro pieces, and tend to avoid styles from the 2000-2015 era. To find good retro pieces for example can therefore be difficult in areas where the demand for them is high. Try searching for second-hand shops in suburban areas or areas mostly inhabited by older people. Know what you are looking for and where to look for it. Second-hand shopping is truly an art that is tricky to master, so be patient and do not expect find gold every time.
2. If it’s broke, fix it.
Perhaps the future of fashion is not about innovation at all, but about going back to our roots. The eco-conscious wave of DIY-ing your wardrobe is not a contemporary trend. Buying textiles and sewing your own clothes used to be the way ordinary people would upgrade their wardrobes. Somehow, in the process of the modernisation of the textile industry, this tradition became less and less prominent. Most people today do not really know their way around a sewing machine because they don’t really need one. In recent years however, there has been a growing trend of sewing your own clothes. A lot of people who wish to take a stance against the fast fashion industry, choose to shop second hand and learn to use sewing tools to change and alter clothes to fit. By learning how to amend fabrics to fit you better, you get a better understanding of how articles of clothing are composed and how to fix them once they’re broken. For the average person, once a seam is torn or the zipper on your jeans is broken, the garment goes right in the bin. This response is again a result of the throwaway mentality behind fast fashion. If these trousers had sentimental value however, you probably would not be so quick to chuck them out. If a piece of clothing means something to you, you will try your best to mend what is broken. Why do we not have this approach to all of our clothes?
Next time your pants rip or you find a hole in your shoe, pull out the old thread and needle or check online for local tailors or dressmakers.
Tip: Many shops (usually independent) offer help and recommendations on good local tailors if you have fitting issues with items you have bought there.
1. Avoid being influenced by influencers
The main way social media influencers make profit is though payed sponsorships. Most fashion influencers have strong connections with the fast fashion industry. The posts made by influencers in sponsorship by Prettylittlething or Boohoo, are purely there to influence the viewers and persuade them into buying the products displayed. It is commercials disguised as personal opinions and genuine recommendations. That is what makes them so dangerous. Although we cannot stop influencers from influencing, we can choose to not be manipulated by them. If something is cheap, there is always a reason for it. Fast fashion retailers do not sell 5 quid shirts to be nice. The same goes for social media influencers. They do not give you 25% discount on websites to be nice. They do it to make money.
Fast fashion brands sell cheap products because they have found a way to mass produce low-quality products for a low price, and they know that the people who buy them will soon come back for seconds and thirds and fourths as these products rarely last longer than a year or two. In this way, fast-fashion brands manage to make more money than sustainable higher-end clothing manufacturers because they can count on people constantly coming back for more. This is what the fashion landscape has looked like for the last few decades. It’s all about consumption. But we, as consumers, can change this narrative and bring about change for the coming decades. Let’s go back to the old-school ethos of fashion. Let’s start valuing individuality, personal style and feeling good about what you’re wearing, rather than the amounts of clothes you have.
Bonus tip: Download sustainable fashion apps such as Good on You. Good on You tells you the environmental impact different fashion brand have and feature articles on sustainable fashion brands as well tips on how to be mindful of the environment while staying chic.
By Signe Loven