For as long as I can remember the catch phrase: reduce, re-use and recycle, has been building its power. It is a fabulous sentiment, but one that is still trying to become common practice. According to the World Resources Institute, the amount of water it takes to make one cotton shirt is the equivalent to the amount of water one person will drink in two and a half years! Now it didn’t mention if this included the growing of the cotton or just the processing of it, but at 2700L, it seems more like the processing amount. Cotton is one of the natural fibres – it is grown on a plant and used to be one of the big crops in NSW! Whilst it is growing, the cotton plant is capturing carbon and creating oxygen – both essential ecological services – it’s after we harvest it and begin to process it, that the cost to the environment becomes apparent.
On the other hand, we have a plethora of synthetic fibres, cheaply manufactured requiring fossil fuels and not offering much back to the environment at all! There was a time when we only had natural fibres to work with: cotton, wool, linen, leather and fur. Certain human actions have pushed some of these to the side and promoted the rise in synthetics and with it fast fashion. We might be making the choice to spend less on clothing, but are we using our savings to benefit the environment, or just spend them elsewhere on technology, for example.
Fast fashion has seen the fashion industry flip from being a relatively responsible conglomerate, to a smowhat evil-doer! Which is a shame, because it is us driving the fashion industry – if we didn’t demand it, they wouldn’t make it! Like anything, the supply and demand chain has driven the rise of fast fashion. Consumers wanted cheaper clothes, more styles and greater access – the response to this is fast fashion and the consequences are identified by Sustain Your Style in the infographic.
Improving your fashion footprint...
I freely admit that I am still stumbling through becoming an ethical fashionista – and I am guilty of participating in the fast fashion shopping experience at times. On the other hand, I look after my clothes and accessories and keep as many of them for decades or as long as they still fit. I often repurpose them, and because I have a very large garden, many of my clothes transition from normal wardrobe to garden wardrobe and I wear them until they wear out – then they become rags in my husband’s garage! If you are on the journey to becoming a more sustainable fashionista, here are some tips to keep in mind.
- Buy less of better quality. Ask yourself – is this timeless enough to wear in 10 years? if not, let it go.
- Sales are not helpful unless its to buy quality items. If you are just buying things because they are cheap, agian, let it go. Choose items of good quality that will last.
- Natural fibres degrade naturally over time – synthetic ones don’t. Where possible choose natural fibres. Synthetic fibres are polymers, i.e. plastics.
- Embrace preloved items – and the story that comes with them.
- Repurpose what you can – donate it, change it, make it into something different entirely – be creative!
- Only buy those items that make you look like the best version of yourself.
- Understand the lifecycle of your garments – where they come from and where they end up.
- Learn about harvesting to make fabrics, for example, wool comes from sheep which are shorn. It doesn’t usually hurt them. For the naysayers: I grew up with merino sheep – we had them shorn every summer and in the years we had sheep – I saw two injured (both of them completely fine in a couple of days). I worked in the shearing shed the entire time. The sheep actually appeared to love having their fleece removed.
- Choose companies that are actively trying to be better. By supporting them, they are able to continue to make improvements to their practice.
Sustainable fashion extends from the wardrobe to decor and home styling. It speaks out from the furniture we buy (how long it lasts, what its made from, what we do with it when we replace it), to the decorative pieces we put on display. The best thing, in my opinion, is to make thoughtful decisions when you buy anything. Ask youself how long are you willing to have a piece in your life – and then spend you hard-earned dollar appropriately to buy the best quality you can afford. Buy any item with the intent to keep it, to repurpose it and give new life to it in unexpected ways when it has served its inital purpose. The choices consumers, and that is all of us, make will impact us for many years to come – if your not sure about it, think of the ecological services we have already damaged that currently supply us with essentials like oxygen and water for free – what will it cost to make it ourselves? Choose wisely, be thoughtful, be sustainable – and we’ll never have to find out!