Everyone in the fashion supply chain is responsible for its impact on the planet, from designers and manufacturers to retailers and consumers.
Last week, Fashion Revolution Week marked the anniversary of the tragic Rana Plaza factory collapse on 24 April 2013. More than 1,000 people, mostly young women, were killed in the collapse of the Rana Plaza complex in Bangladesh. Worldwide outrage at garment worker conditions was immediate and Fashion Revolution was born, encouraging people to demand greater transparency in the fashion industry and to question where their clothing comes from and how it’s made.
But change in the fashion industry requires more than being outraged at the plight of millions of garment workers around the world and using the #whomademyclothes hashtag one week every year. So here’s three tips to help you build a more ethical and sustainable wardrobe.
1. Invest in quality clothes
As consumers we’ve been trained to choose instant gratification over long-term satisfaction. It’s the foundation upon which fast fashion has been built and continues to thrive. An item of clothing bought from an affordable, non-sustainable high-street retailer instantly gratifies – you’ve ‘saved money’ and you’re wearing the latest look. Trend-led fast fashion retailers, though, don’t want you to think too much (or at all) about how long that garment will last or what will happen to it once it’s lost its fashion currency.
Pictured: Sue Hanback from Alabama Chanin
However, by being more considerate about our clothing purchases we can all invest in clothing that saves money … and the planet in the long-term.
I’m sure you’ve heard or read the quote by famous British designer Dame Vivienne Westwood: Buy less, choose well, make it last. It’s the image I chose for this post because it’s something we’re so strongly in favour of at Ecoture.
And, fortunately, it’s no longer necessary to compromise style for the sake of sustainability as more and more brands start to take a conscious approach.
The key is to think longer term, buying fewer but better quality clothes that will endure time, wear and trend shifts. Try and buy more natural fibres, such as cotton and linen, and renewable materials. Opting for more timeless garments can help, but even when buying a for-now piece, look for higher quality garments from a sustainable brand.
2. Rethink your washing habits
Approximately 25% of a garment’s carbon footprint comes from the way it’s cared for.
Three simple changes to your washing habits can have a big impact: wash less, wash at lower temperatures and only dry clean when it’s essential.
Washing our clothing less often and at lower temperatures reduces the energy and water used and extends a garment’s lifespan by helping to preserve fabrics. This is important because the longer clothing lasts, the less often it has to be replaced. And if we’re consuming less overall, we’re reducing the global environmental impact of fashion.
Consider airing non-dirty clothes, or steaming instead of washing them. And when you do wash, only wash full machine loads. Try using the cold setting on your machine, or a lower-temperature setting if cold water really isn’t suitable. Choose environmentally-friendly detergents. There’s many options available at the supermarket that are very good.
Dry cleaning uses damaging chemicals that can be harmful to fabrics, the environment and our skin. A lot of garments with dry clean only instructions can be cleaned quite successfully in a modern washing machine using a gentle or steam cycle. Don’t forget handwashing, either, which can be quite therapeutic and, for me, brings back memories of my grandmother.
3. Repair, reuse & recycle
But, no matter its quality and how carefully you launder it, no piece of clothing is going to last forever. Colours fade, little holes become big holes, tastes change. But if chucking something in the bin isn’t the answer (and we say it’s not), what is?
First up, mending. Replacing missing buttons, repairing broken zippers and patching holes are well within the capabilities of most of us. There’s a whole heap of instructional videos on the Internet if, like me, you’ve forgotten everything you were taught in Year 8 T&D (or if you never did it). There’s also many, many commercial garment repair services that will take care of mending for you for a very small outlay.
Repurposing and customising are other options. Over pink? Perhaps dye your pink shirts black. Again, there’s DIY options here as well as professionals more than happy to do it for you.
But what about when it truly is the end of the road? It doesn’t fit (and never will again) or you’re just absolutely over it? It probably still has utility for someone else, and that’s where passing it on comes in. Our Waste Not, Want Not initiative, for example, aims to re-home clothes with our charity partners rather than see them end up as landfill.
If something is too far gone, though, and couldn’t possibly be worn by someone else, please don’t chuck it in a charity bin. Find a fabric recycling option, such as H&M’s garment drop-off service.