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Did you know that 8% of all Greenhouse Gas emissions are from the textile industry? That’s even more than the emissions from Shipping and Aviation combined. This is one of the discoveries that’s caused the introduction of Eco, Ethical, and Sustainable Fashion movements.

You’ve got your style. You know what suits your body shape, you know what flatters, reveals or hides……

Let’s be Honest….. Nobody likes being judged for what they wear or for their taste in fashion, and I’m not here to do that.

The thing is, our fashion habits and a lot of the clothes we wear have a detrimental impact on the environment. It’s reached a point where the harmful effects of fashion on the environment can no longer be ignored. It’s time to change to Sustainable Fashion.

What Is Sustainable Fashion?

Sustainable fashion fosters change in the fashion industry that results in zero-waste, ecological integrity, and social justice for textile workers, especially in third world countries.

The concept considers every aspect into the picture, not only end-users and manufacturers. The well-being of all living things and the ecological preservation of forests, lakes, and the oceans are also part of the sustainable fashion concept.

Why We Need to Switch to Sustainable Fashion

Let me share five things I learned recently on the negative impacts of fashion on the environment. This is why we all need to consider switching to Eco or Sustainable Fashion.

1. Fashion Contributes to Ocean Microplastic Pollution

We all know about the evils of plastic – that it isn’t biodegradable and stays in the environment for centuries. In my earlier post, Life in a Plastic-Free Ocean, I mentioned the concept of Microplastic and Microfiber pollution. Well, a lot of the clothes we wear are mostly ‘plastic.’ Synthetic clothes such as acrylics, nylons, and polyesters are made from the same compounds that make plastic.

The product tag of a shirt, saying the shirt is made from 65% acrylic and 35% polyamide

Synthetic fashion contributes the largest share of ocean microplastic pollution…a whopping 35% according to research. How? Because every time we wash our synthetic clothes, they release bits of their fibers (microfibers) into the sewer system.

These fibers are then carried through wastewater treatment systems, but they don’t get filtered out because they are so small. So they eventually get released into waterways and the ocean, creating microplastic ocean pollution.

An infographic showing where do the oceans' microplastics come from

Image: Statista Charts using data from the IUCN

2. Fast Fashion Is Wasteful

Many fashion designers create styles that are to be worn only for a short season: that’s what is referred to as Fast Fashion. So fashion trend followers sometimes wear these ‘trendy’ clothes as little as two occasions and discard them. Add to that the fact that socialites don’t want to be seen in public wearing the same outfit or shoes twice.

But it’s not only the socialites who do this. It’s estimated that the average number of times the ordinary person wears an item of clothing before trashing it is 7 – 10 wears. Many of us put aside perfectly good pieces (sometimes even new ones) either because they don’t fit, or because the season or the style changed. This is

We end up with a lot of unworn or discarded clothing items that do not serve out their full useful lives. This is all waste. In fact, in a detailed report that analyses the effect of fashion on the environment, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future) quantifies the dollar value of the waste of under-utilized and un-recycled clothing, estimating it at $460 billion of clothing value per year.

3. Fashion Contributes to Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Greenhouse gas emissions from textile production are estimated at 1.2 billion tons annually. This amount is more than what is produced by all the international flights around the world plus maritime shipping emissions internationally, combined. This particular statistic shocked me about the fashion industry. Want to know HOW the greenhouse gas emissions come about?

Well, the entire end-to-end process of producing textiles is unsustainable. Using synthetic materials (from oil resources), making the cotton or synthetic-blend textiles, and after that, maintaining the end garments releases a lot of Greenhouse Gases into the atmosphere.

This is especially so because of the enormous volumes of garments made because of fast fashion. We’re buying and discarding clothes at faster and faster rates than we did 10 or 15 years ago.

4. Huge Water Volumes Are Used in the Fashion and Textiles Industry

Oxfam has estimated that it takes 20,000 liters of water to produce one t-shirt and a single pair of jeans.

The textile industry consumes an estimated 93 billion cubic meters of water annually, which is an estimated 4% of the entire quantity of fresh water used globally from fresh water sources. This includes the water used in cotton farming.

Of-Course it doesn’t help that the countries which grow the cotton (such as China, Indonesia, India, etc.) are already water-stressed. They strain their freshwater resources by using vast volumes of it in cotton growing, particularly if cotton is under significant acreage of farming as the main cash-crop.

5. Chemical Contamination of the Environment

The process of producing textiles for the fashion industry has significant amounts of chemicals involved in the process. It is estimated that 20% of industrial water pollution globally is attributed to the dyeing and treatment of textiles. Dyes and other chemicals released into wastewater from textile factories are significant contributors to environmental pollution globally.

When the wastewater containing dye gets into aquatic ecosystems, it blocks the photosynthesis process of aquatic plants, causing them to die. Also, the toxic nature of the dyes and other chemicals used in the textile factories poisons fish and other animals in the environment.

Apart from the dyeing process, there are other stages where chemicals are used in textile production, which introduce toxins to the environment. Here are 3 of the stages we identified:

  1. Pesticides applied on cotton farms during the growing stage.
  2. Fertilizers applied during the growing process.
  3. To make anti-wrinkle or non-iron fabrics, textiles are treated with formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogenic compound. The concern comes for the people who handle the treated fabric, as well as the buyers of the finished garments.


At This Point, I’m Sitting up to listen!

(……Sitting up to read, actually!)

These effects on the environment are huge, and I can’t help but think, “How come I never heard of this before?”

Like every other girl, I want to look beautiful, and I love good clothes and shoes, but after reading about all those statistics on the harm on the environment, it makes me stop and think for a moment.

Aside from my regular clothes, I’m also into active sports and Latin dancing. The gear for these activities is Always made from synthetic blends. What am I supposed to wear for those activities?

I have never come across a pure cotton swimsuit or wetsuit before, and I doubt they even exist (do they?) Wouldn’t they look horrible and hold up even worse in the water? So what are my options? What are our options? Sustainable options?

4 Tips to Incorporate Sustainable Fashion into Your Wardrobe

Just as I was processing all the info, I came across this video promoted by the World Economic Forum (WEF), which a friend had shared on Facebook. In the video, Hellen Crowley, an expert on Sustainable Sourcing, breaks down some easy ways on How to Make your Wardrobe Sustainable. Here’s a summary of the tips:

  1. Buy things that last longer.
  2. Start buying less, because let’s be honest. You probably don’t need as much stuff (shoes and clothes) as you think you need.
  3. Know where your stuff comes from. That means to get to know things like:
    -How raw materials are sourced or produced.
    -Get to know if the production process is sustainable and ethical.
    -What the impact on the environment is to obtain raw materials.
  4. Learn as much as possible about:
    -Sustainable fashion.
    – What’s sustainably produced and what isn’t.
    – The end-life process of what you wear; Very important. What happens when you trash your clothes and shoes?
    -Brands that are committed to sustainable fashion and support them.

It Is a Gradual Process

The thing is, it isn’t practical to say you will stop buying altogether; it’s not a switch you just flip. Just like going to Zero Waste, Sustainable Fashion is a gradual process of learning and changing.

  • Learning what brands are sustainable,
  • Learning new processes that upcycle, reuse and recycle end-life garments;
  • You are changing your buying habits and fashion choices.

So, I won’t be throwing out my kite-surfing and swimsuits yet, because that would be wasteful. I will simply use them as long as possible, as I continue to learn what sustainable brands make the kind of outfits I need.

I am on the lookout for sustainable fashion brands, and I know there must be some out there. Not just for regular, day-to-day wear, but brands that stock the kind of activewear that I need to suit my active lifestyle. I wonder what sustainable fashion brands you know of, who produce outdoor wear, work-out clothes, surfing, and swimsuits.

Please share some of them in the comments so that I could check them out.

All my love from Spain.

Maria.

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What about you? Have you changed anything about your wardrobe and fashion choices to be more sustainable? Are there any sustainable fashion brands you know about?

We would love to hear about your experiences. Please drop us a comment and tell us more.

Let’s be the change we want to see.

 

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