We start off this month with a recap of the environmental impacts of the clothing sector, and the number one action we can all take – buy less!
The environmental impacts of the clothing sector are far-reaching and diverse:
The rise of consumption and waste
- Since the early 2000s, production of clothing has doubled while the number of times clothes are worn has dropped by a third.
- Every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned.
- Three out of five items of clothing end up in incinerators or landfills within a year of being produced.
- Discarded clothing made of non-biodegradable fabrics can sit in landfills for up to 200 years.
- The dyeing and treatment of textiles causes 20% of industrial water pollution globally.
- Up to 20 – 35% of ocean microplastics are from synthetic clothing, and washing clothes releases half a million tonnes of plastic microfibres into the ocean every year, equivalent to more than 50 billion plastic bottles.
- It takes 2,700 litres of water to make one cotton shirt – enough water for one person to drink for 2 ½ years.
- Textile production uses 4% of global fresh water.
- Clothing accounts for a substantial share of global annual carbon emissions. Recent estimates vary between 4% and 8%.
The good news is, interest in sustainable fashion has been growing steadily, and consumers, producers and retailers are all looking to change the ways we engage with clothes and fashion.
Take action – buy less!
But before we get into the merits of different materials, brands and retailers, the obvious first step towards more sustainable fashion is to reduce the consumption of new clothes – simply, we need to buy less. This should include wearing clothes more often and keeping them for longer, but could also involve renting and swapping (or ‘swishing’). And if we do buy, we should buy second-hand. Whilst Covid-19 has put extra pressure on the high street and given online retail a boost, there is likely to be a role for both local initiatives and shops, and online platforms, in helping us on our journey to more sustainable fashion.
Below we have compiled a range of links and resources to help with these different approaches. Whilst there are many others out there, we hope this provides a useful start.
1) Wear clothes more often and keep them for longer
In other words, don’t get rid of them as quickly. Look after your clothes, don’t be afraid to wear the same outfits repeatedly, rotate and rediscover forgotten items. (We’ll cover what to do with unwanted clothes, as well as repair and upcycling, in later articles). In this article, Orsola de Castro, designer, activist and founder of Fashion Revolution, gives advice on how to make clothes last. Amongst many tips and tricks, de Castro suggests washing clothes less often, resisting the urge to declutter and ‘normalising’ repair.
2) Rent, swap or ‘swish’
Where renting clothes was once more likely to involve the odd formal garment rented from a shop, online clothes rental is now well-established. Examples include Hurr Collective, a peer-to-peer rental platform; and My Wardrobe HQ, which includes stock directly from brands as well as people’s personal collections.
An alternative way to acquire pre-loved clothes at no cost is to swap: swap shops, ‘bring-and-buy’, clothes swishing events and similar are now familiar (albeit pre-pandemic) community events. Bring one or more unwanted items; and leave with something “new-to-you”. Some of our Oxford-based sister organisations like Low Carbon West Oxford and Rose Hill and Iffley Low Carbon have held swishing events in the past – and we hope there will be opportunities for more once we emerge from the pandemic. There are lots of guides on how to run these events, for example this one from Eden Project Communities. And for teenagers, not-for-profit SwopItUp works in secondary schools to help organise Swop Shops.
Meanwhile, you can swap online: online platforms and apps like Nuw and Swopped enable online clothes swapping, from high street to designer. You earn a token for each item you make available for swapping, which then allows you to choose from hundreds of items.
3) Buy second-hand
According to Lauren Bravo, the author of How to Break Up with Fast Fashion, “if we’re going to use [charity shops] as glorified recycling bins, we have to shop from them, too”. Indeed!
Buying second-hand from your local charity shop is a bit like swapping pre-loved clothes through an intermediary – with added benefits for charities and their causes. Pre-pandemic, charity shops were enjoying a renaissance as consumer attitudes to fashion were changing, and we hope this trend can resume soon.
Starting local, Oxford’s Daily Info has a helpful directory of “Vintage, Charity and Fair Trade shops” to help you find the best places – Covid restrictions permitting (although many shops have been operating ‘click and collect’, so do check).
Meanwhile, there are now lots of online platforms that give shoppers access to a huge range of pre-loved clothes. Here are some of them:
- Loopster: a website for trading good-quality used children’s and women’s clothes,
- Depop: Described as “little bit eBay and a little bit Instagram” and particularly popular with younger shoppers.
- Re-fashion. Includes high streets and designer clothes.
- Thrift +. Another established platform that offers a range of brands.
- Vinted: described as a ‘peer-to-peer community for pre-loved fashion’ and works a bit like ebay.
- Build a Bundle: kids wear.
- And finally, not to forget well-established businesses ebay and Oxfam.