Three ways to reduce your fashion footprint

According to the World Economic Forum, fashion is the world’s third biggest polluter, after food and construction, accounting for around 5% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions."

Documentaries such as a recent Foreign Correspondent episode, fittingly titled "Dead White Man’s Clothes", paint a grim picture of the impact of fast-fashion and over-consumption on West Africa, where discarded clothing overflows in massive, purpose-built landfills, or is simply burned.

But what does it actually mean to embrace sustainable fashion? There seems to be a pervasive misconception that it involves shopping with pricey, sustainable brands. There are many such gorgeous brands out there, but the price point is unaffordable for the majority of consumers.

In the search for affordable, sustainable fashion, many consumers flock to brands that tout lines that use organic cotton - but from what we know about the treatment of the Uighur minority group in the Xinjiang province of China, where close to 100% of the country’s sustainable cotton originates, there are serious ethical concerns.

Confused? That’s the point. Trying to shop sustainably is a complex web of environmental and ethical considerations and often conflicting information that leaves many shoppers disengaged. Case in point? While as many as 60% of millennials say they are interested in purchasing sustainable clothing, only 37% have followed through on a purchase.

Blog post image - sustainable fashion-1
Image credit: Getty Images via ​​JustStyle

So what is the alternative? How about we remove the judgement and instead encourage consumers to make small changes to their shopping habits that reduce the overall environmental and humanitarian impact of their wardrobe. A useful analogy to draw on is the ‘Meat Free Monday’ movement, which recognises the net benefit of people cutting out meat one day per week, rather than calling for a dramatic lifestyle overhaul. 

In practice, this might include the following: 

Tip 1 - Shop for quality, timeless pieces

Invest in quality, classic pieces that transcend trends and will remain in their wardrobe for years to come, instead of purchasing a host of new garments each season which barely see the light of day before being tossed on the fashion scrap heap.

Tip 2 - Focus on fit

Focus on getting the right fit first time? Online shopping is amazing, however sometimes the fit information is less than ideal, leading people to blindly order multiple pieces to try on at home with the intention of sending most back. The environmental impact of this return freight is significant. Amazon recently revealed its carbon footprint: the company emitted 60.64 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2020 alone. 

When you consider the return rate on clothing (when no detailed fit information is available) is around 30%, this return freight can easily undermine people’s best intentions. Instead, see if you can locate brands who offer detailed fit information to help you get it right the first time.

Tip 3 - Take care of your clothes

At the risk of sounding like your mother, please pay attention to care labels! Respect the investment you have made in your clothes by actually following care instructions. It’s incredible how much longer your pieces will last, and how much smaller your fashion footprint will be. 

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