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.
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: