save the planet in style

Each time you drag a new item of clothing into a virtual cart, you could be supporting an industry responsible for 10% of global CO₂ emissions, not to mention widespread social damage. Fast fashion, the industry trend that brings the latest catwalk designs to stores by polluting factories and exploitative stores, is incompatible with the changes needed across industries to avoid environmental collapse. So what can you do about it?


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Before we get into it, however, Just Stop Oil protesters blocked refueling terminals across the UK in an effort to force the government to heed expert advice and stop the extraction of new oil and gas extraction. . You can read more about the changing nature of climate activism in a recent issue of Imagine here.

To really understand how fast fashion hurts the planet, help follow the path of a single garment. Mark Sumner, a lecturer in sustainability at the University of Leeds, charted the journey of a t-shirt from the field to your wardrobe. He reported that “it takes an Olympic-sized pool and a half of water to grow a ton of cotton,” and this is often in drought-stricken regions where farmers can only have “10 to 20 liters of water a day to wash,” cleaning and cooking “.

“But the negative impacts only start with the growth of the fibers,” Sumner says. Spinning and processing cotton into fabric generates 394 million tons of CO₂ per year, she estimates. Adding color to that fabric uses even more fresh water, which is often washed into untreated streams afterwards, harmful chemicals, and tiny fibers included.

“In Cambodia, for example, where clothing accounts for 88% of industrial production, the fashion industry is responsible for 60% of water pollution,” says Sumner.

The dyed fabric is washed, dried and prepared for making garments. The entire energy-intensive process costs about 2.6 kg of CO₂ per shirt, “the equivalent of driving 14 km in a standard passenger car,” according to Sumner.

As you have probably guessed, the environmental calamity does not end there.

“Over the past 15 years, apparel production has doubled while the time we wear these clothes has decreased by nearly 40%,” say Samantha Sharpe, Monique Retamal and Taylor Brydges, researchers at the University of America’s Institute for Sustainable Future. Technology from Sydney to Australia. Their recommendation for people concerned about the growing climate impact of the fashion industry is simple:

“It would mean that each of us cuts up to 75% how much new clothes we buy, buy clothes designed to last, and recycle clothes at the end of their lives.”

And for clothing manufacturers and retailers:

“It would mean addressing low incomes for people who make clothes, as well as support measures for workers who may lose their jobs during the transition to a more sustainable industry,” they say.

Urgent action is needed to avoid what the team calls “ultra-fast fashion”, which is responsible for the “release to market of unprecedented volumes of new clothes”. It also leans on some of the most exploited workers in the world, in countries such as Myanmar, Cambodia, Bangladesh and Vietnam, where clothing manufacturing presents an extreme risk of modern slavery.

A view along the length of a production line loaded with blue fabric.
The production line of a garment factory in Indore, India.
Mile 91 / C and a foundation / Alamy Photo

Sharpe, Retamal and Brydges propose a movement towards “slow fashion” as a remedy, buying second hand clothes or renting clothes, prioritizing clothing quality and classic styles over fleeting trends and reviving long-lost skills such as mending and sewing.

Amber Martin-Woodhead, assistant professor of human geography at Coventry University, has another recommendation for people eager to embrace slow fashion: shrink your wardrobe. In March, she took part in The Great Fashion Fast, launched by the British charity Tearfund.

“To enter, you choose ten main pieces of clothing (with a few exceptions such as sportswear, underwear and uniforms) and wear only those ten pieces for the entire month,” says Martin-Woodhead.

“Previously I took part in the UK election group Labor Behind the Label’s Six Items Challenge, where you wear just six pieces in six weeks. As research suggests, I’ve found that it really helped me figure out how few clothes I need.

If you’d like to do something similar, you may find Martin-Woodhead’s tips helpful. These include choosing “some matching colors so it all goes together”, “you choose[ing] different garments that can create many different outfits ”and choosing“ versatile garments that can be layered and worn in different ways ”, like a sweater that can also be worn as a cardigan.

Your reward for doing all of this may be more than a sense of satisfaction. According to new research by Louise and Martin Grimmer, marketing experts at the University of Tasmania, shopping second hand can mean you’re more stylish:

“In our study, we found that the more people value style awareness” – in essence, how passionate they were about expressing themselves through their clothing and developing a personal style – “the more likely they are to buy second-hand. In fact, style awareness was a bigger predictor of secondhand shopping than being frugal or environmentally conscious. “

Dressing well and looking good doesn’t necessarily cost the Earth, it seems.

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