Learn how you can contribute to a greener planet by making conscious and sustainable fashion choices.
Your fashion journey begins here. During the product design phase, this is where designers envision how the garments and accessories will look and feel to the touch.
The clothes we wear are either made of natural fibres like cotton, linen and wool or man-made fibres like polyester, acrylic or viscose. In order to produce fibres, we need resources from nature.
Our clothes are made during a sequential process which includes fabric development, dyeing, pattern making, sampling, cutting, and manufacturing. Manufacturers essentially take raw materials and turn them into finished products.
Now that your clothes have been sewn, inspected and approved, they are ready to be packed. Did you know that garments are packaged multiple times before they reach you? Then, consider the yarns, trims, and other elements that are needed in garment production – they are delivered to the manufacturer in separate packaging as well.
The fashion supply chain works in a global context, thus requiring transportation at different stages: Transportation of the fabric from the mill to the sewing factory; the finished garments from the sewing factory to the distribution centre; and finally, the finished garment to the retail stores, or directly to you when ordered online.
After a long journey, the garments you have consciously bought have finally reached your wardrobe. Continue learning about the following 7 habits you can be a responsible consumer, extend the life of your clothes, and reduce your environmental footprint.
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Decisions made during the design phase significantly influence the environmental impact our clothes have. The selection of the material will determine whether these textiles can be recycled or not. Even the style, quality and colour make an ecological difference – these considerations influence whether the piece will be worn for many years or will go out of style by the next season and be discarded within a few months.
The thought process starts with several considerations: Are the products durable? Are the textiles biodegradable or recyclable? Do the designs have longevity, and will outlast trend cycles? Is the quality of the materials, zippers, stitching and other elements long-lasting? Designers have the responsibility to incorporate sustainability principles from the very beginning.
Material production for our clothes mainly comes from harvesting cotton, extracting petroleum, farming livestock, and growing trees for pulp. We rely on resources that cannot be readily replaced by nature at a pace fast enough to keep up with fashion’s consumption.
This puts enormous pressure on the natural environment. For example, cotton is notoriously referred to as a thirsty crop. Research by the Water Footprint Network indicates that producing 1kg of cotton consumes about 10,000 litres of water. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) also cautions that cotton has an impact on ecosystems because it uses agrochemicals that pollute the environment and it necessitates the conversion of natural habitats into agricultural land.
Then, there are synthetic materials like polyester, which makes up 52% of global textile production according to the Textile Exchange’s 2019 Preferred Fiber and Materials Report. Polyester is constructed from fossil fuels and is not biodegradable.
Sustainable products require carefully considered choices in terms of materials used. Both synthetic and organic materials can be recycled and remade into garments. Then, you can also ensure that the material is sustainably produced and sourced by checking that it’s been certified by a reliable body. There are also innovative new materials that have a lower environmental footprint, such as materials made from grape or pineapple waste.
Start by learning some of the most common certifications:
Turning raw materials into garments is a long and complicated process that results in high environmental impact. The process requires enormous amounts of water, is energy-intensive, relies heavily on the use of chemicals, and produces significant amounts of effluent and waste. For example, chemicals that are used in processes like bleaching and dyeing contain toxic elements that end up polluting water bodies, including our seas and rivers. Even processes such as pattern-making, trimming and cutting result in fabric wastage.
Environmentally responsible garment production is when manufacturers choose processing techniques that cause the least environmental impact, or no impact at all. For example, some clean production techniques include re-using dye baths; investing in smart and efficient technologies to reduce water and energy consumption; and investing in recycling and reduction methods. This means that brands must be fully transparent about their supply chain and ensure that their manufacturers adhere to a strict set of standards.
Traditional packaging creates a burden on the environment because of the raw materials used, how it is made, and disposed of. Yet, it is a crucial step as it guarantees that garments are protected as they are transported around the globe. Common materials used in packaging include plastic bags, styrofoam wrapping, boxes and tape, which, if not recycled, will end up in landfills. Plastics are not biodegradable, and will eventually break up into microplastics that will affect marine life, farmland soil and even the air you breathe.
One solution is circular packaging, ie, packaging that is made from recyclable or compostable materials, or packaging that can be reused. Moreover, companies should also think about phasing out the unnecessary wrapping and investing in research and development of biodegradable packaging. They can also opt for solutions such as offering reusable packaging for online orders, and continuously seek new services and techs that reduce their footprint.
Calculating the environmental impact of each and every transportation route that occurs during production and distribution is a difficult task, and depends on various factors. Whether it’s by land, air or sea, each carrier incurs potential environmental damage, which can manifest in greenhouse gas emissions, degradation of air quality, water pollution, noise pollution, habitat loss and the overall threat to climate change.
To transport garments more sustainably, brands can establish new partnerships and collaborations. These include partnering with transportation companies who are working towards fossil-free commercial transport or who are replacing fossil fuels with biofuels and thus further reducing their carbon emissions. Other solutions include implementing smarter logistics, like improving routing and load management.
Conscious purchasing is making informed decisions. It means taking the time to learn about the brands you love and nurturing the curiosity to discover alternative options that are fostering sustainable practices. Reflect on your buying habits and constantly question whether you need to buy something new.
With your purchasing habits, you have the opportunity to support local and sustainable brands – and thus play your own part in helping our planet become greener.
Treat your clothes with some TLC and make sure that they are kept in the best possible condition. This does not only extend their life-span, but also keeps them looking as good as new.
One way to do so is by washing them only when absolutely necessary; preferably with cold water and choosing to line dry them instead of using the tumble dryer. When buying cleaning products, choose brands that don’t use toxic chemicals and are sustainably packaged.
Mending your clothes is an act of love. This means repairing that dress you love, putting a patch on those jeans that fit you so well, and stitching that loose hem on the skirt you don’t wear anymore. Mending is spending quality time with the garment you once bought with so much excitement.
Upcycling is a creative adventure with endless possibilities. It’s upcycling a shirt into a dress or transforming a pair of pants into a skirt. Upcycling is reimagining a new use for any item you no longer wear.
Swapping can be a fun and interactive activity to bring new life into your closet, upgrade your wardrobe, and discover new styles without spending a penny. Get together with your friends and organize a swapping evening, or organize a swapping lunch hour with your colleagues. There are also organizations that offer such services, and some retailers even host swapping events.
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, or so the adage goes. Clothes that you might no longer want to wear can find a new owner who will cherish and care for them.
But when donating, do be mindful of the charity you are working with. Many charities have guidelines ensuring that the donated garments will suit their beneficiaries and their purpose. The clothes you donate must be in good condition; just ask yourself: it is in a good enough condition that I would still wear them?
Renting is an excellent option to find garments for special occasions. Do you have a wedding to attend? A ski trip? A gala event?
You don’t have to break the bank for a new outfit that will only be worn once or a handful of times. Renting also allows you to vary your style for the ‘Gram, giving you a fresh new #OOTD ever so often.
Recycling is our last step in becoming a sustainable changemaker. After you’ve cared for your garments, and increased their lifespan through upcycling or swapping methods, the sad truth is that every outfit has an expiry date.
Recycling is the final and best option to dispose of such garments. If you have purchased a compostable garment, you may plant it in your garden or dispose of it in your composting bin. If this is not the case, bring it to the closest collection point where it will be sorted and taken to recycling facilities.