Want to change your fashion habits for the better but not sure where to start?
The answer is waiting in your wardrobe. Jasmina Matulewicz introduces three ways to switch to conscious fashion, and three inspiring individuals who’ve done it.
Fall in love with pre-loved
Clothes recycling alone could reduce global carbon emissions by eight percent, according to Greenpeace. And yet, we’re purchasing five times more new clothes than we did in 2012. Our consumption rates are the highest in Europe. “Why go to the high street where you pay premium prices to look like everyone else when you can get a pre-loved item, which is still bang on-trend, at a fraction of the price, and be the only one wearing it?” asks Sharon Manning, owner of Love Preloved. The online store offers second-hand children’s clothes and accessories.
Falling in love with pre-loved items will have both a positive impact on your wallet and the planet. UK charity WRAP found that over 300,000 tonnes of textiles were thrown away in 2018. In fact, that’s a total of £12.5 billion’s worth of clothes that could have lived another life in someone else’s wardrobe.
“Love Preloved have a reduce-reuse-recycle policy,” Manning says. “None of our clothing is sent to landfill. Clothing with Grade One defects is passed to a group of local child minders, schools and pre-schools for spares. Clothing with Grade Two defects is collected for shipping out to Africa, the proceeds donated to our chosen charity. Unfortunately there are still garments I get which can’t be used because they are badly stained or torn. These go to a clothes bank,” she adds. Nothing goes to waste.
Extending the life of an item in your wardrobe by as little as three months can reduce ten percent of its carbon footprint. “I’m only one person, but if I can encourage people to recycle their clothes, we’re helping to reduce the carbon footprint,” Manning says. She plans to introduce clothes for adults to her store within the few months, increasing her audience, and her potential for creating change. “Recycling is the way forward for our environment,” she says. Charity shops, vintage, clothes swaps, and car boot sales are great ways to keep the planet happy.
Mind your business
The importance of reducing waste is crucial in moving towards sustainability. Additionally, consumers need to be aware of what their favourite brands are doing to offset the environmental impacts of textile production. According to Greenpeace, large corporations are one of the most significant contributors to climate change, their carbon footprint exceeding that of international flights and shipping combined.
“Since the industrial revolution, we’ve been making as much as we can and selling as much as we can. But nobody ever calculates the net effect,” says Andrew Olah, founder of Kingpins, a global trade show that spotlights sustainability in the denim supply chain.
“If your company is not transparent, it’s because you don’t know your supply chain, or you’re not telling anyone,” Olah says. Kingpins is the first trade show to provide a platform for denim manufacturers that work sustainably. And although smaller companies have an advantage when it comes to innovation and creativity, those that have been around for a while have robust systems in place. “The supply chain is a complex thing,” says Kerry Bannigan of the Conscious Fashion Campaign. Through uniting and educating, her project aims to drive the change towards the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. She hopes to push the fashion industry in the right direction.
As far as certifications go, Bannigan argues that there are too many, that consumers become overwhelmed and discouraged. The industry is complex, however, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a sustainability certification. She hopes for a future, however, where certifications, legislations, and policies aren’t necessary. “When you go into a location and you want to find something, it should just automatically be good product. You shouldn’t have to be asking which one is fair-trade or non-toxic. We shouldn’t have to put killer clothes on our bodies,” she says. Research into the ethical policies of your favourite brands – if you feel they aren’t doing enough, consider switching to ones that care. Looking out for certifications like B Corp, Fairtrade, Global Recycled Standard, and Bluesign would be a great place to start.
When choosing new clothes, there’s no win-win situation. All popular textiles will have an impact on the environment – the goal is to choose those with the smallest impact. For example, growing organic cotton uses up to 91 per cent less water than its non-organic sister, 62 per cent less energy, and 46 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions. Silk is seldom harvested in an ethical way, and chemicals released during polyester production can have detrimental impacts on waterways. Animal leather contributes to deforestation for farming purposes, and the list can go on.
‘”When it comes to the environmental impact of leather, it’s raising those cows which need water, food, and energy, which could be used to feed all the hungry people in this world,” says Marta Canga, content strategist for the Conscious Fashion Campaign. Vegan leather alternatives found in most high street stores are made of PVC, one of the most widely-used plastic polymers. “That doesn’t biodegrade, and it’s really hard to deal with,” Canga says. Faux leather made from polyurethane, on the other hand, can be biodegradable and recyclable. Vegan leathers are now being made from apple peels, by-products of pineapple harvests, cork, banana tree leaves, and recycled plastic bottles – the choice is yours! Education is key, and the best way forward is through sticking to materials with the smallest possible environmental impact.
Small steps go a long way, and who said that leading a sustainable lifestyle can’t go hand-in-hand with a passion for fashion? After all, style is a way to say who you are without having to speak.