It might be hard to believe, but after oil, the fashion industry is the world's most polluting industry.
Did you know that “fast fashion” is the number two waste producer in the world? Did you know that most “fast fashion” clothing items are designed to be worn no more than seven times? “Fast fashion” is all about making sure that you get the latest super cheap catwalk knock-offs within days after seeing them at Fashion Week. Producing garments at this mass-produced rate has dire consequences. People (sometimes even children) are underpaid, often working in buildings and under conditions that are not safe. The textiles used don’t last, the production processes are highly intensive and toxic chemicals, waste and dyes are spewed on to land and into waterways.
What can I do?
The fashion industry is all about deceiving you into feeling the need to keep up with the latest trends (which they decide on) and into buying cheap junk that you only wear a few times before discarding. You must resist the urge to shop!
- Buy less! Always ask yourself: Do I really need this? Do I already have something in my wardrobe that fits the purpose?
- If you must buy, buy something good quality, with a timeless style that you can get a lot of use from.
- Don't "shop the sales". If you need an item, by all means take advantage of deals, but resist the urge to shop just because there are discounts. If you didn't need the item when it was full price, you don't need it as a markdown.
- Avoid synthetic fibres like polyester and look for products made from natural materials, particularly ones produced locally.
- If it's something that you only need once, like a suit for a wedding, consider borrowing or renting rather than buying.
- If you want to refresh your style, support pre-loved clothing from local thrift stores and sales.
- Support local, sustainable brands.
- Extend the life-cycle of your clothes. If your clothes no longer meet your needs, donate them. If your clothes are beyond repair, consider using them for rags or remake projects.
- Tell someone who cares. If the garment’s quality or packaging is poor, tell the manager or shop elsewhere. Put your money where you want to show your support.
- Be creative and turn your old clothes into something new by changing the colour with environmentally-safe dyes, and some clever alterations.
- Remember to wash your clothing optimally to reduce microplastic pollution.
Why does it matter?
We live on a finite planet, Earth only has a limited amount of resources available to us, and it only has a limited capacity to cope with our waste. The more we take, the less there is for us and for future generations. Fashion is in many ways a fad, similar to other disposable plastic conveniences that permeate our lives - a short-lived luxury with potentially thousands of years of damage.
- 10% of all greenhouse gases contributing to the climate crisis arise from the fashion industry.
- Clothing releases 500 000 tons of plastic microfibre into the ocean every year.
- After agriculture, fashion is the second-largest consumer of the world's fresh water.
- Fashion is the second-largest polluter, after oil.
- 85% of all textiles are dumped, not recycled.
- On average one garbage truckload of clothing is dumped a second.
- The dyes used to add colour to textiles are the second-largest polluter of freshwater systems - 20% of all industrial water pollution.
Myth-busting: You always pay more for good quality
It may seem that way - a quality pair of shoes can easily cost three or four times the price of a cheap pair, that pair of Levi jeans costs a lot more than that off-brand pair that's on sale, etc. But, if you factor in how much use and wear you'll get out of the good product, it often works out much cheaper. Of course - don't be fooled into thinking that a high price tag equates to good quality, there's a lot of overpriced junk too. Equally, there are often inexpensive items that are of excellent quality that simply don't carry a brand's logo. Be discerning, be a bit of a snob, and choose excellent clothing that you deserve!
Pro tip: Apply the "comfort principle" to your clothing - spend your money on the clothing you wear the most.
Who can I follow?
There are dozens of local initiatives, manufacturers and stores here in Cape Town that use local, sustainable products that are worth supporting, and there are likely dozens in whatever major city is nearest to you. Support thrift and charity shops, bargain hunt on Facebook Marketplace and enjoy your sustainable shopping.
Maven Collection is a Cape Town-based, online platform offering curated, high street and designer clothes from around the world, but in a way that encourages a circular economy. They exchange your special clothing items hidden in the back of the closet, for cash or credit to shop in their store. For every item purchased, another one is donated to charity, ensuring that there is no waste. In this way, all your current and future clothing worries are placed inside the loop, helping the planet and your wallet too!
Vintage with Love is a stylish, pre-loved affair. For two years people collect their gently loved items to contribute to the grand five-day affair, which offers affordable high-quality designer brands while giving back with proceeds that are shared among 10 literacy-based charity organisations. That’s fashion with a heart right there!
For pre-loved clothing, take a look at The Stock Exchange on Kloof Street, The Changing Room, Secondhand Rose, Babette Clothing and Encore Clothing. Another amazing sustainable local brand is Menck. There are countless other options - please link your favourites below.
We also love Sealand Gear. This local company upcycles all kinds of waste material to make super unique, high-quality lifestyle gear that has its people, the life cycle of its product, and their impact on the planet completely in mind.
Another must-sea is the brand Patagonia that has won awards for creating value out of worn clothing. This is designing for the future!
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