Quit Fast Fashion: Change How You Shop, Not the Climate
December 29, 2019
We know already that fast fashion destroys the environment and it takes advantage of the workers. Meanwhile, the climate change crisis is becoming a more and more urgent problem. Do your fashion choices effects climate change? And what can you do to reduce your clothing-related impact on our ecosystem?
Because let’s face it, every aspect of our lives has an impact on the environment, including what we decide to wear in the morning. Unfortunately, our current system is set in a way that the norm is unsustainable, and if you want to make a difference, you have to do things differently. In the context of fashion and clothing, fast fashion is the unsustainable norm. To avoid a climate catastrophe, we must change the way we produce our garments.
The fashion industry is a huge contributor to climate change in many different ways. To understand how our clothes, these seemingly harmless everyday items, can mess up our ecosystem we need to grasp what causes climate change in the first place. Time to get a bit nerdy!
Climate Change 101 – What Causes Climate Change?
In short, climate change is caused by excessive greenhouse gas emissions.
Generally, greenhouse gases (methane, carbon-dioxide, etc.) play an important part in the atmosphere: they help regulate the temperature of the planet. These particles function just like a greenhouse, they trap the heat of the earth. Therefore, the more particles there are, the warmer the planet gets (because less heat can get outside). On the other hand, if we didn’t have enough of them, the Earth would get too cold.
The good thing is, that the environment is very intelligent and can balance out the temperature. Unfortunately, human existence is disturbing to this balance. Since the industrial revolution, the emission of greenhouse gasses are increasing continuously, and so does the temperature of the planet. nowadays we emit such a big amount of these gases that the ecosystem is not capable of balancing it out.
In addition to the increased emissions, we decreased the sizes of our forests and polluted our oceans which cannot absorb the greenhouse gases as effectively as before.
Fashion’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions
When you think about industries that emit a lot of greenhouse gases, it might not be fashion that comes first into your mind. Fossil fuels and transportation are the most well-known for their emissions. But that doesn’t mean fashion is a good guy! It is one of the worst guys actually!
So why don’t a lot of people know about this? Firstly, because fashion only started to destroy the environment at such a high rate since fast fashion appeared in the late 80s. The second reason is that the supply chains have grown so big and fragmented that it’s impossible to point fingers at one specific part of it.
The sad truth is that there are parts of the fashion industry that are huge contributors to climate change. And when we put all these parts together, the fashion industry becomes one of the biggest greenhouse gas emitters.
Here are a few sectors of fashion that make an enormous contribution to fashion’s greenhouse gas emissions:
Leather and Wool
Cows, sheep, and goats, no matter how gentle they look, are one of the major causes of the climate crisis. And yes, it’s their farts that cause the problem. Cow farts are full of methane, which is the greenhouse gas that has the strongest effect short-term.
For a long time, methane wasn’t considered as a dangerous greenhouse gas because scientists were focusing more on the long term effects. Nowadays it’s well-known fact that methane is at least as important as CO2, and in order to reverse climate change, we have to reduce the emissions of both.
You could argue that leather and wool are only food byproducts, but in reality, it’s not always the case. And anyways we should reduce our meat consumption as well in order to decrease our methane emissions.
And there’s also the ethical side of these materials. If you want to read more about the ethics of leather and wool, check out these posts:
Decomposing Textile Waste
One garbage truck of textiles is dumped to landfills or burned each second!
That’s a lot of textile waste we create. And you might don’t know that (I didn’t until I started to dig deep into this topic) that decomposing textiles also emit loads of methane into the atmosphere. So it’s a big problem.
But is it really caused by the fashion industry or by the people who throw away all those clothes? Both. Fast fashion brands make way more clothing than we need and then trick people into buying them. But people are also responsible because they are tricked so easily. They buy a lot of useless and bad quality clothes for a few bucks and they think they make a good deal. In reality, if you buy something you don’t need, or something bad quality, it’s not a good deal, it’s a scam!
Check out this post to see how much waste does the fashion industry produces!
Thanks to globalization, not only us, people but also our clothes travel more. It’s not unusual that a piece of garment travels around the globe before it lands in our wardrobe.
The raw material, for example, can be sourced from the US, shipped to Asia for production, and then shipped back to the United States or Europe to be sold. This might mean a lower price point but it also results in higher carbon emissions and the loss of local jobs.
And to top all this unnecessary transportation, the last decade offered us international shipping. This sounds so useful because now we have the opportunity to purchase something cool from no matter which part of the globe. The only problem is that our clothes travel even more! Imagine that after being sourced from the US, and manufactured in Asia, our garments arrive in a warehouse in Europe. With international shipping, you can purchase them from Australia and they have to travel another 8800 miles (almost 15000 kilometers) to get to your doorstep.
And don’t forget that delivery speed also matters! Next day delivery might seem daunting when you’re impatient to get your hands on your next new thing, but the truth is the faster the delivery is, the more carbon emissions it’s responsible for. Because for faster deliveries they have to use planes, instead of slower trains or ships which would be much more environmentally friendly.
Fast delivery can also mean that they don’t wait for the cargo to fill up to full capacity, and as a result, they don’t transport as many items at once as they could.
Nitrous oxide is a greenhouse gas that is lesser-known than carbon dioxide and methane. But that doesn’t mean we should completely forget about it!
Commercial and organic fertilizers are a great source of nitrous oxide (source).
Fashion is a very fertilizer-heavy industry with a complicated supply chain. So in most cases, it’s almost impossible to track whether or not a piece of clothing was made with fertilizers. It’s very probable that it was, and it’s very hard to prove the opposite.
Shopping Guide for Climate Activists
I hope you can see by now that just like most parts of our everyday lives what we wear also has an impact on climate change. But that’s good news! Because it means that we can decide if we want to contribute to climate change with what we wear and what we buy, or not.
So what clothes should we buy to minimize our contribution to global warming? You don’t need to be or look like a hippie to become a climate activist. And you don’t need to be rich either to shop sustainably. You just have to adjust your mindset a little bit!
What’s more important: the planet or clothes? You see, it doesn’t matter what clothes you own on an unlivable planet. So let’s take care of the Earth so we could keep enjoying fashion!
No matter your clothing budget, these small changes can help you become a more sustainable person. And they’re not that difficult either, trust me!
Wear What You Already Have
See, it’s not that difficult! Or is it? We’re constantly bombarded with ads that tell us to consume more. They feed us the idea that somehow the next thing will make us happier. But by the time we bought that thing, we’re already longing for something else.
Fashion trends come and go so quickly, it’s impossible (and very expensive) to keep up with them. That’s why it’s called fast fashion. Fast fashion stores receive new stock every 1-2 weeks which means that every week there’s a newer trend to follow. This continuous change also keeps consumers more interested to come back.
Don’t let them fool you anymore! The truth is, buying new clothes won’t make you happy, it won’t give a purpose or meaning to your life. And trends won’t make you become a cool person, it’s your personality which does!
Breaking up with this fast fashion mentality is not only good for your mental health, but it can also save you some money! Buy less stuff you don’t need and spend that money on something more useful or meaningful. (Or start that retirement fund you know you have to start eventually, but you keep putting it off!)
Wearing what you already own is also the most sustainable and least expensive change you can make!
Learn how to get the most out of your existing wardrobe! Try out the capsule wardrobe for example, and limit yourself to a certain amount of items for a season! You can also look for some styling tips and try to wear your existing clothes in new, different ways!
Buy Second-Hand First
If you really need to buy something, you can almost always buy it second hand! Second hand is my first choice because it doesn’t create a new item, aka it doesn’t pollute, but it reduces the amount of textile waste we send to landfill.
In addition, second hand shopping can also be very inexpensive. You can find cute bargains so easily, for only the fraction of the original price. Or if you’re into designer fashion, you can also buy second hand designer clothes and accessories for a much friendlier price than new ones. I know I mention them in almost every post, but I really like The RealReal where you can find a huge variety of items from every luxury brand you could ever think of.
Second hand shopping is also great because you can experiment with your style more. Especially with items that are so cheap, you can buy things you’re not sure whether or not you could style them. You can try them out for a month or two and if they don’t fir your style, you can always donate them. I think of this as renting the clothes for very cheap. And it’s so cool because no new item has been created, no extra pollution of the planet.
Want to give it a go? Read this post to find out which type of thrift store fits you the best!
Choose The Right Materials
There are so many different materials and sometimes it’s very difficult to say which is the best. Here are some guidelines I use when I shop!
No Textile Blends
A textile blend is when a textile is made with a composition of different materials. For example, 70% linen and 30% polyester. These blends are not very sustainable, because they can’t be recycled as efficiently as a non-blend.
As I explained above, leather, wool, and other materials that come from animals are very destructive to the environment. So I prefer buying vegan leathers that are more and more popular. There’s a lot of innovation in the field of vegan materials and the newest ones are just as good quality as leather.
Plant-based materials are better for the environment than synthetic materials. Synthetic materials, such as polyester and nylon are usually made of oil, and you know how harmful oil production is to our planet. While natural materials like linen and hemp are made from plants. And those plants not only produce oxygen while growing, but the materials made with them decompose more easily than the synthetic ones.
Organic materials use less water, energy, and fertilizers. So it’s almost always going to be more eco-friendly than the non-organic version of the same material.
Shopping locally is not something we do very often, especially in big cities. But buying local clothing could decrease the carbon emissions caused by the transportation of clothes. And as an added benefit, it could reduce some of the smog too!
Buying from local designers you can find so many more cool and unique items than in fast fashion stores. You’ll be so proud of your purchase and you’ll also make the designer very happy.
Conclusion: Buy Less Fast Fashion For Less Climate Change
I hope you found some useful info in this post and it gave you some motivation to try to develop a new shopping habit that’s a little bit more eco-conscious! Remember that if we want to avoid climate change we all have to act individually! We all have the responsibility to do our best, and what we buy (or don’t) really makes a difference!
Written by Csilla Herbszt, a sustainably stylish fashion blogger living her vegan life in Switzerland. You should follow her on Instagram!