10 Reasons Why Sustainable Fashion Is Good For The Environment
July 25, 2019
Until two years ago I had no idea how the fashion industry was destroying our planet. I was blinded by the pretty clothes, the stylish displays, ads, and the rapidly changing collections. I couldn’t see the consequences of this massive industry behind the glamour of a fast-fashion store. My love of fashion was killing my other love: the environment.
When I discovered sustainable fashion, a whole new world opened up to me. I know that every person who’s involved with sustainable fashion says the same thing, but The True Cost documentary was a true eye-opener to me. It made me realize how much impact fashion has on the environment, on the garment workers’ lives, and even on our mental health. Now the idea of buying cheap clothes to wear only a couple of times seems absurd, even ridiculous to me.
Sustainable fashion is a movement that says that we can do this better. We don’t have to pollute, exploit, and overconsume to look stylish. Sustainable brands all around the world are working on solutions to these huge issues. And they are doing an excellent job! They care, they innovate, they create beautiful clothes, and they are saving the planet from fast fashion!
Here’s how they do it:
Producing Less Textile Waste
The slow fashion movement is a new notion in the fashion world that contradicts the current force of fast fashion and limitless consumption. In reality, slow fashion is not a new concept. Fashion was always slow until fast fashion took off in the late 80s and early 90s. Sustainable fashion and minimalism try to reintroduce the idea of not purchasing more clothes than we need.
Sustainable fashion brands rarely follow trends, and they don’t push new collections every week to trick you into buying more. Slow fashion is all about quality and timeless pieces. That doesn’t mean that these clothes are boring or not stylish. If you don’t believe me, just check out the list of my favorite sustainable brands!
Buying less and buying better have a huge impact on the planet. Globally we dump to landfill or burn one garbage track of textile waste every second! If we extended the life of our clothes by 7 months, we could cut the waste in half! Which is still a lot of waste honestly. But put in other words, we could save one garbage truck of textile waste in every two seconds! That’s huge!
For further reading on this topic, check out my other article: How Much Waste Does the Fashion Industry Produce?
Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions
There are three ways the fashion industry is producing greenhouse gases: oil, transportation, and cows. Sustainable fashion gives solutions to all three.
Using Less Synthetic Materials
Synthetic materials, such as polyester, nylon, and spandex require oil. And oil production is one of our biggest greenhouse gas emitters. So instead, opt for natural, plant-based materials, for example, organic cotton, hemp, and bamboo.
In sustainable fashion, the use of natural materials is a lot more common practice. Synthetic materials are used very rarely and most times are made of recycled materials.
As you might know, transportation also emits a huge amount of greenhouse gases. And the process of transporting huge collections all around the world is very damaging to the environment. It might be more cost-efficient to make clothes in third world countries, but does it worth it if we destroy our planet?
Sustainable brands are shifting more and more back to local production. Sourcing local materials, employing local craftsmen, and refusing to sell the clothes globally have a major positive impact on the environment. And as a bonus, local production creates jobs and boosts the local economy.
Materials that come from animals, especially leather, are way more damaging to the planet than consumers are aware of. Yes, leather can be a byproduct of the meat industry, but as we should consume less meat to reverse climate change, we should also reduce our leather production. Raising animals for food and fashion generates more greenhouse gases than all transportation combined: cars, airplanes, ships, trains, everything!
Fortunately, we have so many alternatives to leather these days. There are vegan brands creating shoes and bags made of cork, pineapple peel, apples, mushrooms, leaves. And these materials are just as good as traditional leather or even superior without environmental damage and animal cruelty.
Are vegan materials really better? Read my post on this topic: Vegan Leather: High-Quality Leather Alternative or Cheap Imitation
Using Less Water
Fashion is a very water-intensive industry. Cotton, for example, needs a lot of water to grow. As a result, sustainable fashion tries to reduce the use of cotton. Switching to organic cotton is a great solution since it uses 71% less water than conventional cotton (source). But sustainable brands often opt for other natural materials such as linen and hemp which uses even less water.
Using plant-based leather instead of traditional leather is another way to reduce fashion’s water footprint. Pinatex®, for example, which is a plant-based leather made from pineapple leaves doesn’t need any water to grow because it is simply a byproduct of the already existing pineapple farming.
But did you know that your clothes use tons of water after you purchased them? That’s right, your washing machine runs on average with 50 liters of water per load. Washing your clothes less frequently (of course, only when it’s possible, I don’t want you to walk around in stained tops and smelly underwear) could have a huge impact on your water footprint. Washing less also damages less the clothes, so you could keep them longer and you’d produce less textile waste (as we talked about it above). See, it’s all connected!
Using Less Energy
Synthetic materials, in addition to producing more greenhouse gases, also use more energy. Recycled polyester, for example, uses half the energy than new polyester (source). But the sustainable materials I already mentioned (hemp, linen, bamboo) are even more energy-efficient. That’s why sustainable fashion supports these fabrics more than polyester and other synthetic fabrics.
But reducing energy consumption can be implemented at every step of the supply chain.
Local production reduces the energy used for transportation.
New dyeing methods are put in place to reduce energy and water use.
Ethical fashion brands often prefer creating smaller collections with hand-made items. In this case, craftsmanship and human labor replace a small amount of energy used by factories.
The slow fashion movement, and the notion of producing less, but better quality, and extending the life-cycle of our clothes could easily cut fashion’s energy use by half.
Avoiding Pesticides and Insecticides
Conventional cotton uses about 16% of the world’s insecticides and 7% of pesticides (source). While the organic food movement has already taken off, consumers are just starting to realize that what we put on our skin, our biggest organ), is just as important for our health as the food we put on our plates.
But avoiding pesticides and insecticides have an equally positive impact on our planet. Growing organic plants use less water and energy, but they also help to keep the soil healthy. Organic farming promotes biodiversity instead of monoculture.
Recycled or Recyclable Materials
Recycled, recyclable, or biodegradable materials play a key role in the sustainable fashion world. We can’t keep producing clothes anymore without knowing where they will end up after we stop using them. We generate insane amounts of textile waste already. Recycling and recyclable fashion help to reduce textile waste and create a more circular economy.
Recycling textile waste into new clothing should be evident, however, it is not always easy. Fabric blends (when an item is made of a combination of different fabrics) can rarely be recycled. And even if a material is recyclable, the recycled fabric is usually worse quality than the original. That’s why clothing is often recycled into other items such as rugs, or insulation.
However, some other materials can be recycled into clothing fabric. Recycling plastic bottles into shoes, bags, or other clothing materials is a great example of this.
Less Toxic Waste and Water Pollution
There is this anecdote I heard that in China, there’s a river that changes its color and the people can predict the color trends for the next season from the color of the river. Unfortunately, this is not some kind of magic, this is water pollution.
The textile dyeing and leather tanning process include some harsh chemicals that cause serious health problems to the workers. In developing countries, the chemicals and other toxic waste are usually just dumped into rivers. These rivers are completely dead by now. They don’t have any fish or other animals live in them and they’ve also wiped out the plants on the riverside. They’re basically just colored, toxic streams of water seasoned with some plastic waste.
The saddest part is that often these rivers provided the only water source to neighboring villages and wildlife, due to the underdevelopment of water systems in these poor countries. Consequently, the villagers got sick and/or were forced to leave their homes.
I hope you see how absurd this is and yet Zara, H&M, Forever 21, Topshop, and basically all fast fashion companies continue to contribute to the insane pollution of our rivers.
Ethical, sustainable brands, on the other hand, would never do such things. Dumping something in nature, especially if it’s toxic, doesn’t exist in the sustainable fashion world. They use alternative dyeing methods that aren’t toxic and which are also more water- and energy-efficient. But you know, they are also more expensive. It’s simply not possible to sell $5 T-shirts and NOT to pollute the environment and harm people. That’s the true cost of cheap fast fashion.
Microplastics are microscopic plastic particles. They come from the degradation of plastic as it doesn’t ‘disappear’ or turn into another material, it only breaks down into smaller pieces. As these fragments get into the waters, they have a huge negative effect on marine life and the whole ecosystem.
Planktons and other small animals at the bottom of the food chain can mistake microplastics for food and consume them. Then, fish eat the planktons, other animals eat the fish, and so on. If you consume fish or other marine animals, you’re very likely to eat microplastics as well. But if you don’t, you’ll still likely to meet your daily plastic intake by simply drinking tap water, considering that 83% of the drinking water is already polluted (source).
One way microplastics can enter the water is through our washing machines. Every time you wash your synthetic (polyester, nylon, etc.) clothing tiny particles break down and enter our water systems. The solution? Buy clothes made of natural materials instead. They are better for the environment in so many ways I listed above, you don’t have excuses not to. But if you already own synthetic clothes, don’t throw them away just yet! You can purchase this Guppyfriend Washing Bag (Amazon link, not affiliate) which filters and collects the fibers that break down during the wash.
Fewer Animals Harmed
It is quite obvious that environmental destruction is harmful to wildlife. The huge amount of waste and pollution destroys habitats and as a result, more and more species become endangered. But what about animals used in the industry?
2018 was a great year for vegan fashion as almost all major designers dropped fur, or announced to drop fur from their collections.
But if wearing fur is considered to be cruel, why other materials, such as leather, wool, and silk are still okay to wear? All animals exploited by the fashion industry suffer. You can read my other posts about why I don’t wear leather, wool, and silk to learn more.
Luckily, sustainable fashion is becoming more and more vegan. They either realize that it’s not okay to kill or abuse an animal to make clothes out of their different body parts, or they want to reduce the environmental footprint these animals have on our planet.
Either way, the result is beautiful vegan clothing and accessories that don’t cost the lives of animals.
We tend to forget about it sometimes, but people are also part of the environment. We don’t just want a happy, healthy planet to live on, we want to share it with happy, healthy people, and we also want to be happy and healthy. Fast fashion, sadly, doesn’t really care about neither the workers nor us, the consumers. I could write a whole blog post about how fast fashion takes advantage of people, but for now, I just want to mention two things to get a clear picture of what’s happening in fashion right now.
Cheap Labour Doesn’t Have to Mean Inhumane Working Conditions
The only positive impact of fast fashion is that it helps to boost the economy of developing countries. They provide jobs to people in extreme poverty who might starve otherwise. They pay a minimum wage to the garment workers, and everybody wins, right?
The problem is that the minimum wage in these countries is less than the actual living wage. Meaning that companies can legally pay you a minimum wage, but it’s not enough money for housing, food, and very basic needs.
Bangladeshi garment workers have been protesting for months for the raise of the minimum wage. However, if the government raised the minimum wage, there would be a risk of all major fashion brands just move their production to another country where the minimum wage is lower, and Bangladesh would lose half of its economy.
There would be a simple solution though…
If you break down the cost of a T-shirt, only $1 goes to the garment workers. That means that if we were giving the workers a 100% raise the items would only cost $1 more!
And there are some sustainable brands such as Everlane who do exactly that. Everlane clothes don’t cost a fortune, but the brand takes a smaller profit margin and gives more to the workers.
Some ethical fashion brands take an even bigger step. People Tree is one of the best examples of this. They go to developing countries, they work directly with the artisans, they teach them the necessary skills, they create communities, and they share their stories.
You Are Tricked Into Spending More
You probably already know that advertisements, billboards, social media, stylish shop designs, constantly changing collections are different ways to trick you into buying more and more clothing that you don’t even need.
This nonstop urge for consumption has enormous effects on our mental health. Since I stopped buying fast fashion and started to embrace a more minimalist lifestyle that voice in my head that was saying ‘I want this and that’, ‘I have to go shopping’, ‘I don’t look good enough’ has almost completely disappeared. I feel more at ease and I don’t cringe if I don’t buy a piece of clothing I like. And the best part is, I don’t feel guilty and ashamed every time I open my wardrobe. I don’t have clothes with the price tag still on, because I don’t purchase anything I won’t wear.
Which brings me to my last point: the price tag. The price tag is the main reason for this whole mass consumption, waste, and environmental destruction. If you’re used to paying the same amount of money for a piece of clothing as for a latte, then you’ll think about the purchase just as much. You think that you make a great deal, but actually, you paying more altogether, because you buy so much stuff you don’t need, or because what you buy is really bad quality.
By buying sustainable fashion we can all turn this around, and create a fashion industry which respects the planet, the animals, and the people! If you don’t know where to start, check out my favorite sustainable brands!
Written by Csilla Herbszt, a sustainably stylish fashion blogger living her vegan life in Switzerland. You should follow her on Instagram!