Sustainable Fashion: 5 Ways to Reduce Your Clothing’s Environmental Footprint

Sustainable Fashion: 5 Ways to Reduce Your Clothing’s Environmental Footprint

Fast fashion has quickly become infamous for its disastrous impact of the environment. The average American throws away 81.5 pounds of clothing every year, contributing to the staggering 11.3 million tons of textile waste that finds its way into our landfills annually. To make matters worse, textile dyeing and finishing is responsible for 3% of global CO2 emissions (more than shipping and aviation combined!) and a whopping 20% of global water pollution

Beyond the environmental problems, there is also the major human rights issue of sweatshops. A sweatshop is defined as a factory or workshop where manual workers are employed at very low wages for long hours and under poor conditions. Some estimates claim that as high as 75% of clothing sold in the United States likely came from a sweatshop. 

The recent increase in the popularity of synthetic fabrics like polyester and spandex has only exacerbated the problem further. Polyester is an oil-based plastic that may take hundreds of years to decompose, and spandex is even worse as it is petroleum based and never breaks down. 

With all of this, it’s no wonder that clothing has become a part of the sustainability conversation. It goes without saying that we can’t give up on wearing clothes, so what can we do to reduce our textile footprint?

While there are a handful of companies that have begun to lead the way to sustainable fashion by producing clothes with natural fabrics and dyes, using recycled materials, and engaging in fair trade practices, in many cases they still have a long way to go and can be price prohibitive. 

Luckily, if buying only from sustainable brands is simply out of budget, there is still a lot you can do to reduce your personal impact!

Here are 5 tips to help make your wardrobe eco-friendlier:

  1. Practice Mindful Shopping

    The top of the waste pyramid is reduce for a reason! While shopping for the sake of shopping can be fun in the moment, the best way to reduce waste is to limit unnecessary purchases that will likely sit in the closet unused and end up in a landfill after only a few wears. This is not to say give up shopping entirely, but simply to be more mindful about what we ultimately purchase. 
    When shopping mindfully, here some things to consider:

    Will this piece of clothing provide true value and utility to my wardrobe? 
    - Is the fabric a natural fabric like cotton, bamboo, or hemp, or a synthetic fabric that will not decompose? 
    - Is the dye natural or synthetic?
    - Does the company engage in fair labor practices? 

    While the answer may not always be yes to all these questions, being aware of the issues with the fashion industry and selecting the best options available is already a step in the right direction.

  2. Shop Secondhand

    Shopping at thrift shops is not only a great way to save money, its also a fun way to reduce your environmental impact. Giving clothes a second life instead of purchasing new ones reduces the amount of new clothing that needs to be produced every year and donating old clothes that still have a lot of life left is a great way to keep them out of the landfill. As a bonus, thrifting is like an exciting treasure hunt, and you never know what you might find!

  3. Follow All Label Instructions

    Once you have added new clothing to your collection, it’s important to follow the proper care instructions to extend the life of the garment and ensure it stays out of the landfill for as long as possible. That dress that is supposed to hang-dry may wear out extra quickly if it’s tossed in the dryer, and those hand-wash only delicates may simply disintegrate after a few runs through the washer!

  4. Learn to Mend the Clothes You Have

    Rather than tossing clothes at the first sign of wear and tear, try purchasing a sewing kit and learn how to repair small holes, replace buttons, and apply patches. You may find that by repairing clothes you previously would have thrown away; you can extend their life by many months or even years!

  5. Reuse and Recycle

    Regardless of how much you donate and repair, there will always come a day when your clothes are simply beyond saving as a part of your wardrobe.  When the time comes, there is one last question to ask before you drop it in the bin: “Is there anyway this could be repurposed?” Maybe that worn out t-shirt would be an excellent cleaning rag or that ripped pair of jeans can be transformed into shorts or even a cute denim bag. 

All these small changes can add up to a massive impact, and the more people that adopt this mindset the larger the effect will be. We hope you can add these tips to your arsenal for eco-conscious living and implement them to revamp your wardrobe. Together we really can make a difference!

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