Walking past a high-street fashion store yesterday, I saw this sign: ‘NEED NEW NOW’. “Really??” I thought to myself. “Do I just??” My blood temperature rose at the impetuousness of this statement.
See, you’ve probably contemplated the impact of your waste, your travel footprint and your water-use, but have you ever considered the impact of your wardrobe? Embracing sustainable fashion is one of the biggest things that you can do to reduce your impact on our planet, and yet most of us are still in the dark as to why, and how. We get sucked in by big brands telling us that we ‘need new now’, when quite simply, we don’t! The great news is that not only is embracing sustainable fashion kind to the planet, it’s also kind to your purse, and your personal style!
But first… why? Let’s take a little trip back in time to answer that question. Have a think about what fashion might have been like when your grandmother was your age. Firstly, there were probably only two fashion seasons; spring/summer and autumn (fall)/winter. Garments were crafted mostly by hand, with good quality fabrics and materials, made to last years, if not decades. Styles were timeless, quick trends were non-existent. Many people made a lot of their own clothes. Most clothing bought in New Zealand, was also made in New Zealand.
Now fast-forward back to present day. The big brands are churning out not two, not four, but FIFTY-TWO micro-seasons every year! That’s right, new collections every single week. From spotting a new style at an international fashion show, a high-power fashion chain can design, sample, source, create, ship, market, stock and sell a new item of clothing in just two weeks. It’s staggering! Worldwide, we acquire 80 billion items of clothing annually. And on average each piece will be worn just seven times before becoming trash.*
In some stores, you can dress yourself from head to toe for under $20. In Tokyo, you can buy a tailored suit from a vending machine. See an outfit online that you love? One click and it’s yours. In fact, why not buy two sizes so you can be sure of the right fit? Walk into a high street store and prepare for sensory overload; thumping music, bright lights, shiny surfaces, over-friendly staff and thousands of styles. It’s like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory for fashion-lovers, and can be so overwhelming and overstimulating that ‘minor’ factors like quality, or whether you actually need it, become irrelevant. As for sustainability? That doesn’t even factor into the equation.
Welcome to fast-fashion. Where the aim of retailers is to get the newest styles on the shelves at break-neck speed, so we can snap them up while they are still at the peak of trendiness, and then discard them a few wears later, when they don’t feel fashionable anymore, or we don’t want to be seen wearing the same outfit more than once.
With these gargantuan levels of production and consumption, there must come equally gargantuan levels of waste. Every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned. It is estimated that clothing and textiles in our landfills currently make up between 7% and 12%.** Most clothes are made of synthetics, but even 100% cotton clothes won’t break down much in landfill, surrounded by plastic and other household waste. And waste is not the only environmental cost of fast fashion. ‘The World Bank estimates that the fashion industry is responsible for nearly 20% of all industrial water pollution annually. The fashion industry releases 10% of the carbon emissions in our air, and uses a fourth of all chemicals produced world-wide.’*** And that’s not even getting started on the garment factory workers!
It’s time to kick fast fashion to the curb! To seek classic style that lasts. So let’s delve into five simple ways to embrace sustainable fashion, save money and dress to impress!
Pre-loved. Second-hand shopping doesn’t mean tweed skirts and the whiff of mothballs, it means finding unique one-of-a-kind items at a fraction of the monetary cost, and at zero environmental cost. Think vintage, hand-me-downs, clothes swaps and borrowing. You can rent stunning outfits for special occasions. If you’re not one for rummaging or don’t think you have the eye, check out designer second-hand shops, or ‘finders’ who trawl through second hand stores looking for treasures to sell-on.
Yours. The most sustainable item of clothing is the one you already have. Ever feel like you have overflowing draws of clothes but nothing to wear? It’s time to take a step back, embrace your inner style-guru, and shop your own wardrobe. I can guarantee there are all sorts of garments long-forgotten, combinations you haven’t tried, and barely-worn pieces that you are ‘saving for special occasions’. Zhush up a dress that you’re bored of with a belt or accessories, or try combining a formal item with some casual pieces. You could enlist the help of a friend who can approach things with a fresh set of eyes. You could even take it further and pay for a stylist to come and help you. It’s not a waste of money if it is going to stop you buying more items which will soon make their way to the bottom of those overflowing drawers!
Sustainability. Seek our brands that put the planet first. There are a lot of them out there if you’re willing to make it a priority. Brands that can trace their production lines, that make sure everyone involved in the creation of their garments is treated fairly, that source sustainable materials, and for whom the environment is a major consideration at all stages. Support local, small businesses where possible, rather than global fashion powerhouses.
Quality. “Buy less. Choose well. Make it last.” This quote from Vivienne Westwood says it all. My niece recently bought a tee-shirt from Glassons that ripped as she was pulling the price tag off. Choose to spend your money on one quality item that you love, rather than multiple trendy, mass-produced items which will start falling apart after (or in my neice’s case, before!) one wear. You will get more use and joy from that one item than all the others combined.
Care. Mend, spot-clean, line-dry and wash less. These are all things that you can do to look after your clothes, make them last longer and to honor the resources that have gone into them. Many of us have the default setting of washing clothes every time we wear them. Take a moment (or a sniff) to consider if an item really needs washing. Sometimes hanging an item up to air can freshen it up, or consider spot cleaning instead of putting it in the washing machine. By washing your clothes less they will last longer. The CEO of Levis caused controversy when he claimed that jeans never need to be washed!! (as it fades and damages them). You may not want to take it to quite that extreme, but how about pushing it out a bit longer between washes. Using a detergent with a lower environmental impact also helps.
So let’s take a leaf from our grandmothers’ books. We can leave the ‘NEED NEW NOW’ of fast fashion behind, and work towards slow fashion. Beautiful fashion. Quality fashion. Sustainable fashion.
Juliet Dale – The Great Eco Journey (pictured right, dressed head to toe in second-hand fashion!)
*according to a 2015 study by the British charity Barnado’s.
***Wall Street Journal: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-high-price-of-fast-fashion-11567096637
"We are the Dale family. Mum: Juliet - that's me. Dad: Jon.
Football-mad Brady. Sparkle-mad Eve, and just plain-mad
We are not Green Gurus, or Tree-Huggers. We
don’t wear tie dye and we are not vegan.
BUT, about two years ago, we realised that we couldn’t keep
living the disposable lifestyle that we had; using something
once, throwing it away, wheeling the rubbish bin out to the
curbside once a week and promptly forgetting about it.
SO we started making some changes, just one at a time. We
quickly discovered that not only was it easy, but we were also
really enjoying the challenge, as well as saving money. Most of
all though, the very small changes that we were making were really adding up. Within three months our family had halved the amount of waste that we were producing in our house!
SO we created the Great Eco Journey. Simple eco-tips that are easy, fun, can save you money and most importantly, help you to live more sustainably."
To follow and see what Juliet and her family are up to head on over to their website here.