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If you are like a lot of people, you probably have never given much thought to how the clothing you wear impacts the environment. Sustainable fashion has become an increasingly popular topic in recent years, but there are still a lot of misconceptions surrounding what it means and what it really is.
If you think that “ethical clothing” only includes shapeless hemp sacks or knitting your wardrobe using yarn spun from wool you sheared off your own sheep, think again.
Sustainable clothing can be just as stylish and convenient as mainstream fashion. There are a lot of earth-friendly fabrics on the market and making the switch is easier than you may realize. If you are interested in sustainable fashion and learning how to change up your own wardrobe, keep reading!
What Is Sustainable Fashion?
Sustainable fashion comes in many different forms, but it can generally be defined as “clothing, shoes, and accessories that are manufactured, marketed, and used in the most sustainable manner possible.” Both environmental and socio-economical aspects are taken into consideration to improve the product in all stages of its lifecycle.
Why Does It Matter?
Sustainability in the fashion industry is important for numerous reasons. For starters, this industry is in the top ten-largest cause of pollution in the world, right up there with the oil industry. For this reason alone, it is extremely important to look for sustainable options.
The production of an average t-shirt requires up to 600 gallons of water. And since many are made in Asian nations, they have to be shipped thousands of miles before reaching the racks of your favorite clothing store. Your favorite pair of jeans? It took about 1,800 gallons of water to make. The fashion industry also uses more than 1,600 chemicals in the dying process, the vast majority of which have not been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Consumers are to blame for fashion’s massive impact on the world, too. We consume more than 400 percent more clothing than we did just 20 years ago. Believe it or not, the average garment is worn a mere seven times before it is thrown out.
Sustainable fashion aims to decrease the environmental and socio-economic impacts of manufacturing clothing. It is also intended to extend the wearable life of clothing to decrease waste.
While there are several elements to sustainable fashion, earth-friendly fabrics are a huge component. If you are looking to green your wardrobe, there are several comfortable and durable fabrics from which to choose, including bamboo, hemp and organic cotton. Bamboo is a highly renewable type of gas that is grown with minimal chemicals. The fabric produced from it breathes easily, is biodegradable and even has natural antibacterial properties. Be careful when shopping for this fabric, though, as some companies use toxic chemicals to turn the plant into fabric. If the tag says “bamboo-based rayon,” it was manufactured using this method.
Hemp is becoming increasingly common in the fashion world. It grows fast, making it rapidly renewable. It can be grown without fertilizer and with minimal or no pesticides. Unlike some crops, it does not deplete the nutrients found in soil and it is easy to harvest.
While 25 percent of the pesticides are used worldwide in the conventional production of cotton, organic cotton is one of the best earth-friendly fabrics you can purchase. It is grown without pesticides or toxic synthetic chemicals. It’s also renewable and biodegradable, making it an excellent choice for sustainable fashion. Organic cotton t-shirts are soft and comfortable, making them a popular choice among consumers who are looking to reduce their impact without sacrificing comfort.
Shopping for Sustainable Fashions
If you want to incorporate more sustainable clothing in your wardrobe, the most important step is paying close attention to the care label. Any information regarding how a fabric is made, whether it is organic or recycled, and what it is made of will be found on that label. There might also be a website that you can check out. Only so much information will fit on a tiny garment care tag, but many manufacturers share detailed information regarding their approach to sustainability on their websites.
Unless you need it for a specific reason, avoid synthetic fabrics as often as possible. Materials like polyester, modal, acrylic, nylon, spandex and rayon have a huge impact on the environment during the production phase. They also can shed microplastics that eventually make their way into water supplies when they are washed. If you require a specific feature—like being waterproof—a synthetic fabric may be your only option. If not, it is generally best to stick with natural materials.
Step outside the box and try products from retailers and manufacturers who are committed to sustainability. More and more brands and designers are embracing earth-friendly fabrics and sustainable fashion, but if your favorite hasn’t, there is no reason not to look elsewhere.
Giving Your Unwanted Clothing a Second Life
Reducing your impact on the environment involves more than just buying products that are environmentally friendly. You also need to be conscious of how you can reduce your waste contribution. Rather than throwing your unwanted clothing in the trash, donate them to a second-hand store or plan an evening to swap clothing and accessories with your friends or family members. If you have articles of clothing, like cotton t-shirts, that are no longer nice enough to wear, cut them up to use as rags or find a way to get crafty and repurpose them.
Wearing the latest trends doesn’t have to mean having a negative impact on the environment. Embracing sustainable style enables you to look great and feel great about the clothes you wear.
Can you make a promise to start shopping for more earth-friendly fabrics?
Cover photo via Marianne Krohn