One thing that’s been on my mind a lot since starting my buy nothing new year is clothes. I don’t buy a great deal of clothes for myself anyway (is this a mum thing or a me thing?) but when I do think to buy myself something, I want it relatively quickly.
I was folding some laundry a few days ago and I saw that my daughter’s leggings had been made in Bangladesh. Shipping from across the world to a high street near you is never going to be great for our planet, but just how bad can it be? Well, I’ve done some digging – and the answer is very.
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The impact of fast fashion
What do you need to make a simple cotton t-shirt?
First, you need cotton. To get the cotton, you’ll need land to grow on, the crops will need watering, and you’ll probably be using plenty of pesticides to make sure your crop is plentiful.
Once the cotton is baled, it gets sent off to another factory where it’s made into fabric. At this point it’s a dirty grey colour – not very nice to look at!
Next is the wet processing, where the fabric gets its final colour. It’ll be bleached, printed and/or dyed before being chemically treated to make it soft. I love a nice, soft t-shirt – don’t you?
The fabric is shipped off again, to the factories it will be sewn in. The blank t-shirts are formed here, and 15% of the fabric produced so far will end up on the cutting room floor.
Assuming this is just a plain white t-shirt on the high street, it will be flown to a warehouse, then shipped to a store near you. Next time you pick up a t-shirt, remember that it’s taken a tremendous amount of resources to get to you.
The above talks about the environmental impact, but I want you to think about the human impact as well. Who spreads the pesticides on your cotton crops, or spends hours working in factories which are often unsafe, to get your t-shirt to you?
How do your clothes get to the UK?
Most clothes on the high street come from countries such as Bangladesh and China. But even if they’re made with the best sustainable practices available at the time, they still need to get from A to B, and most of the time that means putting them on a plane. It’s faster than shipping by water, so it’s ok, right? Wrong – air freight is 44 to 50 times more carbon intensive than sea freight.
What we can do to reduce our impact
Keep a capsule wardrobe. The reason businesses are ushing for such tight turnarounds is because the consumer demands ever changing, up-to-date fashion. Keeping a slimmed down wardrobe rejects this model, leaving the planet (and your bank) better off.
Buy second hand. If you need to expand your wardrobe, byuing second hand is the best bet – you can find almost anything on the likes of eBay* or the Oxfam Online Shop*
Rent clothes. Need something for just one night? Consider renting an outfit rather than buying something that’ll only be worn once.
Swap clothes. If you have friends who are a similar size/style to you, host a clothes swap or find one locally. Besma from Curiously Conscious has hosted clothes swaps before so if you’re based in or around London she is one to watch!
If you must buy: buy sustainable, buy local.
Clothing needs land, water, crops, chemicals, energy, shipping and an untold amount of people power. Choose well!