Fast fashion contributes 8-10% of global carbon emissions. What can we do to change that?

Fast fashion has been a bug bear of ours for years, and considering that UK shoppers buy more clothes than those in any other country in Europe, we can do a lot more to reduce the environmental impact of 'keeping up appearances'.

Oxfam published a figure that indicates that British wardrobes are overflowing with clothes - the average Briton has 57 unworn, unused items, and yet, almost half of all 16 - 24-year-old are buying clothes online at least once a week.

Here are some facts that put that habit into a worrying context:

• cotton for the fashion industry uses about 2.5% of the world's farmland

• synthetic materials like polyester require an estimated 342 million barrels of oil every year

• clothes production processes such as dying requires 43 million tonnes of chemicals a year

According to the UN, the fashion industry produces 20% of all wastewater (!), and it is estimated that about $500 billion – about £412 billion (9th August 2022) – of value is lost every year due to “clothing underutilisation and lack of recycling”.

The UN further states that “the apparel industry consumes more energy than the aviation and shipping industry combined, accounting for 10 per cent of the global carbon emissions. Chemicals from dyes make their way into the environment, polluting the air, water, and also harming marine life.”

Let’s take a look at how much water making clothes uses up:

• a pair of cotton socks 600 litres

• a tee-shirt requires 2,700 litres of water

• a pair of jeans a whopping 10,000 litres

Let’s say you are an average British person with the assumed 57 unworn items of clothing in your wardrobe, and each of those conservatively clocks in at 2,000 litres of water used to manufacture them, you may need a bigger wardrobe: 114,000 litres of water that could have been more useful elsewhere.

The situation has become untenable, which is why the UN launched the #ActNow Fashion Challenge to help industry and individuals become aware of the environmental impact that our buying habits have. And it is beginning to have an effect on how clothes are made. There are more and more “eco collections” launched by manufacturers such as H&M, Adidas and Zara, with many more jumping on the band wagon. However, be aware that some fashion lines may not be as sustainable as they claim. In fact, Asos, Boohoo and Asda are under investigation by the UK’s competition watchdog “over claims about sustainability and the language used to describe them”, according to the BBC.

Making clothes more sustainable doesn’t address the cause of the problem in the slightest – overconsumption. And to be very honest, can you imagine that any of the main fashion brands will urge the consumer to spend less money on their products? Neither can we. And with a statistic claiming that a third of young people wouldn’t spend more than an extra £5 on sustainable fashion (survey carried out by the London Fashion Retail Academy), the buck really stops with us.

We suggest living more by the three-‘R’-principle:

Reuse: something I do regularly – go through your wardrobe, pull everything out from the shelves and off the rails and place it on the bed. You will come across those much-loved pieces you haven’t worn for a while but would look good for that night out on Friday. And if you definitely won’t wear it again,

Recycle: drop it off at a charity shop or the clothes container at your local supermarket. Someone else will love it, or it gets recycled to make new clothes out of the old.

Relove: buy more second hand. We have seen a resurgence of second-hand clothing stores outside the charity shop circle that are offering some very decent garments at extremely low prices. Advantage here is that the ‘vintage look’ has been very popular as of late and will surely continue to do so.

The biggest change we can make is within ourselves. There is nothing wrong with wearing the same clothes again. You can be creative and try different combinations. You may be surprised how little other people care about your personal fashion choices, so be courageous.

Ralph Lauren once said:

"Fashion is not necessarily about labels. It’s not about brands. It’s about something else that comes from within you.”

Style is an intrinsic part of you. It is about how you carry yourself and your esteem. It does not come only through clothes.

Gérard Fabrice Guminski, August '22

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