There’s a lot of noise around sustainability within the fashion world at the moment. A quick look at any social media site and words like “eco-friendly”, “responsible” and “green” are front and centre and constant streams of tips and advice, motivational quotes and suggestions flood our newsfeeds. While it’s an important topic – and an urgent one – with all the noise it can be difficult to separate and unpack what it really means and what we can and need to do to make fashion more sustainable.
Why all the noise?
Fashion is a funny mix of need and want. At a basic level we need clothes to wear but we also want clothing as a means to express ourselves, to fit in or stand out, and on an emotional level to feel good about how we look or what we can afford. We’re also driven by a large amount of “FOMO”. Through fashion “drops”, limited edition capsule collections and new seasonal collections released at rapid speed, fashion has become something that is scarce and needs to be purchased now and worn now to be “on trend”. As the saying goes, “In Fashion one day you’re in and the next you’re out”…
In reality there’s nothing scarce about the fashion industry. Since the early 2000’s fashion production has almost doubled and is continuing to increase. Designer brands that used to operate on two seasonal cycles now release up to five new collections a year, while some retail chains can release up to 24 new collections in the same timeframe. But all of this production has to come from something and it comes with serious social and environmental costs.
For the average shopper, when we think of the fashion industry we generally see the glitz and the glamour. Underneath it all though it’s an industry like any other. One that requires raw materials, manufacturing, processing and transportation and at the rate and speed in which current fashion cycles operate it’s having a significant impact on the environment. To put it into context, the fashion industry currently accounts for almost 10% of all global carbon emissions. This is larger than the emissions of the aviation and shipping industries combined. If current production rates continue, this could increase to 25% by 2050.
The fashion industry is responsible for 20% of all industrial water pollution worldwide.
New apparel production releases 4M tons of harmful carbon emissions annually.
Up to 60% of online retailers annual GHG’s are due to customers deliveries & returns
60% of all clothing ends up in incinerators or landfills within a year of being produced.
Extend the life of your clothes by one year, you can reduce its carbon footprint by 25%.
Where does it all go?
With all this choice and all this consumption has come one of the biggest problems of the fashion industry, where does all this excess production go? Clothing consumed is vastly under-utilised. As end consumers we now purchase almost 60% more clothing than just 20 years ago, however, we keep this clothing for just about half as long before throwing it away. In some cases, we end up throwing away clothing we purchased and have never worn. Let’s unpack that for a second. We’re so inundated with choice that essentially, we’re throwing money away. Statistics show that one garbage truck full of clothing is dumped in a landfill or incinerated every second, releasing more harmful greenhouse gases into the environment.
How can we fix it?
One of the easiest ways to reduce the harmful impact of fashion is to simple reuse the clothing that’s already been produced. By reusing you cut out the need for new production and divert clothing away from landfills.
But what about choice and what about wants?
Sure, we can re-wear our clothing – this settles the need we have to wear it, but we’re still driven by emotional wants and ways to express ourselves. So how do we reduce production while still giving ourselves the freedom of choice and the luxury of “newness” in our wardrobes?
Swapping can provide choice
This is where swapping comes in particularly handy!
By engaging in a one for one swap we get the thrill of a new item to wear and also cut out the need for production of the swapped items completely. As an example, imagine the swap consisted of a pair of jeans for both. Production of denim jeans is extremely water intensive. Producing one pair can take up to 10,000 litres of water due to the use of cotton and in the dyeing and finishing processes. By swapping a pair of jeans with each other the production of 2 pairs of jeans is removed. That’s approximately 20,000 litres of water saved.
Now imagine if those two pairs of jeans were consecutively swapped by multiple different people. Think of the water we could save!
Make considered decisions
Swapping has the added benefit of helping us to make more considered choices when acquiring clothes. By using something you own to get something else you automatically begin to place a value on the item you’re choosing to swap and making a judgement on whether the other item is worth it. Why is this important? It helps us avoid getting more clothing that we keep in our wardrobes and don’t wear. By making a considered decision you’re more likely to wear the items you have swapped in and more likely to take care of it.
If the ongoing effects of Covid-19 have shown us anything is that our demand has a significant impact on the production cycles. If we can reduce the amount buy which we consume new clothing we can help to change the system into one that is slower and more environmentally friendly.