Vivienne Westwood is one of the most unconventional and outspoken fashion designers in the world. In 2013, after showcasing her latest designs at London Fashion Week, she shared her views in regards to the latest trends of ‘fast fashion’ by saying: “Buy less. Choose well. Make it last”. Over the years this quote has been shared a multitude of times and has become the mantra for those trying to be more sustainable in their fashion choices.
A deeper look at the price of fashion
Her statement, which she enriched by saying that people are “buying far too many clothes” and that they should choose "Quality, not quantity”, was meant to encourage people to not “invest in fashion”, but to “invest in the world”. It has now taken on a different meaning, as it has encouraged people to want to know more about their clothes: Where they come from, what they are made of and how they impact the environment.
The fashion industry has always had an enormous impact on our planet: It emits more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping combined, its the second-largest consumer of the world's water supply, and it pollutes the water cycle with micro-plastics. If those numbers weren’t scary enough, the fashion industry produces 10% of all humanity's carbon emissions, and, according to a 2017 report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, if changes aren’t made, by 2050 it will end up producing a staggering 26% of all carbon emissions.
The long lasting impact of Micro-plastics
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) defines micro-plastics as "plastics less than five millimeters in size” which never biodegrade.
According to a report released in 2017 by the Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 35% of all micro-plastics in the ocean come from the laundering of synthetic textiles like polyester. Considering that 60% of all fabric fibers are now synthetics, it isn’t difficult to understand why the percentage is so high. Washing clothes, releases approximately 500,000 tons of microfibers into the ocean each year. That’s the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles! These microfibers make their way through domestic wastewater into sewage treatment plants, and the fragments that are not captured as part of sewage sludge, proceed down the water cycle and end up in rivers and eventually in the ocean. According to a 2011 study, microfibers make up 85% of human made debris on shorelines worldwide, greatly impacting marine life, and making their way in the food chain.
Unfortunately there seems to be no end to this massive problem, as people are buying more and more clothes everyday. A study showed that 60% more garments were sold in 2014 than in 2000, but more worryingly is the fact that as time goes by, clothes are kept less and less. That same study in fact revealed that in 2014 people only kept the clothes for half as long as they would have 14 years earlier. With brands putting out an average of 5 collections a year (with some even putting out from 12 to 24 collections a year), the amount of clothing being used for short periods of time and then immediately thrown out is astonishing. And where do most of those clothes go once we’re done with them? Most of it ends up landfills, where it will never decompose. About 85% of textile waste in the United States alone either ends up in landfills or is incinerated. To put it in perspective, the equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is burned or dumped in a landfill every second.
Cut down your wardrobe
What can you do to limit the impact you clothes have on the environment? Follow Vivienne Westwood’s advice. Browse around, and buy only what you need. Pay a bit more, but the quality will be better, and you and that item will build memories together for years and years to come! If you do decide to buy “new” items, make sure your first stop is a secondhand shop! There you’ll find high quality, unique garments at a fraction of the regular price! When buying new also make sure you invest in ethical clothing. Check your labels and vote with your dollar. Give your hard earned cash to companies you know do their bit to be as sustainable as possible, and that give back to the environment. Also, as well as buying less, wash less and hang your clothes to dry! Washing your clothes less will not only limit the amount of microfibers that make their way to the ocean, but it will also make them last longer!
What to do with old clothes
When faced with clothes that no longer fit, or that you no longer need, there a series of options available before those clothes make their way to a landfill. First of all you can swap with friends who have a similar taste and give them new life while “keeping them in the family” so to speak. If that isn’t an option and the item is still in great quality and you’re up for making some extra money, you could think of taking them to a local consignment shop or thrift store, or, you could try your hand at selling them online. Another option, if the clothes are still in optimum condition, is to donate them to a shelter, or to a charity you trust will place them in the hands of people that really need them. Before dropping them off though, make sure that what you wish to donate is actually needed. Your donation could in fact not be what is necessary and they would then be faced with not knowing where to place your unwanted items.
But what can you do if the item/s in question are badly run down and are no longer fit for purpose. In that case, up-cycle! Old clothes could easily be turned into bags (old t-shirts for example are great for this!) or they could become rags or cleaning cloths. Some people even tie up old clothes and up-cycle them in dog toys!
If you have no way of upcycling them on your own look into organizations that recycle too-far-gone clothing, to give them new life and transform them into something completely different!