How to live greener by ditching fast fashion

12 September 2019

The fashion industry is one of the biggest pollutants in the world, second only to oil. It pollutes our rivers and oceans, destroys our rainforests, makes up 10% of all carbon emissions, and mostly ends up in landfill. Lily Phillips explains how you can live greener by ditching fast fashion.

What is fast fashion?

Fast fashion is cheap clothing produced quickly by mass-market retailers – like Primark, New Look and Boohoo – in response to the latest fashion trends. It’s produced cheaply, bought cheaply and then thrown away.

80 billion pieces of clothing are consumed worldwide, every year. That’s 400% more than 2 decades ago! Clothes with polyester, nylon or acrylic can take up to 10 years to biodegrade – and at least half of the clothes in UK wardrobes never get worn.

Why does fast fashion exist?

Fast fashion is extremely profitable for retailers. It works on the basis that customers are attracted by rock-bottom prices, and is then propelled by cheap materials and labour.

Since the industrial revolution created ‘throw-away culture’, it’s become normal to buy clothes not when you need them, but when you want them.

When should you buy new clothes?

There used to be two fashion seasons of summer/spring, and autumn/winter – there are now up to 52 in a year!

The fashion industry is propelled by the fast pace online shopping and frequent sales offer, so here’s how to break the system:

  • Shop according to the actual seasons of summer/spring and autumn/winter, instead of the ones invented by retailers to make you buy more.
  • Buy things when you need them, rather than when you’re told you are. Many retailers rely on promoters to push people to buy, so resist advertising. 
  • Invest for life. Some things, like a pair of jeans or a plain white t-shirt, can last an entire lifetime if you buy good quality clothing. It might seem more expensive, but it actually works out cheaper over the item’s lifetime. Check out the Buy Me Once website for ideas. 

What should you buy?

Some materials are definitely better for the environment than others, so think about what your clothes are made of. Organic sustainable cotton is better than non-sustainable, and clothes made in EU or USA countries are more likely to be sustainable than clothes made in Asian countries.

Just because brands are ‘ethical’, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are sustainable. But lots of brands are heading in the right direction. They have good sustainability commitments and are betting against fast fashion in the long run, if not perfectly environmental right now. Check out the Ethical Consumer website for a list of the most sustainable clothing brands available.

If you can’t afford organic high-quality clothes it doesn’t mean you can’t still shop in an eco-friendly way. Buying less regularly is much more important than what you buy.

And you can always buy any new clothes you need from charity shops – it’s a great way to give clothes a new lease of life, and it won’t cost as much as buying new.

Make your clothes last

Now you’ve bought good quality clothes, you need to treat them in a way that’s going to make them last:

  • Wash less. According to Levi’s, jeans should only be washed once a month on a cool dark wash inside out. Washing less wares down clothes less, meaning they last longer.
  • Use a delicates bag when washing. Maybe an obvious one but it is certainly a successful one. 
  • Wear clothes more than once. If you know you’ll be washing a shirt anyway at the end of the week, don’t be afraid to wear it again.
  • Fold heavy sweaters instead of hanging to prevent stretching.
  • Invest in wooden hangers. They will last forever, and so will your clothes if they’re hung on them.
  • Mend clothes. Buy a needle and thread, and when clothes break, fix them.
  • Tie dye. It’s a fun way to be creative, and the perfect solution to faded colours.
  • Host a clothes swap. Invite the gang over to trade clothes. Someone might love something you were planning to throw away.
  • Borrow clothes. If you need something for a special occasion, like an interview or a wedding, ask to borrow from friends and family rather than buying something you’ll only wear once.

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