“I’d die for that dress”.
A tongue in cheek comment so many of us have joked about, but ironically we may not realise just how much we’ve contributed to the demise of our health and planet for our desire to look good.
We’re frequently hearing about the impact fast fashion has on our planet (and if you haven’t, this article will lay a small foundation of knowledge for you to build on).
The reality is scary.
Due to the destructive process of producing poor quality clothing, including fabrics being made out of fossil fuels, clothes dyed with toxic chemicals and created in factories that pump large amounts of harmful pollutants into the air by process, we are burning our house down.
After reading Aja Barber‘s brilliant book ‘Consumed’, I was driven to talk to my family, friends and you, readers of my blog, about how fashion directly contributes to colonialism, climate change and consumerism as set out in Aja’s book.
There are so many key takeaways from the book, but page 79, “What global wealth is doing to the planet”, brought it bang home. Due to our widespread buy-in to capitalism and consumerism:
- The Arctic is melting
- The Great Barrier Reef is bleaching
- The Amazon rainforest is being bulldozed
- Entire seas (like the Aral Sea) are disappearing
- The world’s oceans have lost 50% of their oxygen in 50 years
- We’ve lost half of our wildlife in the past 40 years
- Approximately 7 million deaths occur annually, 4 million of which are connected to air pollution.
- Pollution has affected so much that the distance and clarity of what we see is reduced by 70% across the world.
(Source: WWF. Excerpt taking from Aja Barber’s ‘Consumed’ page 79)
An article by BBC Earth stated five billion pounds of waste is generated through the return of clothes. Shocking doesn’t describe this. I don’t know about you, but on hearing this statistic, I felt personal guilt but at the same time this was mitigated by my belief that retailers did the right thing. Let me elaborate…
Bracketing is the act of buying products to send them back. Listen, we all do this, even if t’s just buying 2 or 3 sizes of the same outfit to see which one fits best! This has become such common practice that around 30-40% of all clothes bought online are returned (source: Eco-Age).
Unbelievably, on average, less than half of returns go back on sale, as it’s cheaper and less hassle for retailers to send them to an incinerator or landfill. This is bad news from an economic and environmental perspective.
So what can we do to make a difference?
In the UK we buy more clothes per person than any other country across Europe. Many factors have driven this behaviour – from social media to our unhealthy demand for cheaper and cheaper garments.
While buying less sounds like a quick and easy solution, I know that habits die hard.
I thought I’d share with you an activity my girls and I do. Every year, we get together to recycle the clothes we’re bored of but the others are desperate to get their hands on. We pool together bags of ‘unwanted’ pieces and heap them into a pile (then it’s every person for themselves… ha).
Not only does this provide an opportunity to declutter, but we also end up sending decent items to charity for resale, gaining a new wardrobe each, saving much needed cash, and reducing the carbon footprint it would have taken to acquire our ‘new’ things.
This is just one suggestion, but here’s a few more that I’ve borrowed from Good Housekeeping:
- Purchase from retailers committed to lessening their environmental impact. There are retailers who have pledged to commit to zero emissions shipping (e.g. Etsy). Choose these companies over others. Also, shop with companies who actually resell returned items (e.g. in ASOS, 97% of returned items are resold, and the other 3% is recycled).
- Rethink the last mile. Consider ‘click & collect’ to help cut last-mile emissions. Imagine if every single one of us did this immediately?! We’d see a reduction in emissions instantly.
- Use package-less returns drop-off programs. Many retailers, including New Look, Zara and Marks & Spencer, offer box-free and label-less returns and exchanges in-store. You only have to present the receipt along with the items you wish to return. This reduces cardboard, plastic, and fuel – especially if you walk or get public transport there.
- Be patient (and organised!). Choose slower shipping. According to the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics, opting for standard delivery rather than next day could help decrease carbon dioxide emissions by about 30%. That’s a whopper.
- Buy second hand and upcycled items, and avoid impulsive buys. Purchasing used, open-box, refurbished, upcycled and vintage items is a great way to shop more sustainably. And honestly, this is where you find quality craftsmanship that can last generations.
I could just say, stop buying fast fashion, but I’m wise enough to know that this is a longer-term goal. What I would say is, be conscious of your actions at the very least. Think about the outcome of what you do and what that will mean for future generations. I’m a mother, so for me it’s a no brainer, but you don’t have to be a parent to care about the future of humankind and the planet.
Sending light and love always.