Updated: Mar 4
As good as the momentary rush we get from purchasing new clothing feels, the truth is that fast fashion brands, online influencers and corporations carefully craft their marketing strategies and website layouts to convince us to buy, and keep buying with every new season and trend. And the more clothes we buy, the more we waste, and the more we pollute the planet. More and more people are beginning to talk about the concept of “sustainable fashion”, and it’s now easier than ever to find ethically-made clothing. By implementing small changes and being more thoughtful about our purchases, we can all contribute to building a more sustainable fashion industry.
What exactly do we mean by ‘sustainability’?
A sustainable clothing brand makes a real and consistent effort to produce clothing which has little to no negative impact on the planet and preserves the environment, whilst also fairly treating and compensating garment workers. When determining whether or not a fashion company is ‘sustainable’, every aspect of its production process must be considered; research and design, sourcing fabric, the manufacturing process, factory emissions, the packing and postage process, and everything in between. A sustainable fashion brand carefully plans and monitors each of these stages to ensure they’re doing their part for the planet.
Why is it important?
Modern fast fashion brands promote a system of buying and wearing clothes when they’re trending, and disposing of them and buying more when they’re not. Because of this cycle, 30% of our unwanted clothing goes to landfill, and what we do keep usually ends up at the back of our wardrobes, unworn. On top of this, fast fashion brands pollute water and land with improper disposal of waste and are responsible for 8% of carbon emissions, not to mention the countless workers rights violations which are commonplace in the industry.
The impact of fast fashion on wildlife is a particular concern for ZooLab. Animals are mistreated in the harvesting and production of wool, leather and fur; and cheap synthetic materials release microfibers and harmful pesticides when washed which pollute oceans and cause harm to marine life.
Tips to Be More Sustainable When Buying and Wearing Clothes
Wear your wardrobe in new ways
One of the most sustainable things we can do is wear what we already own! Instead of throwing away an item you no longer wear, try layering it or experimenting with accessories. You might discover a whole new side to your wardrobe!
Mend your worn-out clothes
Sewing is an essential skill if you want to live sustainably and keep your clothes in good condition. However, a 2017 survey showed that 60% of UK residents are incapable of sewing confidently with some unsure of how to sew at all. This means that easily fixable wear and tear will often result in a piece of clothing being disposed of prematurely. If you’re one of the 60%, it’s often as simple as watching a quick YouTube tutorial on sewing, or even just asking one of your parents to show you how it’s done. Once you’ve mastered sewing a hole and reattaching a button, your clothes will last longer and the temptation to buy something new might be a little easier to resist.
Buying ethically-made clothing means that workers across the supply chain are paid fair, living wages. Of course, this often leads to high price tags which can make shopping sustainably seem inaccessible. The truth is, you can still significantly reduce your environmental impact without breaking the bank by shopping second-hand. In fact, it’s even more sustainable, as you’re giving a second home to clothes that may have otherwise ended up in the landfill. Charity and vintage shops are teeming with stylish pre-loved garments which could give your wardrobe the update you feel it needs with less of the downsides associated with buying new.
If you want that new clothes feeling with none of the detrimental side-effects, consider transforming those unworn pieces at the back of your wardrobe into something completely new. This could be as simple as embroidering a top or as complex as making a crochet rug out of old t-shirts. It may seem daunting, but you’ll find hundreds of ideas and inspiration on websites like Instagram and Pinterest to get you started - all you need is a needle, thread and some creativity!
If you decide to buy new, make sure you research the company and their practices.
While reducing consumption is important, it’s also a good idea to support companies who sustainably manufacture clothing to increase demand. If you do decide to buy new and want to stay as environmentally friendly as possible, it’s essential to do a little digging into the brand you’re buying from beforehand. Be careful, though; sometimes companies try to market themselves as sustainable to sell clothing, when in reality they do little to reduce their environmental impact or improve their working conditions - this is known as “greenwashing”. Check resources like Good On You , which rates fashion brands based on how ethical they are, to confirm whether or not a company is being genuine.
It’s also important to make sure you’re buying the item for the right reasons. Sustainable fashion brand Birdsong has a great step-by-step guide to follow before making a purchase. Consider buying made-to-order clothing to minimise the chances that you’ll be dissatisfied with the item and cut down on returns.
Vivienne Westwood said it best: “buy less, choose well, make it last.” It isn’t easy to change lifelong habits and resist the expertly-crafted marketing tactics of fast fashion giants, but in doing so, your clothes will last longer and the planet will be healthier.