Our collective attitude toward the clothes we wear is changing at a rapid pace. In the past, we’ve been happy to purchase inexpensive garments at discount prices without questioning the processes that allow them to be available for such a price. We’ve all been aware of the escalating threat posed by global warming but we’ve been indifferent at best about the steps we need to take to make a real difference.
But pleas around climate change have grown more desperate in recent months – David Attenborough has devoted his recent media appearances to raising awareness of the cause – we’ve been more ready than ever before to level criticisms at organisations that fail to do their utmost to limit environmental damage.
The clothing industry is one of the biggest offenders. It accounts for at least 10% of global carbon emissions. It has also been criticised for the sheer amount of water it consumes and the lacklustre controls on the way wastewater is handled. The industry has also been reprimanded for its role in polluting the oceans with microplastics.
If you’re hoping to join the ranks of environmentally aware shoppers hoping to bolster their wardrobes with sustainably sourced clothing, you’ve come to the right place. James Hillman has highlighted a number of different ways you can make ethical purchasing decisions.
Be aware of greenwashing
Brands are eager – almost over eager at times – to present a clean, environmentally friendly image to consumers. And new customers, sold on the prospect of great looking clothes at almost too good to be true prices, are easily sucked in.
Fast fashion retailers have been the primary target of vitriol for environmental campaigners. They’ve made their name flogging the latest trending pieces for bargain basement prices. The vast majority of their products are made from synthetic materials like polyester, which can’t be recycled.
Because of the poor quality of their cheap products, they don’t have a long lifespan and end up on landfill sites. It is worth reminding yourself of the amount of packaging that accompanies each order too.
The bulk of their manufacturing is done in less developed countries with less stringent manufacturing restrictions and controls. And the workers in these factories are less likely to be fairly compensated for their labour.
Some fast fashion retailers – like Missguided – have made tentative attempts to restore their reputation. Recently, they released an environmentally-friendly capsule with the tagline #forthefuture. Unfortunately, the products were made from polyester, which still ends up on landfill sites.
In this instance, it was merely superficial change. Consumers have to be eagle eyed to not get duped by a sparkling marketing campaign that glosses over any environmental shortcomings. Clothing brands are hardly prized for their transparency and too many customers fall victim to the mere appearance of environmental concern.
Identifying this kind of discrepancy between the image a brand presents to the public – and their actual behind-the-scenes operations – demands a lot of the consumer. Ultimately, if you are genuinely concerned about shopping ethically and sustainably, you have to be willing to do some research to uncover the truth.
Look for sustainable brands with a green conscience
Patagonia has been lauded for its green marketing campaigns. Ever since its creation, it’s found a home with outdoorsmen. Their marketing strategies have flat-out scolded their own customers for even thinking of buying one of their jackets. Their 2011 campaign ‘Don’t buy this jacket’, was one of the first times a company in the apparel industry brought visibility to the toll the apparel industry . Whilst seemingly counter-intuitive, it actually bolstered sales.
And it’s been careful to continue to tend to its core, environmentally-aware audience. Unlike other companies in its vertical, they’ve managed to carve out a profitable niche without compromising their values. Over 70% of their clothing is made from recycled materials and their aim is to make 100% of their clothing this way by 2025.
Some brands have co-opted this green streak by partnering with environmentally aware organisations. The North Face, for example, recently collaborated with National Geographic on a range of clothing created solely from recyclable materials. You don’t necessarily have to stray too far from the brands you already know to shop ethically and sustainably.
Shop second hand
One way to reduce the amount of carbon emissions that your clothing creates is to bypass the environmentally damaging manufacturing processes that go into the creation of new clothing altogether. Second hand shops line the high streets – and going into the likes of Cow for a rummage around – can deliver high quality clothes from leading brands for a very reasonable price.
Vintage band tees are a much sought after item at the moment and vintage shops are among the best places to go to uncover them. Fashion moves in cycles and the horror shows of yesteryear that are derided for being out of touch and antiquated are likely to become trendy in the years to come. Shops that stock previously owned and worn garments give customers the chance to uncover once in-demand items and update their wardrobes with fresh clothes.
Even in the midst of a pandemic – with high street shops shuttered across the UK – there is a still a flourishing second-hand market that lives online. Marketplaces that live on people’s smartphones like Depop are thriving. It has at least fifteen million users. The Instagram-like feed definitely appeals to the younger demographic that populates the app and it allows users to sift through different listings of already owned garments.
Grailed, an American online marketplace, caters to higher end items. The rise of streetwear brands that release limited runs of garments creates a fevered, almost cultish demand for certain pieces. And Grailed gives those who missed out initial releases a second bite at the cherry. The resale value of streetwear items – and the platforms that make access to these items easier – allows these garments to hop from home to home to home. Items don’t end up at landfill and they find happy owners elsewhere. Longer lasting clothes are integral to sustainable living.