A Sustainable Wardrobe. How to get started

Fashion is one of the most polluting industries in the world. The production process require enormous ressources and we the consumers unfortunately over-consume fashion heavily. Unfortunately, garments workers are also working under unthinkable and harsh conditions.

This post is about how to make your wardrobe more sustainable in terms of environmental concerns as well as socioeconomic considerations.

According to Fashion Revolution every piece of garment is merely used on average four times. Fashion Revolution further states Americans alone throw away approximately 14 million tonnes of garments each year which is more than 36 kg per person. To top that 84% of this goes into incineration or landfill.

I believe most people would act differently if they knew.

Maybe you didn’t know or maybe you did but still find it difficult to act which is why I want to share with you the first and relatively easy steps towards a more conscious wardrobe.

To make it easy I want you to think of only three words when you go shopping for clothing and textile the next time:

REDUCE  –  REUSE  –  RETHINK

REDUCE

Reduce means first of all love and use what you already have in your closet. Make sure every item is used more than the four times a garment is used on average. If you are really cool you don’t add anything new before you have worn out something else.

Secondly you could even consider reducing the amount of items in your closet. Several case studies show people with smaller and well considered wardrobes feel they have more options because they can see what the have and have planned their wardrobe carefully.

I have not yet strategically cleaned up my wardrobe – minimized it or made a capsule wardrope which it is also called in the fashion world. Instead I have heavily reduced the amount I put into my closet. If you have the energy to do the full clean-up and analysis of what you like and need the internet is full of good inspiration and tools. E.g.

In the photo on the top of the post my grey washed denim represents reduce. They have been used numerous times and are even repaired af few times as well. They are not from a sustainable brand as such but throwing them out now that they are part of my wardrobe wouldn’t make any sense.

REUSE

Reuse covers everything from buying and selling secondhand to renting and borrowing clothing.

For the past year around 2/3 of my purchases have been secondhand. I have however not yet tried out some of the upcoming clothing brands and stores who have build their concept around circular economy but I love the idea and will soon try these out as well.

From the picture the grey turtleneck represents reuse. It’s from Ralph Lauren and found in a local secondhand shop specialized in more premium brands. The turtleneck is neither ethical nor sustainable as far as I understand the business model of Ralph Lauren but buying premium brands often means better quality and longer lasting designs that allow for the items to be used for several years and shift owners. If you buy one expensive turtleneck in stead of 2-3 cheaper ones you save the planet from 2-3 times the pollution.

However when buying new the best option is to buy sustainable and ethicals which will save planet earth and textile workers for further harm and chemicals. Which RETHINK is all about.

RETHINK

Rethink means to think differently and ask questions. Question yourself what your favorite brands represent and do they represent values you approve. Furthermore questions brands and stores what they do to secure safe and sustainable production.

I know it looks and feels like a fashion jungle. Store personal rarely know anything about production methods, materials, ethics etc, but every now and then I run into some who does know.

I know I’m making harsh and rough assumptions now but I generally conclude that brands who doesn’t promote a ethical and sustainable production process in their communication don’t have anything positive to tell.

However according the just published Transparency Index from Fashion Revolution the top 150 fashion brands talk much more about policies and strategies than they talk about the actual results.

Buying certified items (e.g. GOTS certified) is the easiest way for us consumers to know people and environment have been treated with respect. Not all sustainable and ethical brands have certifications which is why I can highly recommend to find stores and webshops who have build their business around sustainable fashion.

gots-logo_131

A bit about materials

Part of rethink is to educate yourself a little on materials. For instance organic cotton pollutes much less than conventional cotton production as pesticides are not allow when growing organic cotton. The production process also contains less chemicals. They both demand huge amounts of water to grow. To avoid huge water consumption repurposed cotton is a better option.

Polyester is neither good for the environment as it requires huge amounts of chemicals  and is made from non renewable ressources like oil. However if made from plastic waste  like PET bottles the environmental impact is about half.

Like cotton viscose is produced from natural and renewable sources. Unfortunately viscose production is one of the most polluting processes. Huge amounts of chemicals and energi are used to transform wood into soft fibers applicable for the textile industry.

Tencel and Lycocell are much better choices. Tencel and Lycocell are basically the same except for Tencel being a trademark from one Lycocell producer. Tencel and Lycocell is produced from natural and renewable fibers (wood) in a shorter, cleaner and closed process making it much better for the environment.

Much more could be said about the above materials and further materials could be added but that will have to be a separate post. If you want to read more now check out e.g The Good Trade (In English) and Bedre Mode (in Danish)

Use common sense

Last but not least part of rethink is to use your common sense. If a t-shirts costs 10 Euro the store takes half giving 5 Euro to share between brand owner, textile worker, transportation, taxes, textile production, farmning etc. which doesn’t leave much money for safety, human rights and sustainability. Which is why quality above quantity is so important to build a sustainable and ethical wardrobe.

Once you have begun asking questions I’m positive that the new items you buy will be cherished more, worn more which means rethinking your choices will also help you reduce your wardrobe.

Rethink is represented by the wool socks from Icelandic Farmers Market who carefully choose materials and suppliers producing long lasting products mixing tradition and modernity.

A few other conscious brand that I like are:

 

Happy journey

I hope the above thoughts and advices does not scare you. You don’t have to do it all at once. Pick one word (REDUCE, REUSE or RETHINK) and start slowly. Every little step matters.

The big fashion companies do not notice that you leave them but the small entrepreneurs running a sustainable business will notice and appreciate every purchase you make with them.

Thank you for reading until the end. I wish you a Happy Conscious Journey :o)

Further reading from MoreConscious

The fashion battle is  on! Fashion Revolution week and mid-season-sale all in the same week

Please make second hand clothing fashionable

Make each clothing live longer  

The fashion battle is on. Fashion Revolution Week and Mid Season Sale all in the same week.

This week consumers all over the world will hopefully have experienced posts on social media and events in major cities asking the question: Who made my clothes? Which is one of the questions Fashion Revolution wants consumers to ask their brands in order to demand transparency and decent human rights in an industry they call exploiting, opaque and damaging. During the same week major retail and fashion stores in my home country Denmark launch their Mid-Season sales. What a contrast!

Continue reading to learn more about the Fashion Revolution organization, working conditions of textile workers in Bangladesh and how to become more conscious in your shopping.

About Fashion Revolution

The grass-root organization began after the fashion industry saw the tragic dead of 1138 textile workers 4 years ago. In Bangladesh where a great part of our fast fashion items are produced at a very little cost more than 2000 workers where trapped and injured when a building collapsed at the Rana Plaza site on April 24th. In the following days the number of lost lifes passed 1100 and the Fashion Revolution was born founded by designers, brand owners, producers, writers, fashionista and many more who came together to celebrate and unite fashion, people and environment. Fashion Revolution is pro-fashion but fashion as fair fashion for everyone involved in the supply chain.

Fashion Revolution week

The Fashion Revolution week marks the anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy and runs for a week around the 24th of April. The idea is for us consumers to ask our favorite brand: Who Made My Clothes? By doing so we use one of our most important weapons: our questions. The industry cannot change or will not change if they do not see a demand. Our questions show a demand.

This year it has been 4 years since the Rana Plaza tragedy and despite many major fashion companies signing legally binding agreements to improve the working conditions very little still seem to have happened. According to The Guardian a 2016 study showed that only 7 out of  1,660 factories have completed implementing their corrective action plans, while another 57 factories where on track with the plans. About 1,388 factories where behind schedule, 186 factories had not yet finalized their corrective action plans and 22 had not implemented them at all.

Besides the lack of human working conditions The Guardian described early this year  how garment workers in Bangladesh have been demonstrating to tripple their wages. Which sound optimistic and maybe like a high raise but the sad truth is that the current level at 54GBP per month and the triple amount are both short of what is considered a living wage. To make things even worse workers demonstrating have been fired and workers now generally feel bullied by police and employers. They need us to fight their fight and make their voices heard. Asking questions demanding to know who makes our clothing and how these people are treated can make a difference.

5 tips to a join the Mid Season sale in a More Conscious manor

Another powerful weapon we consumers can use is our money. You have probably heard  “Money talks” before. With money we can show the industry we care about how fellow human beings are treated when producing the clothes we wear.

The Mid-Season sale, Black Friday, Rivegilde, Super Bazar or what ever shopping events around the world are called they are not created for the sake of consumers nor the textile workers. It is created to make us swipe our credit cards to buy a little (or a lot) more than we need to in the end fill the bank accounts of shareholders behind the retailers and brand owners.

I fully acknowledge that every now and then we all need something new and though second hand shopping is best for the environment I also want new stuff every now and then. Buying the right new clothing sends a signal to the fashion industry. Which is why I have put together a few tips to buy right and avoid over consumption and maybe even over spending if you can’t resist the mid-season sales.

  1. Take a honest look at your wardrobe and consider what you really need
  2. Make a list of the things you need and stick to it
  3. Shop ethical and sustainable brands that are GOTS certified (guarantees you ethically and sustainably produced textiles). If not possible go for organic cotton and ask the shop personel about how the brand in question treats their supply chain. The Øko or OEKO tex label does not stand for organic production as you might think. Instead it guarantees that the products are tested for and free from harmful chemicals. See pictures of the two certificates below.
  4. Allow yourself 1 or 2 unplanned items at a maximum price depending on your financial situation. Try to think rather 1 good quality item that will last for years in stead of several items that don’t last long. A recent study from Greenpeace and Fashion Revolution show that the average consumer buys 60% more clothing today than the average consumer did back in 2000 and keep each item half the time. No wonder the clothing production has doubled since 2000. Last but not least as much as 40% of clothes are rarely or never worn and on average each piece of clothing is only used 4 times.
  5. Bring your own bag from home. Your textile shoppers are only good for the environment if you use them.

More conscious shopping is all about knowing more, buying better and making each clothing last longer. Make your choices send a signal to brands and retailers that you don’t accept inhuman working conditions.

If you feel inspired to learn more the documentary The True Cost gives a really good picture of how the fashion industry is run and at which cost for humans and for our planet. The film also shows how things can be done and are being done differently by some brands. The film should be available on Netflix, Amazons, iTunes etc.

This post is mainly about the working conditions which is the main focus of the Fashion Revolution. Another big issue with the fashion and textile industry is however the fact that it is ranked as the second most polluting industry in the world. Your fashion choices and habits matters also in terms of environmental impact. Read more in my previous post Make each clothing live longer.

Make each clothing live longer

Clothing and how we carelessly consume it has tremendous impact on the environment. I say it is about time we dust off some old habits in order to make each piece live as long as possible.

According to businessoffasion.com  and National Geographic the fashion and textile industry is the second biggest polluter only outcompeted by the oil industry. It easily takes roughly 20,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cotton equal to one single t-shirt and a pair of jeans. Moreover an overwhelming number of 8,000 different chemicals are used to turn raw materials into clothing while putting both unprotected labour forces and end-users at risk.

In Denmark we are concerned about the environment and we like to believe we live accordingly. On fashion consumption we are however far above (35 percent) the world average and the worst in the Nordic countries wrote DR in December 2013. DR further concluded that our consumption has increased by 20 percent to 16 kg each year since 2000.  I wonder did we really need more or did we just get a good deal!? Being a Dane I know we sure like a good bargain.

I suggest a focus on fashion similar to recents years’ focus on food waste. Use less, use more consciously and last but not least take care of what we already have in our closets. At least this is a journey I have embarked and mending is one of the roads I’ll be traveling.