Is fashion bad for the environment?

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By Andrea Tomkins

This might sound weird, but there’s a Disney Pixar film that has stuck with me ever since I saw it, and that’s WALL-E. If you haven’t seen it, here’s the gist: WALL-E, short for Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-class, is the last robot left on Earth, which has been abandoned by humans. He spends his days picking up garbage, one piece at a time. He meets another robot, EVE, who was sent back to Earth on a scanning mission. WALL-E’s futuristic adventure with EVA isn’t the main point of this post, but his mission, to clean up the planet because humans buried themselves in their own garbage, is hard to ignore. I feel like we are already on our way there.


Every product we buy has an impact on the environment, and some have a bigger impact than others. Take, for example, the eco-friendly hand soap we buy. There is an environmental impact when it comes to manufacturing and distributing that soap. It has a paper wrapper, which had to come from somewhere. There’s also the environmental cost of me driving to pick up that soap.


Fashion, like any consumer product, has an environmental cost, and some of it, the so-called “fast fashion,” comes at a higher cost to us in the long term.


Take the manufacture of fabric, for example. According to the World Wildlife Fund, cotton growing and manufacturing comes with some serious environmental damage. The production of a single cotton t-shirt or pair of jeans requires 20,000 litres of water. Fertilizers and pesticides are also used in cotton farming, which lead to pollution and water contamination.  


But we still have to wear clothes, right? So what’s a gal to do? For me, the answer lies in the idea of reducing my environmental footprint. If we use clothing as an example, it means buying fewer pieces and making sure they last longer.


Sometimes, this can cost a little more, but I like to factor in something I call “cost per wear.” For example, if I buy a black cardigan for $100 and wear it to work twice a week for five years, I am technically getting a better deal that the $75 I spent on that trendy, rhinestone-encrusted sweater with a cat motif that I wore exactly twice.


There are a few other ways we can decrease our environmental footprint as it pertains to fashion:


Read the labels
What is the garment made of, and where it made? A Google search might reveal some information about the brand, good or bad. Do you remember the 2012 news story about the fire in the Bangladesh clothing factory in which 112 workers lost their lives? This tragedy revealed terrible working conditions and low wages in the textile industry and a number of popular brands were implicated.


The footprint of the fashion industry is far reaching in ways many of us don’t consider. There’s waste when cutting fabric into patterns, discarded clothing that ends up in landfills, water usage issues, chemicals and detergents used in processing, microfibres that end up in our waterways when we launder our clothes. There’s also the human cost. How much are those laborors paid in Bangladesh and what are their working conditions like?


Be brand loyal

The “best” clothing for the environment is no clothing, but that’s not going to fly. For me, the most eco-friendly garment would be made locally from sustainable fabrics (such as wool from local sheep and natural dyes) but this isn’t as easily attainable as it once was, nor do we want to wear wool all of the time!


In the age of Google, it’s easier than ever to research our favourite brands. Are you happy with their ethos? If not, find something that matches your values. Take for example, preloved. This company takes overrun fabrics and clothing that is otherwise destined for the landfill and turns them into new garments. prAna uses 100% organic cotton. At Toad & Co., a portion of every sale goes toward supporting adults with developmental disabilities, and 94% of their products are eco-friendly.


Once you’ve done the research and figured out which brands fit your ideals (this could be pertaining to the fabric, manufacturing process, the company’s commitment to the environment), go back to them when you need to fill a gap in your wardrobe. Some of the brands at terra20 include prAna, Aventura, Toad & Co., preloved, Tonic, Guru, Ottawa’s own Duffield. (See what selection is available in store, and ask a sales associate if you have questions!)


Consider the capsule wardrobe

Capsule wardrobes consist of a few classic staples – pants, jackets, skirts – that are mix n’ matched with a number of shirts, blouses, and accessories. Everything goes with everything, and you’ll save money – and closet space – by buying fewer items. You’ll also spend less time figuring out what you’re going to wear every morning. Google “capsule wardrobe”  for some inspiration.


Buy second hand

Buying second hand clothing extends the lifetime of that item and keeps it from the landfill a little longer. Consider it a treasure hunt! Grab a friend, fuel up, and head out.

Better yet, “shop” your closet before buying something new. You may realize you may not actually need a new black dress because you already have two (or four, in my case). Keeping your closet organized will go a long way to determining what you really need.


Organize a clothing swap
We’ve hosted book swaps before, but clothing swaps with friends could be a lot of fun. It might be tricky with sizes, but I’ve seen evidence of successful clothing swaps on Facebook. Start by inviting a group of friends to bring five items that aren’t too dated or worn.  Put them in a pile and see what happens. Unclaimed clothing can be donated to a local charity.

Comments

  • Posted On October 03, 2018 by Deborah Doherty

    Love your article, but I would add on more “R” for repair. Take a basic or an advanced sewing class with Ecoequitable and learn how sew, alter clothing and upcycle clothes. The Tool Library also offers mending and darning workshops. These workshops are fun and help renew the lost art of sewing.

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