Every piece of clothing you own was made by someone. The fibres they’re made from were produced somewhere. They’ve travelled, sometimes a long way, to reach you.
How often do you think about the impact that your clothes make in their lifetime?
The truth is that the fashion industry has done, and continues to do, a lot of damage to people and the environment—exploiting garment workers, polluting wildlife and producing vast amounts of waste.
The good news is that there is a growing movement of people and businesses across the world who are fighting to change the fashion industry, to make it kinder and more sustainable.
Consumers can also do their part to help effect change—it all starts with caring what you wear.
Why is the fashion industry currently so unsustainable?
The fashion industry is unsustainable and problematic in a multitude of ways, many of which are complex and interconnected.
Firstly, fashion has a huge impact on the environment. In 2020 it was reported that the fashion industry produces 10% of annual global CO2 emissions and uses an estimated 1.5 trillion litres of water per year, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The sheer amount of water used to produce cotton has led to water scarcity, soil erosion and ground degradation in cotton-producing countries. For example, according to WWF, 97% of water in the Indus River in Pakistan goes towards producing cotton, and this has had a severe impact on local ecosystems.
Water pollution is another issue, with fertilizers and pesticides used on cotton fields making their way into the water, damaging biodiversity and threatening local people’s health.
In Bangladesh, the government has declared three Dhaka rivers as “biologically dead” as a result of dyes from nearby garment factories polluting the waters.
Most high-street garments are also shipped a long way from where they are produced to where they will be sold, further adding to fast fashion’s carbon footprint.
What happens to all those clothes?
Fast fashion still continues to cause harm at the end of its life. Another major issue with the fashion industry is overproduction and overconsumption. Retailers produce far too many clothes, which then end up being shipped back out to the Global South, where much of it is burned or ends up in landfill. The same applies to the excess clothes that customers buy and either return or give to charity. For retailers it is often not cost-effective to resell the clothes, so they are burnt or sent to landfill, and charity shops simply cannot handle the sheer amount of clothes that are donated, so those garments end up with a similar fate.
The human cost
It’s not just the environment that is negatively impacted by fast fashion. Clothes for fast fashion and high street brands are usually produced in poorer countries, where workers are subjected to bad conditions and paid extremely low wages. There are also numerous examples of modern slavery within fashion supply chains.
The poor conditions of workers were highlighted by the Rana Plaza tragedy in 2013. The Rana Plaza building just outside Dhaka, Bangladesh, which housed numerous garment factories, collapsed on 24 April 2013, killing 1,134 workers and injuring thousands more. Various high street brands used the Rana Plaza factory as a supplier, including Mango, Matalan and Primark. The tragedy highlighted the terrible conditions that workers in garment-producing countries are subjected to in order to make cheap clothes for other nations.
Malpractices such as this can be found in the UK too—just last year online fast fashion giant Boohoo was found to be engaging in modern slavery practices in its Leicester factory, subjecting workers to poor conditions and illegally paying them less than minimum wage.
What can we do to change this?
The good news is that there are many organisations and companies out there pushing for change—and you can make a difference on an individual level, too.
A lot of what has to change on a consumer level is mindset. The current culture of overconsumption is a major problem. Buying fewer items that are better quality and will last longer is a more sustainable way to shop.
Of course, the most sustainable option is to cut down on your overall clothes consumption and re-wear what you already own. But when you do need to buy clothes, then buying second-hand or from an ethical and sustainable clothes brand means you can avoid funding the damaging fast fashion industry.
Sustainable fashion is on the rise
While a few years back it was difficult to find clothing brands that used proven ethical and sustainable practices, the current surge in consumer interest in sustainable fashion means more and more great brands are popping up.
These companies put planet over profit and ensure that their supply chains are fair, ethical and transparent. Many even go the extra mile to make an additional positive impact on the planet.
One example is Patagonia, who are leaders in a more ethical and sustainable way of manufacturing and selling garments. They have initiatives such as their self-imposed “Earth tax”, where they donate 1% of their sales to environmental non-profits, and a “Worn Wear” site, which allows people to buy second-hand Patagonia clothing.
There is also a whole host of certifications that companies can gain to demonstrate their eco-credentials, such as Better Cotton Initiative membership, Global Recycled Standard, the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 and many more.
It is now possible to find sustainable versions of any type of clothing, at a range of different price points.
Helping you find caring clothes
It’s great to see so many more ethical and sustainable clothing brands on the market, but as a consumer, it can be difficult to find them. That’s why we created Care What You Wear—to bring together a wide range of responsible clothing brands all in one place and make shopping sustainably easier for conscious consumers. We hope you enjoy browsing the brilliant brands on our site—and continue to care what you wear!