Sustainability and Clothing: An Introduction

Are you aware of the social cost of your wardrobe? The production of clothing is one of the largest manufacturing industries in the world, and yet many of us are blissfully unaware of the devastating effects it is having on our environment. Partly this can be attributed to much of our cheap and highly sought after clothing being sourced from countries with lenient environmental regulations. Unrealistic expectations across many supply chains has led to a prioritisation of meeting financial targets over sustainability, which is destroying our natural ecosystems at an unprecedented rate. One major issue, for example, relates to the microfibers present in much of our clothing, which can be washed into the oceans once disposed, proving deadly to much of our precious marine life.

So what can consumers do to slow this extremely concerning trend? You have more power over this problem than you might think, and it comes down to opting for eco-friendly and sustainable alternatives to your usual wardrobe essentials. Sustainable fashion is a rapidly growing movement. This comes in various different forms, such as recycling and repairing old clothing, swapping unwanted clothing, buying second-hand, vintage or locally produced, only supporting brands which follow a green and ethical lifecycle and buying products which are made of more sustainable materials than traditional alternatives.

The use of more sustainable materials is a particularly exciting new development in the clothing industry, as these can often be higher quality and therefore longer lasting than older, less environmentally friendly fibres. For example, lyocell is often cited as a promising alternative to cotton. Many brands are beginning to realise the benefits of transitioning to more sustainable alternatives to some of their products. This has also led to a rise in the popularity of the minimalistic fashion style, which uses less material and is therefore more eco-friendly.  Internet movements such as #WhoMadeMyClothes have helped to grow public awareness regarding the importance of sustainability in the clothing industry. Action is becoming more widespread, such as with the UNFCCC’s Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action. Many large clothing outlets are now also showing an impressive will to change, such as H&M which aims to become 100% circular and renewable by 2030.

However, there is more to be done – and it starts with you. It is important for us all to carefully consider our consumer choices, in the clothing industry and beyond. If we all pledge today to ensure that our next clothing purchase will be a sustainable one, we will be well on our way to revamping the fashion industry to the challenges of the 21st Century.



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