For the latest fashion victim, look no further than the Earth. Did you know the clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world, surpassed only by oil? For the average consumer, the idea that the stylish clothing we wear is causing widespread environmental damage is probably a revelation. After all, fashion design has been around for centuries. When we think of vintage fashion, we often associate it with quality, spanning from the sumptuous ballgowns of the 1700s to the iconic flare jeans of the 1970s.
But it’s never been easier than it is now to buy trendy clothes, thanks to so-called “fast fashion,” which mass-produces cheap garments at breakneck speeds and then ships high volumes of product from manufacturers to online retailers. But that access and convenience comes at a cost — from the dyeing process that pollutes waterways to how much energy textile factories consume.
At SaltyLama, our plant-based laundry sheets offer a convenient, affordable alternative to traditional chemical-based detergents. But it’s also important to be aware of how your clothes are made — not just how they are washed. For example, did you know the plastic polypropylene, which is created from fossil fuels, is made into artificial fabric used by clothing manufacturers?
The good news is that it is possible to be ethically fashionable, making a positive impact while still looking good. You don’t have to sacrifice style to embrace sustainable fashion.
What is sustainable fashion?
Sustainable fashion refers to clothing, footwear, and accessories that are designed and produced in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. Sustainable fashion aims to minimize the impact of fashion on the environment, promote fair working conditions and animal welfare on a global scale, and encourage responsible consumption. These companies use better quality materials that are kinder to the environment, pay their workers fair wages, and ensure safe working conditions while managing their carbon emissions.
Why sustainable fashion matters
The fashion industry is responsible for a significant amount of pollution and waste, with the production of clothes accounting for 10% of global carbon emissions. The production of non-organic cotton, which is one of the most used materials in clothing, requires vast amounts of water and pesticides, leading to soil degradation and water pollution.
As for non-biomaterials like acrylic and polyester, these synthetic fibers are made from petrochemicals, which are non-renewable resources. These fibers are produced through energy-intensive processes that generate large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to the depletion of natural resources.
In addition, these synthetic fibers do not biodegrade easily and can take hundreds of years to break down, contributing to the growing problem of textile waste in landfills. In the US, the volume of thrown-away clothes has doubled in the last 20 years from seven million to 14 million tons. When washed, these materials can also release microplastics into waterways, which can harm aquatic life and ultimately end up in the food chain — and in our bodies.
Sustainable fashion supports selective, slow fashion while fast fashion is just the opposite. It encourages overconsumption, with clothing being discarded after just a few wears as new trends pop up daily at online retailers.
Sustainable fashion aims to address these issues by encouraging responsible consumption, reducing waste and pollution, and promoting fair working conditions. By choosing sustainable fashion, you can make a positive impact on the environment, protect social and animal welfare, and support fair trade practices.
Steps to being ethically fashionable
Invest in a high-quality wardrobe
One of the most important steps in being ethically fashionable is to invest in high-quality clothing that will last for years, just like those timeless favorites you find at vintage stores. Choose clothes made from sustainable materials such as organic cotton, linen, or bamboo, which require less water and pesticides than conventional cotton. Look for brands that use environmentally friendly dyes and printing processes, and that are transparent about how their clothes are produced.
Shop for second-hand clothing
There are a lot of clothes in the world — and most of them are lying around used. Buying second-hand clothing is a great way to reduce your impact on the environment and support sustainable fashion. By choosing to buy pre-loved clothing, you can extend the life of clothing that might otherwise end up in a landfill. So, go shopping at thrift stores, consignment shops, and online marketplaces like Poshmark, Etsy, Depop, or the Facebook Marketplace.
Rent or borrow outfits
Another simple way to reduce your fashion footprint is to rent clothing for special occasions or events. If it’s an outfit you know you’re only going to wear once, there’s absolutely no reason to purchase it. Clothing rental services like Rent the Runway or Nuuly offer a sustainable alternative to buying new clothes for every occasion.
Otherwise, call up one of your friends and borrow something! We are so used to just buying everything we want that we forget to go back to the basics — borrowing and giving thanks. Borrowing an item from your best friend for a wedding you’re going to? Repay the favor by baking them their favorite treat or taking them to a restaurant of their choice. This is the way to do things sustainably and kindly.
Avoid fast fashion
Most of what you see on the market is fast fashion. All those online brands that upload new items on a near-daily basis are fast fashion. Your favorite chain at the mall? It probably follows a fast fashion model, too. These brands go for quantity over quality. The more products they can get into the hands of shoppers, the more they can make — even if the materials don’t last very long. And for them, once you’ve worn the outfit, it’s no longer their problem. They just want you to buy the next trendy design.
Stop following ‘trends’
Have you noticed how short trends last these days? It seems like every other week there is a new viral pattern, dress, or pant fit. If you’ve caught on, you’ve probably noticed how very “easy come, easy go” these fast-fashion-based trends are. The lifespan of styles has never been shorter. But with it comes landfills and thrift stores piled high with mountains of clothes. However, when we stop feeling obligated to follow these trends, we can truly define our style and create a sustainable wardrobe that lasts.
Take the time to educate yourself about the fashion industry and the impact it has on the environment and society. Look for resources that can help you make informed decisions about your fashion choices, such as Good On You, which rates clothing brands based on their environmental and social impact.
By choosing high-quality clothing, purchasing second-hand, renting clothing, avoiding fast fashion, and educating yourself, you can make a positive impact on the environment and support fair trade practices. Remember, every small step you take toward embracing ethical and sustainable fashion can have a meaningful impact.