“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Matthew 9 : 16
Every day, most of us dress ourselves in items churned out by what is arguably the world’s second-most polluting industry.
Reportedly topped only by oil, the fashion industry is contributing to major environmental destruction – mainly because consumers insist on buying so many clothes at such cheap prices.
Water is a significant part of the problem. Textile manufacturing uses huge amounts of water, much of which gets flushed into waterways laden with contaminants such as bleaches, acids, inks and dyes. Horrifyingly, farmers in parts of China and India are reportedly predicting fashion’s next biggest hues by the colour of rivers tainted by textile industry runoff. Fast fashion has terrible impacts on people, too, with workers in developing nations often paid a pittance to labour in unsafe conditions.
Alternatives do exist. The solution lies in buying less and choosing better quality items that are made as ethically as possible. But how to tell good brands from bad?
Step one is choosing brands that consider the planet and their workers. Te desire to wear cheap new looks daily has led to offshore manufacturing in often deplorable circumstances – buying local, well-made pieces can sidestep all that. You will also contribute to local jobs.
Where possible, skip petroleum-based synthetics such as polyester and nylon, which are actually plastics that take forever to break down once tossed. Each time such fabrics are washed, they shed thousands of microfibres that end up polluting rivers and oceans.
Natural fabrics must also be selected with care. About half the world’s clothes and textiles are made from cotton, usually grown with pesticides and requiring mammoth water inputs. Bamboo has been touted as a more ethical option, but while the plant is farmed sustainably, toxic chemicals are often used to turn bamboo into fabric.
Organic cotton and bamboo linen are better, as is hemp, linen, silk and wool. Lyocell, made from natural cellulose found in wood pulp (harvested from sustainably farmed forest plantations), also rates fairly well. Some brands are even recycling waste into fabric.
“If you consciously decide to purchase a garment made using a recycled material or an exciting new fibre, you are supporting start-up companies creating new markets, and avoiding the toxic impacts associated with conventional textiles.”
Extend your wardrobe’s lifespan by mending
Once clothing becomes tired and hole-ridden, don’t rush straight to the bin: try mending instead. Mend it or take it to a tailor (creating local jobs)
“Most clothing problems are easily mendable: missing buttons and loose stitching, for example. “One creatively mended garment might not save the planet, but it might inspire three other people to start mending and become more aware.”
Those with more time and skills can join the slow clothing movement and sew garments from scratch.