The infamous Rana Plaza building housed five garment factories where clothes were made for companies such as Benetton, Mango, Matalan, and Primark. Workers’ concerns over cracks appearing in the building’s walls had been ignored the day previous, despite footage of cracks forming being captured on TV, and managers had threatened not to pay workers if they didn’t turn up to work the following day. So on 24th April, workers went to work as usual, but before it had even reached 9am in the morning, the building crashed to the ground, killing 1,134 people and injuring a further 2,500.
The Rana Plaza catastrophe has been labelled the worst disaster in the fast-fashion industry. Since 2013, the focus on sustainability in the fashion world has grown. Companies like Fashion Revolution and Labour Behind the Label have launched, exposing the truth of the fast fashion industry, and consumers have begun to opt for clothes made by people who are paid fairly, who have safe working conditions and who are looked after at work. Yet the fast fashion industry continues to operate to exploit its garment workers, favouring releasing new clothes as quickly and as cheaply as possible over garment workers’ lives.
Earlier this year, online retail giant Boohoo brought the horrors of the fast-fashion industry closer to home when it was uncovered that their suppliers had been operating illegal sweatshops in Leicester, UK during lockdown, paying workers well below the national minimum wage (just £3.50 an hour). By outsourcing their supply chain, fast fashion companies can never be completely transparent about the working environments and conditions they are condoning.
I’ve been a big advocate of sustainable fashion for a couple of years now, after watching a brilliant documentary called the True Cost which reveals the reality of the fashion industry for garment workers. It was the lack of transparency around supply chains that made me reconsider my clothing choices, but there are many environmental benefits to a greener wardrobe too, which we’ll explore in this post. And before you think sustainable fashion must be boring, just because something’s sustainable doesn’t mean it’ll be beige; there are heaps of stylish alternatives to fast fashion!
So if you’re looking for sustainable fashion tips to help create a cleaner, more ethical wardrobe, I’m pleased to tell you that it’s not as scary as it sounds – this post will help you on your sustainable fashion journey.
The fast fashion industry uses a huge amount of the planet’s resources. It is the second largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, producing 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 each year – that’s more than the international aviation and shipping industries combined!
It takes around 10,000 litres of water to produce just one pair of jeans, and fabric dyes pollute waterways, harming local communities and native wildlife. Pesticides used on cotton crops cause major irreversible health risks to those who live nearby.
And it’s not just the production of clothes that’s dirty. 60% of garments are now made from polyester – a figure which has doubled in the last 20 years. When fabrics like polyester are washed, they release microplastics – a typical 5kg laundry load releases around 6 million microfibers into wastewater treatment plants that can’t filter them. This basically means that each time we wash our clothes, we’re directly polluting the ocean with plastics.
Only 2% of the world’s fashion workers are paid a liveable wage. On average it takes four days for a major fashion CEO to earn what a female garment worker in Bangladesh earns in her lifetime.
80% of garment workers are women aged 18-35. They regularly work 96 hours a week with inadequate breaks. Feminist or not, that isn’t right.
Garment workers often have no access to benefits such as sick pay or maternity leave, with many women knowing they will lose their job if they announce they are pregnant. Workers are not allowed to join unions or discuss their rights, and workplace violence and sexual assault is common.
Working conditions in factories are appalling; no ventilation means that workers inhale dust and toxic fumes. Accidents, injuries and fatalities happen often.
There are enough garments on the planet to clothe the next six generations – how crazy is that!
Around 350,000 tonnes of clothing goes to landfill every year. When in landfill, clothes produce methane as they decompose. Synthetic fabrics like polyester can take hundreds of years to biodegrade.
We should therefore break up with fast fashion because we’ve already got enough clothes!
So if you’re ready to start your journey towards a cleaner, greener wardrobe, use my sustainable fashion tips to help you!
The most important piece of advice I can give is to change how you think about fashion. Fast-fashion companies use marketing strategies to make you feel like you need to buy something new and that you should feel ashamed to wear the same thing twice. Ignore these feelings! They are increasingly using greenwashing strategies to make it seem like they care about sustainability.
The best sustainable fashion tip is to wear the clothes that are currently in your wardrobe over and over again! I bet you have some items currently in your wardrobe that you’ve completely forgotten about…
Button come off? Sew it back on. Rip in your jeans? Patch it up. There are YouTube videos for just about everything nowadays, but if sewing reall isn’t your thing, send your items off to the tailor to be repaired.
I know I for one am guilty of chucking all my clothes in the washing machine together, instead of caring for each item as per its label. Wash hand-wash-only garments by hand, not on the ‘hand wash’ cycle on your machine. Avoid tumble drying. Wash your clothes less. These small habits will make your clothes last longer.
Add some frills, sequins or embroidery to spruce something up. If you’re a bit more skilled with your sewing machine, try changing hems, necklines or sleeve-lengths. Make yourself something “new” from something you already own.
Why not hold a clothes party where everyone brings a few items to swap with each other?!
Challenge yourself not to buy any new clothes for a month, the stretch it out to three months, six months, a year. Challenges can help you form a habit quickly. Oxfam’s #SecondhandSeptember challenge is a great start!
When you come to purchase a new item, ask yourself if you need it and how much you’ll wear it before purchasing. Livia Firth created the #30Wears campaign – ask yourself if you will wear something 30 times before buying it.
Stop buying clothes for a specific occasion; instead buy pieces that you’ll wear again and again. Classics like a pair of great-fitting jeans and a crisp white blouse won’t ever go out of style.
This is a fairly new concept to me, but there are clothes rental services that allow you to wear an item of clothing for a particular event and return it afterwards (provided it’s still in great condition of course). Instead of buying something you’ll only wear once, you can rent it instead (often for a much cheaper price too!)
Try charity shops, vintage stores and buy online from sites like Depop or eBay. Try to buy clothes as close to your size as possible; whilst it’s great to choose larger items that you can take in, remember that the item might be the perfect fit for someone else.
Use the Good on You app to see how ethical a brand is before purchasing. Think about how they source their materials, how they treat their workers, and if they use animal products in the manufacturing of their clothes.
Question who made your clothes: how fairly were they paid? What are the working conditions in the factory like? Are they allowed to join workers unions to defend their rights?
Most brands will openly share the details of their ethics on their website, but when you aren’t sure, send them an email or a DM to ask. If they have nothing to hide, they’ll provide you with an honest answer. OrganicBasics have one of my favourite websites for transparency (I love them so much I reviewed their stuff in this post).
As mentioned at the start of these tips, many brands have realised how popular the sustainability demand is, so are creating clothing lines to appeal to the green-minded shopper, while still using pollutive materials on other product lines and underpaying their garment workers. This is greenwashing. We see you H&M Conscious, Recycled PLT, Topshop Considered, Primark Wellness, Zara Join Life…
Choosing recycled materials is becoming more and more popular which means more and more brands are releasing lines of clothing made from recycled materials. Some of my favourites are Patagonia, Tala and Organic Basics.
These materials will degrade much easier than plastic-filled fabrics.
Wherever possible, choose organic cotton. Choose GOTS certified labels to minimise supporting the use of pesticides in farming.
Materials such as acrylic, polyester, nylon, elastane, polyamide and polyurethane are made from oil (a fossil fuel) and turned into plastic before being woven into fabrics for clothing.
Clothes that are discarded in your household waste will end up in landfill. Wherever possible, try not to throw items away, instead try to repair, swap, or sell your once-loved garments to someone else who will love them. Donating should be a last resort; many donations that don’t sell within a month are shipped off overseas and can end up in landfill. This is a really important sustainable fashion tip!
Thanks for reading!
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