Written by: Cally Worden
How green are the clothes you wear? Chances are, like me, you’ve never really thought about it. But did you know that collectively we humans demand a whopping 80 billion on new garments each year from the clothing industry. So what, you may say. What’s the big deal?
Why Green Fashion Matters
Check out these fashion-fibre facts, you’ll start to see what a massive impact clothing production has on our planet’s resources:
- cotton accounts for around one third of all fibre production
- non-organic cotton production (96% of cotton falls into this category) consumes 11 % of ALL pesticides produced
- just 1kg of cotton requires 20,000 litres of water to produce
- the remaining two thirds of our wardrobe space is taken up with synthetic fabrics – the majority of these are produced from oil derivatives
In terms of its contribution to world pollution, the fashion industry ranks astonishingly high up the worst offenders list – it is only second in line after the oil and gas industries. That’s not a great record.
How Can I Go Green?
Green clothing remains largely hidden on the high street, but it is possible to root out sustainable and eco-friendly garments if you know what to look for:
- Choose items made from food-industry by-products like salmon leather and rice husks – the Marks and Spencer new Eco Trainer has embraced this concept, using processed rice-husks as the rubber for its Trainer’s sole. With 700 million tonnes of rice harvested globally each year this is an idea that could soon catch on elsewhere
- Spoiled milk can be transformed into an ultra-sleek fibre that weighs in at less than wool or silk, this could soon be found as an alternative to these products
- Synthetic bad boy Nylon 6 now also has an eco-alternative in the form of Econyl, a fibre that is produced from the reprocessing of used fishing nets
- Wood pulp produces cellulosic fibre that works well as an alternative to cotton, but this has led to significant logging to meet demand – as a green alternative this one only works if the pulp is derived from sustainable sources
- Eco-bamboo has also been coming to the fore as a fibre deriver, but in the rush to meet market demand some unscrupulous manufacturers have been clearing forests to create plantations – not really the idea. If you see bamboo-derived items on sale be sure to check that the areas providing the raw materials have been created from land that was already degraded
Beware of Recycling
Watch out for claims by some manufacturers that recycling of clothing is your quick-fix answer to wearing green. The reality of converting one garment into another, or breaking down already blended fibres into something useful, is tricky, expensive, and never likely to be truly cost-effective. Stores offering drop-off points are more likely to be smiling because they’ve got you through the door, rather than because they are feeling virtuous about their green record. Far better, perhaps, to donate your used items to charity.
Part of the problem with clothing these days is the concept of ‘fast fashion’. New styles, colours and trends are constantly in our face demanding a regular wardrobe revamp. And the outsourcing of manufacturing to countries where labour is cheap has allowed clothing prices to plummet. This, in turn, has created a throwaway culture – it is not uncommon for garments to only be worn once or twice before being discarded. How different from just a century ago when most people only had a few sets of clothing, if any spare at all.
Changing our attitudes towards clothes will help the planet as much as any wholesale change in production techniques. Investing in quality clothes that are made to last, which we wear over and over again, is a great place to start.