Climate change. It’s on everyone’s minds, especially since the disastrous bushfires devastated Australia (and are still burning). What’s causing this? We know that digging up and burning coal, oil and gas, increased agriculture, tree clearing and increasing waste in landfill all produce greenhouse gases (the most significant being CO2) which in turn trap the sun’s heat in the atmosphere causing the Earth’s average temperature to rise. But did you know that fashion is one of the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide on the planet? 8% of the global climate impact and 1.2 billion tons of CO2 annually. That’s more than all international airline flights and shipping combined. Holy cow.
Why and how do you ask? A variety of reasons. Fast fashion is a big one. when brands turnaround new collections at cheap prices, they often use large quantities of non renewable resources. Do you want to know exactly how many carbon emissions are produced by fast fashion? Well according to Oxfam, every 2 minutes is the equivalent of driving around the world 6 times. And it’s not just the actual production which causes so many emissions. It’s the sourcing, the transportation, the selling and the washing, which is often made worse as many brand use poor fabrics which shed microplastics into the environment. On top of that, half these garments are thrown out within a year so they end up in landfill which produces more greenhouse gases.
The biggest impact of fashion on the environment has to be at the raw materials stage. This is either synthetic fabrics (mainly polyester) or natural fabrics (predominantly cotton). We all know that oil is bad for climate change in terms of emissions, and polyester as a plastic, it is made from oil meaning extracting and processing requires a lot of energy. 655 millions on tons of CO2 into the atmosphere for the 46.1 million tons produced in 2014. Cotton isn’t much better. Yes, it is better than polyester but fertilisers and pesticides used release nitrous oxide in to the atmosphere, a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. On top of this, these harmful chemicals contaminate water sources. In addition, excessive amounts of water are used. A simple cotton shirt can produce 24 pounds of greenhouse gases.
The issues with raw materials is not limited to fast fashion. It affects the luxury houses too, even more so as they often have more labour intensive processes that increase the costs. However, there is some light at the end of tunnel for these brands. At the recent G7 summit in Biarritz, big fashion companies both luxury and fast fashion, agreed to a “fashion pact” aiming to be more sustainable and lessen the environmental impact. It’s a long way off from changing anything, but it’s a start. Brands are coming up with other ways to be environmentally friendly including using recycled and organic materials, using off-cuts from previous collections and zero waste patternmaking. Stella McCartney is at the forefront of doing this. So is Vivienne Westwood. Even high street brands like Nike are doing their bit. Big thumbs up!
So it’s one thing for the producers to be doing something (which will have a significant impact on reducing emissions), but how do we, as consumers do our bit? There are a few ways. Firstly, stop buying throwaway fast fashion that is seasonal. Not only do they cause damage to the environment, but often the quality isn’t there. Invest in better quality pieces that will stand the test of time.
Recycle your clothes and wear them time and time again. Yes this may involve a bit of hoarding but so what? Fashion is cyclical. Everything comes back in to fashion eventually. Holding on to beautiful pieces allows you to have an extensive wardrobe that is varied and unique. Wearing them time and time again not only means better value for money, but its better for the environment. Sure it might require a bit more creativity which is more challenging, but it is a rewarding form of self expression. Even A-listers are recycling clothes. Just look at Kate Middleton. She’s been known to re-wear outfits years down the track. Even to A-list events like she did at the BAFTAs last weekend. Even Joaquin Phoenix has vowed to wear the same tux to every awards event this season. Good on him.
If you need something new, consider going to a Vintage store or consignment store. They have beautiful pieces that are of good quality and have stood the test of time. You can find luxury labels for a discounted price in excellent condition. I favour vintage shops (Shag in Melbourne is my favourite) as I find pieces that I know no one else will have. I’m still fashion forward whilst doing my bit for the environment. It’s not for everyone but it is well worth a look.
Finally, if you want access to the latest trends, then hiring is the way to go. At The Volte, you can hire the latest looks for a fraction of the retail price. You can always be up to date with fashion (good quality designer labels) without worrying if you are ever going to wear it again which is always a problem with seasonal items. By hiring out your clothes, you are reducing waste by not sending the item to landfill. Other people get use out of it. Plus you are making money. It’s a win win for the consumer and the environment.