We are all aware of that there are issues in clothes manufacturing. The text “made in” on a clothing label is quite often followed by a name of a country that reminds us of poor working conditions, cases of child labor and environmental problems. Fast fashion trends are shortening the lifecycle of a piece of clothing and thus creating more waste than ever. The clothing and textile industry is estimated to be worth 3 trillion dollars, producing 80 billion garments every year. Yet only 0.1 percent of all clothing collected is recycled into a new textile fiber.
But we all do need clothes. And since it’s very unlikely that we’ll stop wearing them anytime soon, what’s the next best solution to the problem?
You have power as a consumer.
The UN Sustainable Development Goal number 12, “Sustainable Consumption and Production” is set to tackle problems like this. Just as the title of the SDG suggests, it takes two to tango. If there’s a lack of sustainable alternatives on the market, it’s hard for the consumer to make sustainable purchasing decisions. On the other hand, if consumers display a lack of interest for that kind of products, the manufacturers are unlikely to offer more of those.
As a consumer, you are not powerless and at the mercy of the manufacturer. You have a very powerful tool at your disposal; you get to make the choice on what to buy. There’s more information available than ever before to make those decisions, thanks to the internet and the growing awareness on sustainability. More and more people are opting for the more sustainable option, and brands are following this by offering more sustainable product lines. There are already a lot of good options to choose from.
What should you consider to be more sustainable?
However, it’s not just about buying the product with the picture of a green leaf on the price tag. Greenwashing is making things more complicated, and recycling still remains a problem. You should consider the whole product life cycle. There’s almost an infinite number of variables that can make a product more or less sustainable, so for a sake of simplicity, you can divide it into three different stages.
First one is the production. Is the brand known for treating its employees well, or does it have a reputation for using shady outsourcing solutions? Some materials are better for the environment than others, and you can find out whether the brand is using sustainably sourced cotton, for example. You can also support sustainable initiatives by buying clothes with the fair trade label for example. And finally, if you buy something second hand, the already existing piece of clothing gets a new life, decreasing the need for more production.
The second stage is when you are actually wearing the garment. The longer you can wear it the better. If it is durable and made of good materials it will last longer. Some cheaper clothes often break faster. Is it a fad? You can wear a classic piece of clothing for years and it will still look good. You should also remember to maintain the clothes you buy. For example, good quality leather shoes can last for a really long time if taken care of properly.
Thirdly and finally there comes a time when you won’t be wearing a garment anymore. If it breaks and becomes unwearable, can you recycle it? If someone can still wear it, you can either give it to a charity or maybe sell it at a flea market. However, you shouldn’t justify buying more new clothes by giving old ones to charity since most charities are already receiving more clothes than they need. This brings us to the final point, and perhaps to the most important one.
Do you really need it in the first place?
One simple way to test this is not to buy it now, but promise yourself that if you still want it in a week, you can go back and buy it. Chances are that you didn’t really want it in the first place. If you still remember it in a week, you can go and get it!