How much does our clothing really cost?
Updated: May 6, 2020
“I love your shirt, is it new?!”. We all feel some sort of pride in wearing a new cool outfit, especially if someone happens to notice, but what is the true cost of this momentary happiness? Do we know the carbon footprint of that new shirt? Do we know what happens to the discarded alternative size we ordered home JUST IN CASE the other didn’t fit? It’s truly time to start asking the right questions and put aside our willful ignorance on the topic.
Unfortunately, the fashion industry contributes to around 10% of all global carbon emissions. Now that may not sound like a lot, but alarmingly according to the United Nations, this is more than aviation and the shipping industry combined! If we are constantly told to cut down on our flying habits to minimize our carbon footprint, why is the same respect not translated into buying less and buying quality?
The World Bank Organization published other alarming figures such as, that 87% of all fibers used for making clothing are either destroyed or end up in a landfill. If the aim is to build a circular economy these types of statistics are certainly startling. Perhaps another detail worth mentioning is the approximate half a million tons of plastic microfibers that are thrown in the ocean every year. To put this into perspective this is the same as dumping 50 billion plastic bottles into the ocean. If this has not already convinced you about the hazard this creates, it is important to point out that microfibers are not able to be collected and therefore can also easily end up in our food chain, not exactly tasty.
But are fashion brands and the industry fully at blame? Or are we as consumers the ones pushing for new new new and they are just catering to our demand? According to Mckinsey & Company, fast fashion brands such as Zara and H&M debut up to 24 collections per year! Well whoever is at blame, I think we can all agree a change in pace is needed.
Buying quality clothing and therefore buying less is a concrete way to do our part in reducing waste consumption. World Bank Organization states that fewer than 1% of clothing is currently being recycled and used to make new pieces. The fact is, taking this into account, buying clothing that will last us years and years will actually hold a great deal of value on our impact in conserving the planet, rather than continuing the cycle of buy and throw. I know buying the 150 euro sweater seems so much more unappealing than buying the 20 euro one, but if the latter needs to be thrown out and replaced year after year, going for the more expensive high quality option, might just be better bang for your buck, will last the test of time and give us a good conscience while we’re at it!
Now for another elephant in the room, online shopping. Although shopping from the comfort of our own living rooms has many perks, yes, we can be simultaneously eating pop-corn and watching ‘Friends’, but we may not be aware of some of the downsides.
Did you know that most of the returned items we buy online never go back on sale? I know, shocking isn’t it. If you bought that shirt in let’s say a size small and medium, in the colours pink and yellow just to see which one fits the best and send the rest back, those discarded pieces will very likely not go back on sale. According to the BBC, this is because by the time the clothing is sent back and processed it is no longer worth enough for the retailer to put back on sale and ends up actually being cheaper for them to either sell to a liquidator or dump in a landfill. Evidently, around 5 billion pounds of waste is created by online returns every year.
This truly sheds light on the importance of conscious shopping and how small decisions like our online shopping habits can make a big difference in the world. Not only are returns not necessarily returned to go back on sale, but just think about the wasted raw materials such as plastic warping and carbon emissions used for transport. So next time we are adding something to the shopping cart we’re “probably going to return later” let’s think twice about the impact that choice has on our environment.
Of course, we as consumers have power in our spending habits and social influence, however, brands must play their part. I believe there is still a long way to go in this regard, nevertheless, there are already brands making an effort at doing their part. One of the OG brands is certainly Patagonia. They pride themselves with building products that are very durable and can be fixed at the shop for generations, and even have a self-imposed “earth-tax” that is put towards environmental preservation, since 1985. In my search, I stumbled across a brand called Nikin, which uses organic and recycled materials but most importantly like the former invest in quality lasting products that will not be thrown away after a few uses. Nikin also invests in tree planting programs in an effort to offset some of the impacts caused. Other Eco brands such as Eco Alf and Mud Jeans follow similar philosophies, which brings me to my learnings. The most sustainable brands currently out there, are the ones that not only use sustainable materials but who really embody sustainability within the company and in creating slow, quality, lasting fashion.
Lastly, I would like to talk about second-hand shopping. For some reason, I feel second-hand shopping is largely underestimated and sometimes even gets a bad reputation, when actually this is a very economic and fun way to shop sustainably! You know what they say, one person's trash is another person's treasure, and I can definitely vouch for this statement. I am personally a big fan of second-hand shopping and want to share some of my favourite places to do so in Amsterdam, so you too can pick up some great finds!
1. De Ruilhoek, Maasstraat 146, 1079 BK Amsterdam
2. EFFECT(S), Ten Katestraat 6, 1053 CE Amsterdam
3. Laura Dols, Wolvenstraat 7, 1016 EM Amsterdam (more expensive but beautiful pieces!)
3.Vinted.com, this one is an online second-hand shop across Europe
I have found some great pre-loved, quality, and special items at each place, and have even sold my clothing that I no longer have use for myself! Another great option is to hold clothing swaps among friends so you can shop each other’s closets, and hopefully find some gems. Here are a few outfits I put together from my closet using head to toe thrift finds!
Now, you may not have guessed it, but I love fashion and have worked in the fashion industry for around 7 years now. Surprisingly enough, my road to learning about sustainability has further encouraged me to want to work in fashion, and help fill the much-needed gap between the two.
We as consumers also have the power, to not only change our buying habits but to demand action from the industry and our favourite brands to revolutionize the way fashion is made and how sustainability is embodied within the companies. Do we really need a new collection of clothing 20 times a year? And do we want it at the cost of our planet?