There is no escaping the recent environmental issues shaking the world. From the current COVID pandemic, to the Amazon and Australian wildfires, to extreme weather events, eco issues are – finally – on everyone's lips. And quite rightly, too: the crisis facing the planet is worth our immediate attention. Learn how to build a sustainable wardrobe now.
By Sascha Camilli: writer, speaker, activist and vegan fashion expert.
Whilst most people today are aware of the impact that the food industry has on the environment, many forget the effects of our wardrobes on the planet. What we might not realise is that fashion is one of the most polluting industries in the world. One of the main reasons for the Amazon deforestation is the cattle sector, which of course includes meat – but it also includes leather, a fabric that the Pulse of Fashion Industry report concluded was the most environmentally damaging in the world.
But the issues aren't limited to what materials you wear. The effects of overconsumption on our planet are staggering: 15 million tonnes of textiles are wasted in the US every year, while the UK discards £12.5 billion worth of clothes in the same time. Plus, workers in the garment industry are forced to endure conditions of slavery to keep up with the extreme volumes that today's fast-fashion culture craves.
All this information is enough to overwhelm and depress most of us, but the best way to feel empowered about your fashion choices is to make a plan for taking action. Through your wardrobe choices, you can help change the course of destruction and do your bit towards saving the world.
Love what you have
This is one of the easiest, but also one of the most efficient ways to create an ethical, sustainable wardrobe. Instead of buying new things all the time, which strains our planet's resources, learn to re-love the clothes you currently have. Too often we get stuck in a rut with our clothes and end up rotating the same outfits over and over. Get creative and make new outfits with your existing clothes. Try new combinations you might not have thought of before. Your old clothes will feel like new again – and you will have saved both money and environmental resources.
Learn to mend
When something breaks, is your immediate response to throw it out? Prolong the lifespan of your clothes by learning more about how to give them a new lease of life. Back in the day, basic mending skills like sewing buttons back on or darning a hole used to keep clothes in their owners' wardrobes for years and sometimes decades longer than we keep our clothes these days – but with today's throwaway fashion culture, so many of those skills have gotten lost. Get re-acquainted with a needle and thread. Can't be bothered? Find a good tailor and make friends with them, their work will transform old, worse-for-wear or ill-fitting garments.
In 2017, the Pulse of Fashion Industry report put cow leather at the top of its list of the most environmentally damaging fabrics for cradle-to-gate impact per kg of material. Silk came second, and wool fourth. Tanning chemicals kill 90% of all of the leather workers in Bangladesh – one of the world's top leather producers – before the age of 50, but tanning isn't the only harmful aspect of leather: recent reports found that 93% of the damage of leather occurs before the tanning stage. So “vegetable-tanned” leather makes a very small difference. But isn't vegan leather made from plastic? Not the new crop of sustainable, naturally derived plant leathers such as apple leather, Pinatex (pineapple leaf fibre), cork, wine leather, fruit leather, leaf leather and so much more. High fashion vegan brands like Ashoka, Good Guys Don't Wear Leather, LUXTRA – and many more – are making great use of these alternatives to make beautiful vegan bags, vegan shoes, vegan clothes and sustainable accessories. The leathers of the future are kind to both animals and the planet.
If you crave a shopping fix but feel guilty about the environmental impact of your habit, it's time to download apps like Depop, Vinted and Ebay and get into the magical world of secondhand shopping. Secondhand is arguably the most ethical way to shop, as you're taking advantage of resources that have already been used and aren't contributing to anything new being made – plus, you're also saving clothes from going to landfill.
Think outside the box
Part of building an ethical wardrobe is moving away from what you know – big-name brands – and discovering new, smaller, independent designers who are working hard to make change happen in the industry. Seek out inspiration online and familiarise yourself with the brands that are helping conscious consumers wear their ethics. And when you find your favourite brands, do your best to promote them. Ethically minded brands who are dedicated to creating vegan and Fair Trade fashion need all the support they can get, so if you get your hands on vegan bags from Ashoka or Hozen, or shoes from Taylor & Thomas or Allkind, or a watch from Votch or Hurtig Lane – tell your friends about it. Share it on social media. Take every chance to show just how stylish and covetable ethical fashion can be. That will help shift public perception and inspire more people to explore ethical brands.
Knowledge is power, so read up on the info. Be aware of the impact of different fabrics and practices on the planet, on humans and animals. Arm yourself with arguments. Don't overwhelm yourself with too many depressing facts, but do stay informed. Read blogs, websites and books on the topic and find out about ethical fashion events in your area. The ethical fashion community is rich in knowledge, so stay in the know.
By Sascha Camilli
Sascha Camilli is a vegan fashion writer, speaker and activist. Her book Vegan Style is out now on Murdoch Books. For more about Sascha, you can read our interview with her. You can also follow her on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.
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Cover image by blisko