About a year ago, I started examining the practices and habits in my life, trying to better understand how my decisions impact the world. One of the aspects that came later in this journey was my closet. I am not a big shopper, so I didn’t really consider my clothing through the lens of sustainability.
When women who I admire and respect came into conversation about what is wrong with the fast fashion industry, I began thinking about how my clothing choices play a role in sustainability and responsible stewardship of the planet. I moved away from shopping at big box stores and started viewing my purchases as my vote towards the future I wanted. But the more you know, the more you want to learn…
So I started reading a lot about what’s going on with fast fashion, and it turns out that it’s the second largest polluter in the world … second only to oil. After learning this, I decided I was done supporting such a reckless, damaging industry; I wanted to give my money to companies who employ sustainable and ethical practices.
But what exactly does that mean? And furthermore, why does that matter?
Let’s explore sustainable and ethical clothing a bit more:
Why ethically made clothing is important
The ‘Who Makes Your Clothes?’ campaign, started by Fashion Revolution, first inspired my interest in this subject. The social media campaign grabbed my attention and challenged me to think about how my clothing was made. If what I was wearing was made in a sweatshop by disadvantaged, victimized people, who may be working for unfair wages, in poor conditions, that was unacceptable. Once I started thinking about this, I couldn’t stop. If you want to have the curtain pulled back on the reality of the clothing industry, I 10000% recommend watching the True Cost documentary.
Why sustainably made clothing is important
I was moved to go deeper into this path of exploration when my dear friend Autumn, of Kepola Design House, shared how slowly synthetic fabrics break down compared to organic and natural materials. She experimented with the natural decomposition of cotton, linen and silk in soil, with only natural rainfall. The natural materials decomposed within just 30 days. Compare this to the staggering 20-500 YEARS that it will take polyester clothing to biodegrade. This is a startling fact considering that we send 26 billion pounds of textiles to landfills each year, globally.
This was a totally different aspect of the textile/clothing industry that I wasn’t considering when purchasing my clothing. The definition of ‘sustainable clothing’ once seemed abstract but it simply means fabrics derived from environmentally conscious resources, such as sustainably grown fiber crops and/or recycled materials.
When reading How To Give Up Plastic, I learned about how many fabrics were comprised of plastic… the same kind of plastic that make up water bottles. If you’ve read this post about single-use water bottles, you know that it takes over 500 YEARS for that material to break down. Mind blowing.
And by washing our clothes made of these synthetic fibers, we release around 700,000 microscopic plastic fibers into the environment EVERY WASH. When I learned that this is by far one of the biggest ways we are personally contributing to plastic pollution, I was absolutely shocked.
If this startles you as much as it did me, please look into buying a Guppy Friend Bag from Stop Micro Waste!, Cora Ball or Lint Luv-r today. These seemingly small changes create lasting, massive impact. Never think your “little bit” is not enough or part of the solution – it is.
More info from How To Give Up Plastic:
“It comes as a surprise to most people that the clothes they wear are one of the greatest sources of plastic in the ocean. Minuscule strands of clothing, normally made of nylon or polyester and much finer than a human hair, are shed from our clothes every time we wear them, wash them and, of course, when we throw them away.” – Will McCallum, How To Give Up Plastic
I’ll paraphrase him a bit here: With the rise in fast fashion, polyester now makes up over 60% of the material we wear, with an estimated 61 million tons of synthetic fibers being manufactured per year. 15-30% of all plastic pollution comes from these microscopic plastics fibers being released from our clothes, with the average American being responsible for dumping the equivalent of 150 plastic shopping bags in the ocean each year. WOW.
This alone made me want to shift how and where I buy my clothing.
Each of these ‘aha moments’ have led me to make more purpose-aligned decisions. To shop less, to buy natural and organic materials and to be mindful of sustainable sourcing and biodegradability. I also buy second-hand more and support small businesses with ethical business practices.
Resources for a Conscious Closet:
Guppy Friend Bag from Stop Micro Waste!
or Cora Ball or Lint Luv-r
Things to Consider When Shopping:
• Before we shop, can we reinvent pieces in our closet?
• Shop Secondhand / Swap with Friends
• Avoid Synthetic Materials: Polyester, Nylon, Acrylic, etc.
• Opt for Organic Cotton, Linen and Hemp, Silk, Recycled Polyester or Tencel/Lyocell
I love that when I shared this on social media, my community of friends reached out with their knowledge, expertise (as well as shock and gratitude for sharing). My friend Jess Kirby went down a deep rabbit whole of trying to understand all of this and shared her research in a blogpost ‘The Most Harmful Fabrics in Fashion’ HERE.
My dear friend Megan Gilger of The Fresh Exchange (who is a wealth of knowledge and one HELL of a human being) shared this with me:
Linen is made from flax or hemp which are both very clean plants to grow. They require very little water, can regrow and be harvested multiple times and don’t need pesticides. Cotton on the other hand is very dirty to grow. So if we wear it, it should be organic in the very least. Another good option is wool and other animal fibers. It is extremely sustainable and durable so it doesn’t wear out quickly. The animals need to be sheered so it is good for them. And the processing of these fibers is very low impact.
• Repurposed/Recycled Materials (like dead stock material, upcycled fabrics, etc)
• Compostable or Post-Consumer Recycled Packaging
• Fair Trade Certified
• Seek Out Organic and Natural Materials (hemp, linen, organic cotton, etc)
• Made Locally to base consumer
• Climate Neutral Certified or Carbon Neutral Shipping
• Independently Owned
• Not mass produced
• Give back to cause/organization/community
• Made with intention (i.e. honors tradition, brings awareness, tells a story)
A Few Favorite Ethical/Sustainable Places to Shop:
Swim + Workout
Business Owners Reading This:
Do you employ sustainable and ethical business practices such as the ones stated above? If you’re a fashion brand, or even a company that has ‘swag’ such as t-shirts and tote bags: have you considered your impact?
Studies have shown that 60% of consumers are willing to pay more for something that is sustainably made. This is because more and more consumers are becoming aware of the harm created by industry that is not regenerative or sustainable.
Please see this as an exciting invitation to reassess which of these practices you employ and what you can work on. When we start our businesses, it can be tempting to go the route that is most cost-effective and easy. I totally understand that. But we’re at a pivotal time of awareness and it’s so incredibly important to make shifts, even small ones to better protect our natural resources and spaces.
The immediate goal is progress not perfection and by initiating a conversation around corporate responsibility, my intention is to make more brands aware of their impact and the opportunity to join this growing movement of awareness. The more committed a company is to a sincere contribution and planet focused mission statement, the more boldly it will attract the fast-growing number of conscious consumers.
In conclusion, our closet plays a huge role in our impact on this earth. How and where we buy our clothing is so important. How we run our businesses matter. The more we know, the more power we have.
Please share any other tips, facts or information about this topic below! I am always willing to be a sponge and to dive into these topics deeper with you.