Fashion and Sustainability – 7 Easy Changes You Can Make

For the past 18 months or so, I have been trying to make more conscious decisions in relation to sustainable living. One of the biggest changes I have made is changing the fashion habits I have had for most of my life.

As a teenager I wanted to be a fashion journalist, and I studied a journalism and PR degree which had a big fashion focus. Fashion wasn’t the area I chose to work in in the end, however I still maintained my passion for clothes. I spent years buying into fast fashion, trying to keep up with trends, and watching YouTubers’ “haul videos”.

I never realised just how much fast fashion affects the planet, until I watched a documentary called Fashion’s Dirty Secrets by Stacey Dooley. Fashion is the third highest pollutant in the world, after coal and oil. It is higher than transportation, fracking and beef. I had no idea this was the case at all, and since then I’ve found out more eye-opening facts such as:

The fast fashion industry emits 1.2 billion tons of CO2 equivalent per year. This is about 5% of global emissions. That’s more than the emissions created by air travel and international shipping. (Source: 7billionfor7seas)

20,000 litres is the amount of water needed to produce one kilogram of cotton; equivalent to a single t-shirt and pair of jeans. (Source: WWF)

The number of fashion seasons has increased from two a year (autumn/winter and spring/summer) to as many as 50- 100 microseasons. (Source: World Resources Institute)

£140 million worth of clothing is sent to landfill every year in the UK, and more than half of clothing given to charity shops or textile recyclers ends up in landfills or is incinerated. (Source: Greenpeace)

Discovering these kind of facts made me want to change my fast fashion habits – there’s no need for me to be buying new clothes constantly, nor companies to be producing them. Below I have shared some ideas of how you can become part of the slow fashion movement too.

1. Wear what’s already in your wardrobe

This is definitely the one I have focused on doing the most. It sounds simple but many of us don’t even wear half the stuff we already own! I made sure I cleared out my wardrobe (selling on eBay or donating to a homeless charity what I didn’t wear anymore) so I was aware of what I had. I’ve also tried styling different things together that I haven’t done before, providing me with new outfit options without actually buying any more clothes. It’s also worth me pointing out that if you do own something from what you now identify as a fast fashion brand (like a lot of my existing wardrobe), it doesn’t mean you should throw it out. If you still get use out of the item, then it is more sustainable to carry on wearing it!

2. Rent an outfit

Call me a trendsetter, but I actually rented my prom dress back when I was 16 (a long time ago!). However I had another prom when I was 18 and I insisted on buying a dress for that one. Needless to say once prom night was over, I never had a reason to wear a bright red sequinned princess dress that I could barely breathe in (it had a corseted back!) ever again. I don’t own it anymore, and to be honest I don’t even remember what I did with it. Renting my first prom dress was definitely the way to go, and I’m glad to see this is becoming a more regular thing. I think this is especially a good idea for when you are going to an event like a prom, or a wedding, where you want to wear something different and one-off that you won’t get regular use out of. I haven’t tried these sites yet, but plan to in future after hearing lots of good things about them: Girl Meets Dress and Hurr.

3. Clothes swopping

If you have friends or family who are the same size as you, why not swop clothes with each other? Alternatively there are swop events where you can take along clothes you don’t wear anymore, and then browse through rails of other peoples’ clothes that you can take home completely free. Of course at the moment events are on hold due to the pandemic, but offers an online swop service which is worth trying.

4. Don’t impulse buy and think new purchases through

Don’t get me wrong I’m not suggesting no one ever buys anything again and I have still made a few purchases this year – however I think my purchases through a lot more now. Will I get a lot of use out of it? Is it something I could see myself wearing in several years? Is it good quality and will last? Is this a fast fashion piece that will be “out of fashion” in a few months’ time? Are they an ethical company? (see next point below.)

5. Educate yourself on how sustainable a brand is

My sister introduced me to this really handy website: It enables you to search for a company and see how they are rated for sustainability on three different scales out of 5: planet, people and animals. You can easily identify fast fashion brands, as they are the ones that are constantly churning out new products such as Boohoo, Pretty Little Thing, New Look, and so on. Sadly a lot of well known labels online and on UK high streets aren’t doing enough in regards to sustainability – many of which I have bought from in the past. However there’s lots of new brands to discover that are focusing on ethical practices which is exciting! Plus the more pressure that is put on these fast fashion companies, and the more savvy consumers become, the higher the chance they might just look to improving their practices.

6. Buy second hand clothing

There’s so many opportunities to buy second hand nowadays. From vintage stores like Thrifted and Beyond Retro, to websites where you can sell your own clothes like eBay and Depop. There is even a second hand luxury fashion sector, with websites such as Vestaire Collective and Rebelle.

7. Repair or reuse what you own

I must admit I don’t know anything about sewing, or repairing things! But thankfully there are people out there that do, and in many instances, you can get your clothing, footwear or accessories repaired rather than having to throw them out. If there really is no way of salvaging them, could they be used for something else? I’ve seen examples of old jumpers becoming cushion covers, t-shirts being made into headbands and shorts becoming wash cloths!

I am not by any means perfect and I still have a lot to learn when it comes to living more sustainably. However I feel like making small incremental changes is better than nothing and for me, it has started with my consumption of clothes!

Image credits: Unsplash

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