Fashion has a catastrophic impact on the environment. The global textile and apparel industry is the second-largest polluter globally. It creates massive amounts of pollution, waste, and greenhouse gases every year.
Buying fewer clothes and higher quality is one of the best ways to help the environment. It not only saves resources used in the production of new clothing pieces but also prevents more textile waste from ending up in landfills.
Our wardrobe has a terrible impact on the planet, people, and animals living on it. It's more important now than ever before to take action to reduce waste, pollution, water, and energy consumption.
As consumers, we can start by buying less clothing overall. We can choose higher-quality pieces that last longer. It helps our budget and the planet tremendously.
We can also take better care of the garments we already own, reuse, repair, repurpose, recycle, and upcycle used clothing. It's time to change the way we produce and consume clothes with a more sustainable and ethical approach.
Fast fashion is a major contributor to the rapid growth of the global apparel industry. To meet consumers' demand, clothing production has doubled over the last 15 years.
The choices we make do matter a lot. We have the power to drive change in the fashion industry. Sustainability is a big challenge we face today and it's also one of the most crucial.
Here is how buying fewer clothes helps the environment.
Saving clothing manufacturing resources
Our excessive clothing consumption is highly detrimental to the environment. Our fast fashion addiction also kills people and animals.
The rise of fast fashion over the last 20 years made us consider clothing as a disposable commodity. Fashion used to be slow, local, and expensive before the industrial revolution.
"One reason for this trend is globalization. Corporations have relocated their manufacturing operations to low-wage countries, making goods artificially cheap when sold in higher-wage countries."
- Steven Gorelick, Small is Beautiful Author
Every purchase we make has huge consequences. The overconsumption of cheaply made clothing uses tons of water, land, and energy. The best way to save natural resources and money is to buy fewer clothes.
The social and environmental impact of disposable clothing is terrifying. To protect the environment, animal lives, and human health, we should rethink our excessive consumerism.
Fashion is responsible for the massive exploitation of natural resources and local communities. It accounts for more than 8% of all carbon emissions globally each year, as reported by the Fashion Transparency Index.
The global textile and apparel industry emits more than 1.7 billion tons of greenhouse gases each year, according to the Global Fashion Agenda, more than all international flights and marine transportation combined.
Fashion makes a huge contribution to global warming. Two remain under the global goal of two degrees of warming, the fashion industry needs to cut emissions by 80% by 2050.
However, the apparel industry is still growing very fast. According to recent reports, it's increasing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.5% since 2014 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 11.8% by 2022.
If the trend continues, the fashion industry's carbon emissions will increase by more than 50% by 2030, as reported by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. We are nowhere near reducing the industry's carbon footprint enough to avoid catastrophic and irreversible damage.
If you decide to buy less clothing, you can prevent tons of carbon emissions every year. It's time to make efforts to reduce the fashion industry's energy consumption and subsequent greenhouse gas emissions.
The apparel industry is also responsible for the massive consumption of water. Combined with harmful chemicals, water is used in farming, washing, bleaching, dyeing, and treatment of textiles.
Water consumption is expected to increase by 20% from 2015 to 2025 due to the fast-growing fashion industry, according to McKinsey.
All textile and apparel production worldwide, including cotton farming, uses almost 100 billion cubic meters of water annually, as reported by the
Ellen MacArthur Foundation. This is enough water to meet the needs of five million people.
Nearly two-thirds of the world population, about 4 billion people,
experience severe water scarcity during at least one month every year. By 2030, water scarcity is expected to displace between 24 million and 700 million people with the existing climate change scenario.
According to the World Bank, the fashion industry also creates 17-20% of all wastewater worldwide today. And UNESCO reports that only 20% of globally produced wastewater receives proper treatment.
Read up my article on fast fashion abusive water consumption to learn more about these issues.
Limiting textile waste and pollution
The global apparel and textile industry generates tons of waste every year. It's responsible for massive amounts of textile waste piling up in landfills at an alarming rate.
In the United States alone, 16.9 million tons of used textile wastes are produced annually, as reported by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This amount of waste is close to 10 times bigger than in 1960 and doubled over the last 20 years.
The average American throws away 70 pounds of clothing every year. Clothes are only worn for around a quarter of the global average in America, according to Euromonitor.
USD 500 billion is lost each year due to our overconsumption habits and throwaway culture.
Less than 1% of all used textile waste is recycled to make new clothes. The large majority takes years to decompose or is incinerated, releasing carbon dioxide, methane, and other toxic gases into the atmosphere.
Cheap synthetic fabrics also had up to the global plastic waste crisis. About 60% of synthetic fabrics are made of fossil fuels. Every year, half a million tons of plastic microfibers are dumped into the ocean, the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles.
Check out my list of sustainable synthetic fabrics to make better material choices when shopping for new clothes.
Changing our consumption habits is a priority. Sustainability is necessary for the planet, people, and animals to survive. Buy less clothing not only benefit our health but also creates a better future for our children.
"Sustainability is not something special, it is a human need, just like love, affection, sex, and hunger. You can term it as a responsibility - a morality or legal correctness, but it is something that has been important. The conversation is big right now because the people are asking for change."
- Sanjay Garg, Raw Mango Founder, Designer, and Managing Director
How to buy less clothing
It's important to reduce the environmental impact of our clothes. Our closet contributes to climate change, waste, and pollution. To lower the impact of our clothing purchases, we can take better care of the clothes we already own and buy fewer clothes overall.
"The most sustainable clothes are the ones already in our wardrobe."
- The Fashion Revolution Foundation, a non-profit global movement
We must choose more durable and high-quality pieces that fit our lifestyle, only purchase what we need, and the essentials for our wardrobe.
Supporting and buying from companies that make huge efforts to minimize their social and environmental impact also helps remarkably.
Just keep it simple by following a more minimalist approach to fashion. Simple fashion aesthetics are good for the eye and the environment. Investing in classic and timeless pieces keep your look minimal and original.
Sometimes, less is more. And owning less is a good feeling. It's a great way to live intentionally and a more fulfilled life. Put simplicity at the forefront and remove what is unneeded.
Luckily, minimalism doesn't have to be boring. You can find beautiful, colorful, and stylish items to wear for a long time with a bit of research.
Read through my minimalist clothing list for inspiration.
About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks three languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.