The fashion industry is the second-largest polluter globally. It has a catastrophic social and environmental impact. It creates massive amounts of pollution, waste, and greenhouse gases. And it exploits workers in low-income countries.
As consumers, there are a few steps we can take to help the fashion industry change. We must be more mindful of our purchasing decisions. And we can encourage fashion brands and retailers to become more sustainable and ethical.
The fashion industry still has many issues today that require solutions. The overproduction and overconsumption of cheaply made clothing have disastrous consequences for the planet, the people, and the animals living on it.
The textile and apparel industry is responsible for more than 8% of all carbon emissions globally each year. It contributes to climate change at an alarming rate.
More than 80% of all clothes produced globally end up in landfills to decompose or be incinerated. Americans alone generate 16.9 million tons of used textile waste each year.
All textile production globally, including cotton farming, utilizes almost 100 billion cubic meters of water annually. The textile industry produces 20% of all wastewater worldwide.
The apparel industry employs 300 million people around the world. Most of them work and live in the poorest countries. They earn very low wages and work long hours seven days per week in unsafe conditions.
"Urgent action is needed to ensure that current material needs do not lead to the over-extraction of resources or the degradation of environmental resources, and should include policies that improve resource efficiency, reduce waste and mainstream sustainability practices across all sectors of the economy."
- United Nations Economic and Social Council, Progress Towards The Sustainable Development Goals (2019)
Now more than ever, we have to rethink completely how we produce and consume clothing. Consumers must help the fashion industry. Here is how.
1. Help the second-hand clothing market grow
The second-hand market is completely independent of the regular clothing market. Both markets are expanding rapidly as second-hand clothing is gaining popularity.
The used clothing market generated USD 28 billion in 2019. Sales are expected to reach USD 51 billion in 2023.
Extending the life of clothes is a great way to protect the environment, save money, and help the fashion industry go green. Shopping second-hand reduces the amount of textile waste. And it saves resources that would have been consumed to make new clothes.
There are too many advantages of second-hand clothing to list them all. Second-hand clothing is helping the fashion world becoming sustainable.
It raises awareness of the environmental challenges present in the industry. And it makes environmentally friendly clothes accessible to people with a lower budget.
Read up my article on how second-hand clothing is helping sustainable fashion to learn more about this market.
You can swap clothing pieces with friends and family to renew your wardrobe instead of buying new clothes. It's a very fun activity to organize over the weekend.
Clothing rental is also gaining in popularity. Especially for special occasions, renting is often the better option. You can even subscribe to a company program and change your outfits regularly.
Everyone now has the possibility of finding affordable and unique pieces at local thrift stores, resale shops, or online marketplaces. Buying and selling unwanted clothes online is quick and effortless.
Check out my guide on how to sell unwanted clothes for a list of great places to find second-hand clothing.
2. Reuse, recycle, repurpose, and upcycle your clothes
Recycling clothing is an excellent way to protect the environment. It prevents textile waste to pile up in landfills. And it limits resource extraction, the pollution of nearby environments, and the destruction of ecosystems.
But some clothes are very difficult to recycle. Blended fabrics of different materials don't separate well. Instead, you can give a new life to old textiles by repurposing and upcycling.
Upcycling clothes is the process of making new pieces of clothing by cutting and sewing used textiles. It extends the time they are being used. It's an outstanding way to minimize the impact of fashion.
There is a regain interest in upcycling among conscious consumers. It's less resource consuming than recycling. And it helps local businesses involved in the collection, sorting, manufacturing, and shipping of textiles.
"Upcycle means to process used goods or waste materials to produce something that is often better than the original. For example, recycling a worn t-shirt could mean you use them as dust rags. An upcycled garment is typically one of a kind. This requires a considerable amount of creativity and vision in addition to environmental consciousness."
- Judi Townsend, Mannequin Madness owner
To learn more about upcycling and how to make new clothes from old textiles, read up my article on the definition of upcycled clothing.
3. Buy fewer clothes overall and only the essentials
The most sustainable piece of clothing you can have is the one you already own.
We are used to buying cheap trendy clothes, wear them only a few times, and replace them with new styles rapidly. But we must give up on fast fashion and instead look at the alternatives.
I know it's fun to buy clothing. But it's also detrimental to the planet most of the time. To be more mindful of clothes, we have to think about the social and environmental impact of our shopping habits.
Excessive consumerism isn't ethical or sustainable. Buying fewer clothes and higher quality is the way to go. It's one of the most sustainable practices to help the fashion industry.
Follow my complete guide on how do I stop wearing fast fashion for a few ideas on adopting better shopping habits.
Fast fashion is the worst. It's is responsible for the huge growth of the textile and apparel industry over the last 20 years. But it leads to an enormous quantity of textile waste, water, air and soil pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions.
It's time to tell fast fashion brands and retailers to quit making disposable clothing. Factories must become safer and greener. They should protect the environment and care about the welfare of workers in the supply chain.
4. Shop for sustainable fashion
Luckily the green movement is booming. Conscious consumers are asking for more ethically made and environmentally friendly clothing.
We have the power to drive change in the fashion industry. We choose the clothes we buy and who we support with our money.
With so much greenwash going on, it's necessary to investigate brands and retailers before buying from them.
We must look for certifications from third-party organizations, learn about how our clothes are being made, natural organic and recycled materials.
Many fashion designers and brands now make eco-friendly collections to appeal to conscious consumers. But a higher retail price remains the biggest hurdle to make ethical fashion more popular.
Follow my ultimate guide on how to check if a fashion brand is ethical when buying sustainable fashion.
It's always a good idea to choose clothes that are respectful to the environment and the welfare of people. Buy clothes that don't go out of style easily, that are durable, comfortable, and will last you a long time.
To help the fashion industry, we must make changes in our behavior. And we have to raise awareness of the industry's social and environmental issues.
Every small step counts toward achieving the bigger goal of reducing the impact of fashion. It may seem overwhelming at first. But it worth it to save the Earth, the lives of humans and animals.
Boycott fast fashion, and support fashion companies that use business as a force for good. You don't have to make drastic changes tomorrow. Living a more responsible lifestyle takes time and perseverance. Just keep making progress in the right direction.
Do you know other ways to help the fashion industry? Let us know in the comments below.
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.