A Less-Than-Cheerful Assessment of the Fashion Industry (Part I)

By Marta Lynch, posted 10/02/21

Know Your Clothes

First, before saying anything else: There are no ‘sustainable’ clothes that will improve the state of the world, every purchase is connected to an extraction of resources from this planet. So what can we do to reduce the damage we cause effectively when looking for clothes that we either want or need?

The big problem with fashion is the amount of clothing already existing and still being made. Every additional piece produced is unnecessary in terms of fighting climate change and reducing resource depletion. And all this production is happening within a deeply flawed system. Environmental, animal and human right abuses are more often the rule than the exception, so it is difficult to make decisions impacting the world for the better as a customer.

Quick summary of golden rules:

  1. Try to buy garments consisting of one fibre for the garment to be recycled more easily. Oil/Plastic-based fibres are usually mixed in to make garments cheaper but result in the clothes wasting away on a tip at the end of their use as there are no processes to separate synthetic and natural materials from each other.
  2. Avoid all newly produced/virgin synthetic fibres. New research suggests that as much as 73% of microplastics in the arctic comes from clothing.(1) New studies are finding out about how it affects marine environments, how it is finding its ways into our lungs and settling in our bodies and the research on this issue has only started.
  3. Avoid all fashion conglomerates, they wield their power to slow environmental campaigns down and the scale of their production cannot be aligned with any ‘green’ promises they make in their advertising. As in all other industries no companies should be able to hold that much power and affect governmental guidance. Look for small and local if you need to buy new.
  4. Set high standards for your purchasing habits: only buy pieces you can see yourself wearing over and over and over and over. This also applies to second-hand clothing: just because you are buying something at a reduced price don’t treat it like any less of an investment.

Many small companies are trying their best and coming up with innovative solutions and it is to be applauded as this moves us closer to diminishing our impact, but they are still using up resources (energy, water etc.) so even purchasing from them should be very well considered. This leads on to the next problem that a big part of the environmental footprints of garments are post-purchase so it is reliant upon how you take care of your clothes and how you dispose of them.

The general goal of caring for your garments is looking at how to make them last longer (washing and mending) and if you no longer wear them, how to dispose of them (finding them a new home or recycling them correctly).

Buying second hand or swapping clothes is quite clearly the easiest way to keep garments in circulation and keep them off waste tips and obviously Shrub has dedicated a lot of resources and space to this solution.

Care instructions on garments are written by the production and fabric suppliers and are often there to cover their backs or are standardised symbols for similar fabrics they have used. They do not have to be followed exactly.

The general answer in care instructions is wash as little as possible at low temperatures (while still being sanitary obviously) and air out rather than wash (I wash my pure woollens only once a year except for socks and spot cleans if necessary). Basically dry cleaning should be avoided completely, tumble drying too especially with synthetic fibres (it breaks the fibres and contributes to microplastic fibres around the world). Fabric softener is unnecessary especially with synthetic fibres and actually reduces the absorbency of the fabric as they coat the fibre.(2) They can be replaced with distilled white vinegar to remove especially bad smells.


(1) https://amp.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jan/12/clothes-washing-linked-to-pervasive-plastic-pollution-in-the-arctic

(2) https://www.wired.com/story/whos-to-blame-for-plastic-microfiber-pollution/

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