How sustainable fashion can look great and help halt climate change

8 Apr 2019
5 min read

Sustainable fashion aims to help solve the many ways the fashion industry is damaging the environment. From the pesticides and toxins from producing fibres, to greenhouse gases caused by clothing in landfill, the one thing we can all agree on is that it’s time to change.

Fashion is a big problem for the environment

The UK buys more clothes than any other European country. Annually, we spend £52.7bn on fashion and chuck away a million tonnes – 300,000 tonnes straight into landfill. And we’re buying more each year, so while clothing production’s carbon footprint fell by 8% per tonne between 2012 and 2016, we’ve undone that good work by increasing the amount we purchase. The Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap) says the clothing industry has the “fourth largest environmental impact after housing, transport and food”.

Annually, we spend £52.7bn on fashion in the UK and chuck away 1m tonnes – 300,000 straight into landfill

Meanwhile, while we stuff our wardrobes with throwaway fashion, many of us are suffering from ‘nothing-to-wear’ syndrome. On average, women have £834 worth of unworn, unused fashion in their wardrobes, and men £597.

The good news: sustainable fashion works

The good news is that we have a huge amount of power over what we buy, what we keep and how we use our clothes. And once you’ve worked out a versatile capsule wardrobe, you’ll find yourself buying less and enjoying your clothes a whole lot more.

Here are four tips to take back control of your wardrobe and bring your clothing carbon footprint right down.

1. Buy less: love what you have

Fashion is a ravenous consumer industry. To keep us buying more and more, the fashion industry now divides the year into 52 (yes, 52) “micro seasons”. That’s one a week. If the message is that we need new clothes every season then, it’s no wonder we can’t find anything in our chock-full wardrobes. And it’s unsurprising that the single most important thing any of us can do for the planet is to buy less. But what might surprise you is that having less in your wardrobe can feel like having more to wear. Clearing space will let you see what you have that you really love and use. Sort out your wardrobe; keep only what fits, feels good and makes you happy, and then keep what you have organised and accessible. Donate and recycle everything else – or sell it and recoup some of that £834!

2. Buy better: clothes built to last

If you do need to buy something new, be mindful of the choices you make. You may end up spending more on one item than you’re used to, but ask yourself: is it better to have one cardigan you’ll still be wearing in ten years because you love it, or ten cardigans this year because the quality / stitching / colour wasn’t made to last? If budget is an issue, remember you can always choose preloved clothes – often you’ll find better quality clothes in second hand shops because better made clothes are more likely to make it to a second innings.

dress made of waste plastic and sweet wrapper trainers

3. Moral fibres: what sustainable fabrics to choose

The highest contributor to Fashion’s carbon footprint is the fibre production stage. This stage, either through agriculture or polymer extrusion (the process of creating synthetic fibres) accounts for around 11 million of the 26.2 tonnes of CO2 emissions the fashion industry is responsible for each year. Shockingly, cotton, which we tend to see as natural, is one of the most pollutant fibres we produce. The pesticides and chemicals used to produce cotton fibres affect humans and the environment, and the process has a huge thirst for water.

So if you’re buying new, the fibres you’re choosing matter. Look for these options:

  • Bamboo: grows quickly without pesticides and actually improves soil quality. The fabric is soft and breathable – great for sportswear, baby clothes and lovely, soft socks.
  • Hemp: also easy to grow and environmentally low-impact. It’s extremely durable and versatile – perfect for outdoor clothing and bags.
  • Organic cotton: grown without pesticides or chemicals. Because this method is far more labour intensive, always check that it’s also fairly traded. Companies like People Tree are great places to look for sustainable, fairly traded and beautiful cotton clothing.
  • Recycled fabrics: Patagonia has been recycling plastic bottles to make polyester fleeces and outdoor gear since the ‘90s. It’s since been joined by other great companies like Lyme Terrace. If you’re going for synthetic fibres check the label for 100% (preferably recycled) polyester, as this can be recycled again after you’ve finished with it.
  • Upcycled fabrics: of course recycling is still an industrial process, so even if your t-shirt is made from plastic bottles that would otherwise have found their way to the sea, it will still have an impact. A better choice is upcycled clothing, where fabric that would otherwise be wasted is repurposed and refashioned. Have a look at Beyond Retro LABEL and Good Krama for gorgeous one-offs and unique repurposed fashion.

On average, women have £834 worth of unworn, unused fashion in their wardrobes, and men £597

4. SCAP not Scrap: check your suppliers

Wrap has launched the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) 2020, which enables companies to commit to reducing their waste and pollution at all levels including carbon emissions, water pollution, landfill and general production waste. So far 80 companies including Asos, Next and Whistles have signed up. Check you’re buying from SCAP signatories, and shop with confidence that your clothes have had a lighter impact on the planet.

Make a change for climate change

Every choice we make can have an effect on our carbon footprint. But becoming an empowered, informed shopper and choosing sustainable, ethical fashion means those impacts will be positive ones. With a few attitude adjustments, we can tackle climate change without compromising on style.

Featured image: Artificial Photography / Unsplash Other image: Noah Buscher / Unsplash


The information in this article was correct at the time of writing and is provided for guidance only. Please see the full disclaimer in our terms and conditions.

Please share this article and comment on social.

Related articles