If you’re reading this article, it’s likely you’re trying to step away from fast fashion. Easier said than done - cheap prices and ever-changing colourful trends appeal to all of our senses and the fast fashion machine is as persuasive as it is powerful.
It can be difficult to see how you, just one consumer, can influence the environmental impact of the clothes the fast fashion brands are already churning out.
But the good news is everybody can reduce the carbon footprint of their own wardrobe, one garment at a time, by asking these three questions before every purchase...
1. Will it last?
In 2018, UK consumers sent 300,000 tonnes of textiles to be burned or dumped in landfill. One way to reduce the environmental impact of your clothes is to make sure your next purchase doesn't get added to that heap this year.
Next time you’re pondering a purchase, inspect the seams to see if the garment looks well-made, check the quality of the fabric and decide if you think it will survive more than a few washes. The close up pictures below, of an English Fine Cottons Taylor t-shirt, shows evenly stitched seams and smooth, uniform fabric - both signs of superior quality.
If the answer’s no, resist temptation and save yourself the money. But if the answer's yes, ask yourself the next question.
2. Do I already have one?
If it’s yet another black top, destined to blend into a sea of others currently crammed into your wardrobe, the chances of you being able to reduce your wardrobe’s carbon footprint with this particular purchase are nil. Nada.
It's said that currently, one in three young women in Britain consider a garment to be old if they've worn it once - so it's reasonable to think they have a lot of clothes that look quite similar.
But if this is something you genuinely need, proceed to question 3.
3. Will I wear it?
And this really is the crux of the issue, the question that the other two were only leading up to. The best way to jump off the fast fashion treadmill is to buy clothes you will wear enough to off-set their carbon footprint over their life-time. And here's how you work that out...
According to the Carbon Trust, a typical t-shirt that’s worn and washed 50 times before being thrown away has a carbon footprint of 15kg CO2 in its lifetime. About half of that comes from shipping and manufacturing, while the rest comes from wear and wash.
By comparison, if you were to have 50 t-shirts you only wear once, in total their carbon emissions would be a massive 386 kg CO2.
Only the most frivolous (and wealthy) among us would buy 50 t-shirts and wear them all just once though. You’re actually much more likely to buy a t-shirt and keep it for seven wash and wear cycles – which is the current average life-span for garments.
This would give it a lifetime carbon footprint of 8.5 kg CO2 . As you'd need to buy seven of them to get 50 wash and wear cycles, the total carbon footprint would be 60kg CO2.
The Three Steps Towards Slow Fashion
This all means the most sure-fire way to reduce the carbon footprint of your wardrobe is to buy fewer, higher quality clothes that will stand the test of time and that you will wear often.
A philosophy summed up very succinctly by British fashion designer and slow fashion campaigner Vivienne Westwood.
It's impossible to buy a garment that's made no carbon footprint whatsoever and it's difficult to know the true impact an item of clothing had on the environment in the manufacturing process.
But every individual consumer has the power to vastly reduce the carbon footprint of their own clothes during their lifespan.
And that's before taking those extra steps towards buying ethically and sustainably, such as making choices based on where and how a garment was made. But that's another blog post.