5 easy ways to cut the carbon cost of your wardrobe
Climate change is real
It is happening now, and it is being driven by our actions.
We are now comfortably beyond the realms of reasonable doubt on the issue of man made climate change, and are left at a crossroads of the greatest significance humanity has seen in its hundred-thousand year history.
The choices we make about how we behave in our day-to-day lives through the 21st century will irrevocably shape the future of the surface of the planet and the species that live on it for millennia to come.
Heavy, right? Yeah, but believe it or not, there are positives we can take from the above.
Let's look at the positives. (Yes, there are some positives.)
First of all, we know what is happening...
...and we know why it is happening...
...so we can do something about it.
There has been growing media coverage of the fashion industry's contribution to the damage we are inflicting on the critical balance in the planet's atmosphere.
And, rightly, there has been an onus in these discussions on both the industry and those authorities that regulate it to make serious changes to curb its impact on the environment and refocus on sustainability.
But there's work we can all do to ensure that we accept our individual responsibilities, and that we use the power we have as consumers to help support those who accept the corporate obligation to act, and to encourage others to follow them.
All it takes as a conscious fashionista is to give a little consideration before deciding whether to drop that lime green boiler suit into your basket or add those discounted sparkly gold hot pants to your online shopping cart.
And asking yourself a few simple questions can be enough to help ensure that you make a decision that respects its environmental consequences.
So here are our top five posers to ask yourself before you splash...
1. What do I need?
In our 21st century consumerist mindset, we have come to shop based on what we want, and not what we need.
Needs are logical and a matter of fact. They are driven by the very requirements of our bodies and minds, and are necessarily satisfied in a manner determined by their urgency.
Wants are directed not by logic, but by our emotions. We shop for items of clothing that we want because we feel for these items; because they trigger emotional impulses.
Research has demonstrated that when we engage with shiny new objects that we find desirable, the brain’s pleasure centre is triggered.
Its dopamine receptors lead us to believe that prospective acquisitions will substantively improve our lives, and this is why we enjoy the actual process of shopping.
(Like, it really is fun, right?!)
The brain is further excited by the process of purchasing desirable objects, and, so the science says, particularly when we believe that we have found a bargain.
And so for the shopper’s subconscious, the fast fashion industry (and we really should talk about the term 'fast fashion') is manna from heaven.
First up it feeds our lust for the hunt, supplying us with constantly changing storefronts and social media feeds delivering a never-ending catalogue of desirable objects.
Then it pitches these shiny new garments - which we’d swear we’ve already seen hanging off models on the catwalk and celebs at Hollywood parties - at unbelievably low prices, often further discounted by ‘exclusive’, time-limited offers and eternal sales.
So now our grey matter is congratulating us doubly: for discovering exciting new objects and at bargain prices – we are winning at shopping!
We receive the final stimulant hit when the transaction is made. And, of course, we’ve enjoyed the whole process so much we want to go back for more. The experience is addictive, unhealthy, and the most difficult shopping habit to break.
So our first question to ask ourselves is this: Just why am I buying this - do I really need it?
This should be an easy question to answer, shouldn’t it? Take a moment to reset yourself, force yourself to be logical about your decision, and have a think the clothes already sat in your closet that you’ve told yourself you’ve not quite found the right occasion to debut yet.
Is this purchase replacing an item I have worn out? Or will it serve some new utilitarian need? How will owning it really improve my life?
2. Am I going to wear this?
It is estimated that shoppers in the UK own £10bn worth of clothes that they do not wear, with the average UK woman currently hoarding 22 unworn items in her closet.
The most common offenders amongst these 22 items, which represent a staggering 45% of all of the clothes that British women own, are evening dresses, skinny jeans and tops.
We’ve already discussed the addictive nature of the emotion-driven process that is retail shopping. Our dopamine-addled brains are piloting us around shopping malls and across websites responding to sparkly window displays and flashing sales banners in a subconscious rapture.
Logic goes out the window, ethical considerations go out of the window, and we encourage ourselves in fits of excitement to invest in items that when we spot a month later at the back of the wardrobe simply baffle us. “Why on earth did I think a polka dot beret was a good idea?”
Come on; we’ve all been there...
The same survey found that a significant proportion of respondents had purposefully bought clothing that ended up unworn that was the wrong size for them (often having anticipated losing weight), or that they thought might come back into fashion one day.
But such speculative and frivolous purchases come at a price - and not just a financial one.
As we hoard infrequently or never-worn clothing, as well as other unnecessary purchases we make on the high street or online, we find we need new storage solutions and more space in which to guard our hollow treasures. And eventually, all of this stuff actually makes us feel worse.
In the US, the National Association of Professional Organizers has found that more than half of Americans feel ‘overwhelmed’ by their clutter and three-quarters find it too complicated to deal with.
Further studies have shown that stress triggered by clutter can impact mental and physical health, leading to depression, anxiety, and behavioural change, including the use of unhealthy avoidance strategies, such as social withdrawal and comfort eating.
In short, splurging carelessly and squirrelling purchases you were never really going to make great use of not only hurts the environment and whacks your bank account, but it can also end up leaving you stressed about how you’re going to manage an ever-growing pile of valueless-but not-quite-disposable possessions.
So our second question is: Am I going to wear this? I mean, really wear this?
Instead of shopping as a pastime and making unconsidered purchases on a whim, plan your shopping trips and do an inventory check before you go. Where is there a gap in your wardrobe, and what is that one item to fill it that you’ve been eyeing for a while?
Remember that it’s OK to buy nothing. It’s better heading home with a full wallet and empty shopping bag, than an empty wallet and a bag full of junk you’ll never wear.
This kind of mindset can actually improve the quality of your wardrobe and the value you get from it: by refusing the impulse purchases and saving your pennies, you can instead invest in fewer, higher-quality garments, treating yourself and the planet in the process.
3. What's it made from?
Those who know ColieCo well will know how much care we take in sourcing the sustainable fabrics we use to produce our lingerie and swimwear, and why we do so.
The carbon footprints and environmental impacts of the raw materials used to produce fabrics and the processes employed in their creation differ hugely.
Reams and reams have been written about the ecological crimes associated with the plethora materials found in our garments.
And despite this, quite surprisingly, there is still relatively little consensus about which are the very best and the very worst materials in circulation - no definitive hierarchy exists, although some have tried.
In truth, it is a complicated picture, and appearances can be deceptive. Take, for example, organic cotton, which we have written about previously.
This herbicide and pesticide-free and apparently harmless natural fibre might appear to be an obvious choice for the eco-conscious shopper. But despite typically requiring less water than non-organic cotton in its growth, organic cotton still requires over 5,000 litres of water for every one kilogram of cotton produced - a startling amount when compared, for example, with bamboo or hemp.
So without committing to study for a PhD in textile science, how to navigate this material minefield?
Some very simple rules can help:
- Upcycled/reclaimed, is better than
- Recycled, is better than
- Organic natural fiber, is better than
- Non-organic natural fiber, is better than
- The rest
These rules have some exceptions, and there are big variations in terms of the ecological footprints within some of the categories above. But they’re a good starting point, and if you can fill your wardrobe with items made from the first three in particular, you’ve done a great job.
At ColieCo we are particularly in love with wardrobe sharing, vintage and second hand store shopping, and clothing made from fabric that has been upcycled or repurposed. All of these ideas can deliver garments to your closet that haven’t required the production of any new fabric, and as such, represent a sustainability free hit.
That’s why we work primarily with fabrics which have been reclaimed from fast fashion industry offcuts and waste when designing our sustainable lingerie collections.
4. Is it going to last?
Taking an extra moment to examine the items in your basket can also deliver a quick win for you, as well as for the environment.
Ensuring that you buy high-quality clothes, well-constructed from the right materials might seem like an expensive way to maintain your wardrobe, but the opposite is true.
Firstly, focusing on searching for quality and then investing a little more money in each purchase is likely to ensure that you don’t buy on impulse and end up with garments you’re not really so excited about that end up jammed at the back of your closet.
Secondly, and quite simply, quality garments last longer. Everyone has that favourite indestructible pair of jeans that they’ve proudly worn season-in, season-out for umpteen years. Guess what? You can fill your wardrobe with clothes like that!
So hunt for - and demand - quality.
It isn’t hard to spot. High-grade fabric not only looks good, it feels good. Look at the weight and the finish of the fabric, and check the construction.
Again, you don’t have to be a master seamstress to spot lightweight or poorly-sewn stitching. Give the fabric either side of seams a gentle tug and you’ll see whether the thread pulls apart. If it does, pop the garment back on its hangar and move on.
Quartz’s guide to shopping for clothes that will last you years offers some more great tips on what to look for in your prospective purchases.
Down the line, you’ll thank yourself for your efforts: your clothes won’t warp, rip, or fall to pieces on your fourth or fifth wear.
And not only will you look better in your quality new wardrobe, you’ll feel better knowing you’ve upgraded your collection, saved your pennies wisely, and helped the environment in doing so.
5. Do I need to replace that yet?
Throw away culture has led us to accept the ready disposability of everything from food packaging through to furniture, white goods and motor vehicles which are still eminently reparable.
And for the first time in human history, we’ve started discarding clothing - even articles we love - when seams come apart, buttons fall off or colours fade. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
First of all, of course, prevention is better than cure, so take care of your clothing. Treat stains immediately, follow the care instructions on labels, wash at low temperatures with garments turned inside out and with zippers and clasps closed, and using machine-safe laundry bags (a pillowcase will do) where suitable.
(You can also check out this great guide to doing eco-friendly laundry!)
It’s also a great idea to keep a spare set of old clothes readily accessible to encourage yourself to perform a quick change if you’re doing something messy that might lead to an unexpected mishap.
However careful you might be, life is such that accidents will happen (normally, of course, when you have your newest or favourite rags on…) But dry your eyes, we say - if you love it, keep it!
First of all, many little problems - and some that might look like big problems - can be solved by learning how to do even some basic needlework.
If you’re starting from scratch, learn how to sew a button, and learn how to sew torn seams. They might seem a little daunting at first, but holes along seams are a doddle to repair, and your work will be invisible, so you don’t have to be super neat and can get going with little practice.
From there, you’ll quickly be patching holes, and maybe you’ll even be inspired to learn how to sew a hem, darn socks, or repurpose garments, turning your old jeans into shorts, t-shirts into shopping bags, or bras into hats.
(OK, I made that last one up. You can’t really turn old bras into hats, can you?)
There are online courses offering great tutorials on garment repair and reconstruction, and local colleges will often offer evening classes and workshops you can use to pick up more tips and further hone your skills.
If all else fails, call in the experts - tailors often offer repair services and might be able to suggest new and creative ideas to help save garments you’d as good as written off.
And if you’re simply bored of your old denim jacket or shorts, there are loads of great artists out there who can customise your threads, bringing them back to live with verve!
So here's your summary...
Our top five questions to ask yourself to help ensure you consider the environment before you spend your hard-earned:
- Do I really need this?
- Am I going to wear it?
- What’s it made from?
- Is it going to last?
- Do I need to replace that yet?
We’re always excited to hear your thoughts and ideas, so catch up with us on social media, let us know what you think and join the debate!
See you there!