Surprise, surprise, the fashion industry is not in a good place. Fast fashion is the world’s second-largest polluter behind oil. The fashion industry is also responsible for 8-10% of global carbon emissions. That’s more emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
The fashion industry is also the second-biggest consumer of water worldwide. It takes about 700 gallons of water to produce one cotton t-shirt. That’s enough water for one person to drink 8 cups per day for 3 ½ years. We’re over here worried about eating almonds, meanwhile, we’re not even thinking about the clothes we buy.
In addition to consuming lots of water, the fashion industry pollutes water with textile dying, the world’s second-largest polluter of water. Water leftover from the dying process is often dumped into streams, lakes, and rivers. All in, the fashion industry is responsible for 20% of all industrial water pollution worldwide.
Finally, millions of tons of synthetic microfibers are released into the ocean each year. And we’re not slowing down. Since 2000, clothing production has roughly doubled. Doubled. In 20 years!
How we use our clothing also has major impacts on the planet. From 2000 to 2014, according to McKinsey and Company, as a whole, we bought 60% more clothing. Our consumption has gone way up. But what’s really terrifying is that we are also using the products less. In that same time period, we kept our garments for half as long. So not only are we buying more, but we’re wasting more.
Both brands and consumers need to be aware of their impact. Brands are responsible for their production practices and need to step up to seek out the most environmentally sound methods. It’s a brand's responsibility to put the environment first and make decisions that are values-driven.
In an effort to spread awareness about the fashion industry's impact, we're offering this guide to how you can buy better, consume less and treat your clothing well so that it lasts.
When we think about what makes a product truly sustainable, we must think about the beginning of its lifecycle, how it was produced, where was it made, who made it, what chemicals were involved and we must think about its end of the lifecycle; what am I doing with this product once I’m through with it, where is it going. Additionally, we must also consider the middle point: how we utilize the product, how long we keep it, how we care for it, how we treat it.
In this guide, we'll evaluate each of the three stages of the clothing lifecycle.
#1) How products are produced:
What to consider when purchasing.
- Don’t buy what you don’t need. Think before you buy and seek to reduce what you buy. Let’s go back to this scary stat: we’re buying 60% more apparel items than we did in 2000. And we only kept them for half as long. We may think we actually need new clothes, but we don’t. The number one thing to reduce your fashion environmental impact is to reduce the quantity you buy.
- Watch your labels. Unfortunately, the word sustainable has really taken after “natural” which is to say, it means nothing because you do not have to provide evidence. As consumers, we must look for certifications, processes outlined on the websites we buy from and use tools such as mytrestle.com which evaluate brands and provide scores of company values so that you can make more informed purchases. How clothing is produced, matters immensely.
- Buy better quality. High-quality clothing lasts much longer. The longer clothes are used for, the less their environmental impact. Use the guide below to inform your buying:
#2) How we use our products. How to take care of your clothing and how your everyday actions matter.
- Repair the clothes we do have. The number one thing we can do to make our clothes last longer is to properly care for and repair them. Take the time to: sew on buttons, sew up holes, make friends with a local seamstress.
- Be mindful of how you wash your clothes. How we wash our clothes matters. The average household does almost 400 loads of laundry each year–that’s more than once per day! A 2017 report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimated that 35% of all microplastics (very small pieces of plastic that never biodegrade) in the ocean came from laundering synthetic textiles like polyester. Just washing clothes releases 500,000 tons of microplastics each year. That’s the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles. Just by laundering less and line drying our clothing, we can have an impact.
#3) End of the lifecycle and how we dispose of our products. Right now 85% of all the textiles that get produced worldwide end up in landfills. We can reduce our impact by reducing what we throw away.
- Repurpose: Utilizing old clothing and textiles for projects is the best way to keep items out of landfills. Old rags become dog beds. Old clothing becomes rags or stitched together to make quilts. Before buying something new, repurpose what you have on hand.
- Donate your old clothes. The first and best way to do this is to give them away to family or friends. This ensures clothes are actually going to a new home. If friends don't want them, donate to your local consignment store or thrift shop.
- Textile recycling. Take back programs will recycle and repurpose old textiles. Some items are cut up and resold into industrial markets as wiping rags. Other materials are sold off to be shredded and used to make insulation, stuffing for cushions or stuffed animals, carpet padding, soundproofing in the automotive industry, and similar applications. These companies all have some sort of take-back program: Levis, Reformation, H&M, The North Face, Madewell, Zara.
This may seem dire but education brings awareness which spreads solutions. And when we know better, we can do better. Your impact matters! Go out and be the leader you wish to see in the world!
Our swimwear is produced in the US from recycled fabrics. We have ethical production and manufacturing practices, utilize compostable or recycled packaging, and offset all of our carbon. We're proud to be a leader in our space and do everything possible to reduce our impact. Read more about our sustainability efforts here and shop our recycled swimwear.