This was written by Hannah Jensen, an Environmental Science student from North Vancouver. When she isn’t at SFU, you’ll find her working as a lifeguard, training for triathlons, or going on adventures in the outdoors.
We all approach fashion differently. Some people search for the latest trends while others are happy to buy $5 t-shirts at Walmart. No matter how we choose to dress, we all have one thing in common – everyone needs clothes. Like any other item, clothes have a lifespan. This lifespan may only be one season if you are fashion-conscious, but more often, we keep our clothes until either they are worn out or we are sick of them. Even if we donate them to charity, somewhere down the line they will end up in a landfill. While it may be possible to minimize our waste by cutting out things like single-use plastic, we can’t boycott clothes. Therefore, it is crucial to keep the environment in mind when we shop for a new wardrobe.
Consuming less is always an excellent start. This can be easily achieved by asking yourself if an item is a “want” or a “need” before making a purchase. Shopping at a thrift store allows you to reuse products instead of buying new ones, plus it’s a cheap and easy way to find essentials like jeans and shirts. When you do decide to buy something new, it is important to select brands that follow environmentally conscious practices in their production, manufacturing, and distribution processes.
Patagonia is an example of a company that is aiming to minimize their impact on the planet. In 1993, they were the first company to turn recycled plastic bottles into fleece. Last year, they donated 100% of their Black Friday sales profits – around $10 million- to various environmental organizations. However, even environmentally minded companies have high impacts when producing garments - Patagonia’s R2 jacket requires 135 litres of water to create.
To counteract this, Patagonia advocates for clothing longevity and durability. Their website offers advice on how to properly look after and fix your own garments. For a small fee, you can have your clothes repaired professionally. Furthermore, when your item of clothing reaches the end of its lifespan, Patagonia will recycle it if you mail it in or drop it off at a retail location.
Starting in April 2017, Patagonia will launch another initiative to keep clothes out of the landfill. They will offer in-store credit for your used but still wearable garments. After cleaning and restoration, your old clothes will be sold on the Patagonia website as Worn Wear. According to Patagonia’s calculations, the carbon, water, and waste footprint of a garment can be reduced by 20-30% by keeping it in use for just nine extra months.
Other companies, such as H&M, reuse fibers from recycled garments in lower grade products. While this is beneficial, a buyback program like the one by Patagonia is not possible in the fast-fashion industry. It requires a high level of garment quality, something that many cheaper clothing brands simply do not offer.
This is why it is critical for consumers such as ourselves to stay informed and buy from leaders in sustainability. It is our purchasing choices that decide which companies will flourish and which will fail. If enough of us decide to purchase only from companies that are prioritizing the environment, other brands will be forced to follow suit. While it may not always be the cheapest or most convenient option for us as individuals, our collective choices truly have the ability to create substantial, positive change.
For more information, check out these websites: