There is no question that the fashion industry in its entirety is contributing to climate change. The environmental and labour issues are prevalent by virtue of its massive supply chain, and its reliance on humans to do the majority of the work, which is by nature a craft and very hands-on. Many of us now take a more conscious approach to shopping. We hope that when purchasing from a company that claims to be eco-conscious or sustainable, that we’re making a good buying decision. But many companies use “sustainable” as a “buzzy” marketing term to cover the fact that they aren’t being as responsible as they could be for climate change, and for providing fair wages and a healthy working place. People who are making our clothes pay the highest price. Both luxury and fast fashion brands are guilty of bad practices that affect the sustainability of our planet. Here are some of the misconceptions about fashion which customers believe as truths, but more now than ever need to be questioned and done away with.
The majority of clothing is recyclable. This is by far one of the worst myths out there. Since the introduction of the fast fashion business model, this statement is mostly false. Because fast fashion relies on cheap materials, and made from fabrics that are primarily blends, mainly composed of synthetic fibers, clothing is very difficult to recycle. Blended fabrics cannot be broken down or recycled into its component fibers, and then reused to make new products of equal quality. Only fabrics that are composed of 100% fibers like wool, cotton or polyester can be recycled successfully. This is still a new area of technology that has yet to figure out how to break down blends. Usually what happens is you end up with downcycled or upcycled products. Because of the poor quality and use of blended fabrics, clothing is for the most part not recyclable in the true sense.
All the materials and construction of clothing comes from the place listed on the garment tag. Garment labels usually indicate where the clothes are assembled or their point of origin. But labels don’t indicate where cotton was grown or processed, or all the other labour and materials that go into making clothes.
Buying “eco-conscious” or “sustainable” brands of clothing is the best way to reduce fashion’s environmental impact. The best way to reduce our footprint is to reduce consumption; buying fewer items. We don’t always need to have the latest or the newest. Buying secondhand or vintage, making repairs, and swapping are preferable to purchasing new. Researching brands that promote sustainability is worth the effort to find out if they are truly responsible, enabling you to make better choices. Be wary of their marketing language, and that they are walking the talk. There are a handful of designers and manufacturers that are transparent about their sustainable practices.
Expensive brands are less likely to exploit workers. Many high-end companies produce some of their collections in the same factories as the mid-priced and fast fashion brands, so all employees are working under the same conditions. Regardless of price points, workers can be exploited and unfairly paid.
Luxury fashion is more sustainable than fast fashion. Paying a high price for fashion does not guarantee sustainability or quality. In recent times, companies like Burberry and Louis Vuitton have burned unsold merchandise to protect their image. Many luxury houses also use fabrics and other textiles that aren’t environmentally friendly, and put on extravagant, expensive fashion weeks, not exactly carbon neutral. Pay heed to those who follow greener practices, regardless of price points.
Donating clothes is one of the best ways to green your closet. There has been much reported on where donated clothing ends up. Because of the overwhelming amount of unwanted clothing that we are giving to charities; the reality is that there is far more unwanted clothes than those people in need. What often happens is the leftovers are shipped overseas, ending up in resale markets, landfills or incinerated. Over the last few years, the poorer quality of donated goods is too inferior to even be sold in secondhand stores.
It’s not worth it to repair cheap clothing. I’ve left this misconception to last, because I think a caveat should be placed here. I would say if you really love the piece, then go ahead and do minor repairs. Poor quality clothing is not always repairable, often because no seam allowances are available to work with. I wouldn’t pay a high price to do major structural tailoring to a piece made of poor quality fabric, or one that I don’t like and probably won’t wear even if repaired. However, it is well worth your time to learn some basic skills, like sewing on a button or repairing a hem. These skills aren’t difficult to do, and will extend the life of your wardrobe, rather than tossing out a shirt that simply needs a new button.
We need to be skeptical of these fashion misconceptions, and question the efficacy of them, if we are to make changes to our consumptive habits. Because of the Covid pandemic, I believe the fashion industry has reached a turning point. A rethinking of business practices that are truly sustainable is necessary, and reconditioning customers to buy better, and consume less. It will be a long shift, but we can’t continue to feel the cascading effects of the high production and discounting of unsustainable fashion.