150,000,000,000: The number of new clothing items produced each year.
2,500,000,000: Pounds of used clothing that end up in landfills each year.
2,100,000: Tons of CO2 emissions produced by the apparel and textile industry each year (second only to the petroleum industry).
Between 70,000,000 and 100,000,000: The number of trees cut down each year to make cellulose fabrics such as rayon and modal.
700: Gallons of water it takes to make one T-shirt.
$91.45: A garment worker’s monthly wage in Bangladesh.
10 percent: The percentage of the world’s total carbon footprint that comes from the apparel industry. (To put it in perspective, the aviation industry accounts for 2 percent.)
61 percent: The percentage of clothing companies that don’t know where their garments were made.
76 percent: The percentage of companies that don’t know where their fabrics were woven, knit, or dyed.
93 percent: The percentage of companies that don’t know the origins of their raw fiber.
In other words . . . It’s probably worse than you thought. To keep up with the constant demand of new, inexpensive clothes, brands have turned to cheap labor, chemical-based fabrics, and unsafe working conditions.
Shop less but spend more
One reason we’re overwhelmed with stuff is that as clothing gets cheaper, we don’t have to mull over a purchase anymore. If our bank account isn’t suffering, it’s fun (and addicting) to buy things on a whim. But not only is that bad for your overflowing closet, it leads to more waste, too, because you’ll probably get tired of those items pretty quickly and throw them out. For myself, I’m addicted to shopping but I shop at thrift stores so I’m spending way less than I would for brand name clothing. I’m at the point where I have so much clothes that I don’t even know why I need it all, so I’ve started down sizing and even when I go to the thrift store I ask myself do I really need this? If you want to buy brand name clothing, spend more and buy less. It will make it think “Do I need this? or Do I really want this” Spending more on something will make you sweat enough to ask yourself those questions.
Shop for high-quality clothes that are made to last
Durability is a key component in the environmental impact of a product because its carbon footprint decreases every year that you own it. For example, a Patagonia jacket is produced on a sustainable supply chain with high-quality fabrics, so it lasts for decades—or you can return it to the company and they’ll recycle it for you. It pays to invest in the best quality. Wouldn’t you rather have one incredible dress that will last forever instead of 10 cheap dresses that won’t make it through a laundry cycle? High-quality construction also calls for professional, skilled craftsmen who are paid well and work in safe, clean environments and ateliers, so human trafficking and child labor are less of an issue.
Prioritize natural fabrics
Synthetic materials like polyester, nylon, and acrylic can take up to 1,000 years to decompose—which means that all of the polyester that has ever been made still exists. Those materials account for a large chunk of the clothing that’s currently sitting in landfills—plus, synthetics require chemicals to make, and those chemicals end up in the water supply of countries like Bangladesh and China. The Chinese government estimated that 70 percent of the water in northern China has been polluted by textile factories. Choosing all-natural fabrics is one way to work toward a more sustainable wardrobe. Try silk, cotton, wool, hemp, jute, cashmere, alpaca, and Tencel, which are more luxurious than fake fabrics anyway.
Look for “traceable” companies that are transparent about their production
Of course, just because a fabric is natural doesn’t mean it has a clean history. Think about how many steps it takes to make a T-shirt, from the cotton plant to your closet. Someone has to pick the cotton, then there’s someone else spinning it, someone weaving it, someone dyeing it, and someone finishing it. At some point along the way, that someone could have been a child or someone working in an unsafe factory. People want to know where their clothes have been and whose hands touched them. That’s why “traceability” is entering the conversation for brands big and small. As consumers learn more about sustainability and the origins of their clothes, they’re going to stop buying from companies that can’t deliver those facts.