Or how not to get dressed to kill the environment
As the summer burns hotter and the weather gets more unpredictable, climate change is no longer a distant threat looming in the horizon; it is very much a present-day reality. While an effective push to protect the future must come from governments and large corporations, individual choices definitely have an impact.
“At the turn of this new millennium, according to the UN, consumption surpassed population as our greatest environmental challenge. For decades now, we’ve witnessed a near-continuous increase in the consumption of every major natural resource. We are using up the planet at a rate 1.7 times faster than it can regenerate. At this rate, by 2050, resource use will have tripled in the 21st century alone”
McKinnon, J. B. (2021, May 27). What would happen if the world stopped shopping? Fast Company. https://www.fastcompany.com/90640964/what-would-happen-if-the-world-stopped-shopping
According to an article in Fast Company, the number of garments sold each year has approximately doubled in the last 15 years and now exceeds 100 billion. Of course, we’re not unaware of the problem. With so much media spotlight being given to the snowballing climate crisis, there has been a corresponding rise in demand for sustainable practices, even from fashion. We do hold a not inconsiderable amount of sway over labels and companies through our consumption patterns. With this in mind, here are a few ways in which you can make your fashion more sustainable.
We get it. All those flashy ads, the colourful store displays and viral marketing make seasonal trends so tempting. More often than not, more than half those ‘must-buy’ items end up languishing in your closet after 2-3 wears. Do your wallet and the planet a favour. Instead of buying quirky, costumey pieces that are likely to go out of style, or splurging on expensive outfits you can only wear once or twice, invest in quality, versatile pieces that will remain relevant for a longer period, and which you can layer on and wear in different seasons.
With a little careful styling you can get a lot of variety out of the same outfit, e.g, changing the look of a sari by varying the draping styles or changing up the blouse and adding/subtracting accessories. When you’re buying fewer items, you can actually afford to shell out more on high-quality fabrics and tailoring that will last longer.
The global carbon footprint of the apparel industry is huge – we’re talking 132m metric tonnes of coal used yearly in the production of new fibres, dyeing and bleaching of garments and the 6-9 trillion litres of water used by the industry. So if you must indulge in retail therapy, consider buying vintage, to encourage the fashion industry to close the loop. Find some great classic finds at Colors of Dhaka and Anarchist Elish.
Another way to sustainably feed your fashion cravings, and possibly de-clutter your closet is to participate in clothes swaps a la Broque or Zero Waste Bangladesh. We’d love to see a reliable fashion rental service take root in the country, and there have been short-lived attempts to start the same (we’re looking at you, Almeerah) but until we get there, thrifting, vintage buys and clothes swaps are a good way to dip your toes into sustainable practices.
Because terms like ‘sustainable’, ‘organic’ and ‘eco-friendly’ are trending right now, a lot of companies have been quick to cash in by slapping these labels on their products. Unlike food or drugs, there is no regulation for this, so unethical brands can misappropriate these terms to trick you into forking out for cash for things that are harmful for the environment and human rights.
If you’re committed to adopting sustainable fashion habits, you will have to do a little homework.
Just like how people who are on a diet are recommended to remove any triggers and temptations and to replace harmful foods in their fridges and cupboards with healthier alternatives, consider unsubscribing from influencers plugging fast fashion on social media, and instead look for inspiration from accounts and profiles of individuals and companies that are transparent about their sustainable practices.
Sustainability doesn’t only refer to carbon footprints and water usage; the Rana Plaza tragedy underscored the need to have a better understanding of the working conditions of the people that make your clothes, so buying from companies that promote workers rights can send a strong message to the industry to take a more equitable approach.
Sometimes all it takes to give your wardrobe a much-needed update is a creative eye, and a good hand with a needle…or at least a good tailor. Keep your clothes lasting longer and looking fresh by mending or upcycling them.
South Asia actually has a rich tradition for recycling embedded in our craft traditions – from quilts to nakshi katha, from repurposing old saris into dresses, and fabric scraps into everything from potholders to dusters.
Brands like MiB Spirit took it one step further by making upcycling look cool, and over the past couple of years, DIY trends have really taken hold, providing endless inspiration on how to take an old, pre-loved garment and give it the Cinderella treatment so that you can fall in love with it all the time. Upcycling can help you save the environment, save money, look fly, and feel validated from a job well done, all in the same act.
The bottom line is, you don’t have to sacrifice style by adopting a more sustainable approach to fashion. A little change of perspective can go a very long way.