Yesterday was World Environment Day.
And in its wake, were looking at the impact of fast fashion.
Retro finds from charity shops and upcycled vintage collections like Urban Renewal at Urban Outfitters might be very much in vogue among young shoppers, but over a third of people in the UK would refuse to buy second-hand clothes or something from a charity shop.
According to new research from JD Women, in the UK we each own an average of six unworn items of clothing, and women are twice as likely as men to have clothes theyve never worn.
The survey of 2,000 adults found that 36% would never buy second-hand clothing, but 38% are buying new clothes at least once a month.
We desperately need to address waste in our shopping and spending habits, and identify where we could make changes to benefit both our bank balances and the planet we rely on.
Resisting the allure of buying something new is difficult – who hasnt felt the buzz of walking out of a shop with a bunch of lovely new things to wear? – but its time to face up to the fact that the amount of cheap clothing currently being produced is damaging the environment.
The fashion industry, worth a staggering $2.5 trillion (£1.9tr), is also one of the biggest global users of water. The UN Economic Commission for Europe found that the production of just one cotton shirt needs 2,700 litres of water, more than one person drinks in two and a half years.
Manufacturing clothes doesnt just use up lots of water – it pollutes the water too.
Only the agriculture industry is a bigger polluter of the worlds clean water supply than fashion. To achieve bright colours and create vibrant patterns and prints, hazardous chemicals are often used in the dying process and these substances poison water sources. They build up in the bodies of fish, birds and mammals, disrupt hormone balances and contain harmful carcinogens.
The microfibers that are released when polyester blend clothes are washed also have an impact on our water supply. They are so tiny that theyre easily eaten by ocean plankton, and because they dont ever break down (biodegrade), the fibres make their way up the food chain, through fish and other sea creatures, into human bodies.
Fast fashion has also been blamed for creating excessive waste, clogging landfills and fueling exploitative labour practices in countries where garments are made that particularly affect vulnerable women and girls.
Its so much easier (and often cheaper) buy something new rather than mend or maintain an older garment, meaning that people are keeping their clothes for shorter amounts of time.
Unfortunately, even though recycling points in high street stores like H&M are becoming more common, three-quarters of Brits bin unwanted clothes rather than recycling or taking them to a local charity shop.
So, what can be done to turn things around?
Buying secondhand clothes in charity shops is beneficial on several levels – its cheap, it supports worthy causes and it gives unwanted clothing a new lease of life without relying on the use of more virgin resources. Charity shops and second-hand stores are perfect places to spend time on the weekend or your lunch break digging through stock to find a bargain.
Sites like eBay and Depop are popular tools for finding and buying secondhand fashion, although some might argue that the environmental cost of transportation and delivery is a factor to consider here.
If youre squeamish about wearing someone elses old clothes or shoes, remember that you can find plenty of stuff billed as secondhand thats only been worn once or not at all.
Some brands are offering recycled clothing options, although the process of recycling is complicated by the fact that common, mixed fibre garments cant be saved from landfill. Sixty Ninety, a British swimwear company, is currently offering clothes made from the worlds first biodegradable polyamide 6.6 yarn, which allows clothes to quickly decompose after being sent to landfills.
The best thing you can do for the environment when it comes to your shopping and spending habits is buy less. Mend them, customise them, upcycle them by all means, but keep your existing clothes for longer. When you do buy something new, make sure its going to last rather than fall apart and end up needing to be replaced ASAP.
If you do get rid of some old clothes, dispose of them responsibly rather than putting them in the bin.
Changing the way we buy clothes is an essential move for anyone who wants to reduce their negative impact on the beautiful planet we all share.