While shopping, you almost never think about the environmental impact you’re causing. And why would you? So many other burdens come with shopping: fit, price, whether you’re really someone who can pull off striped culottes. Sadly, the link between fashion and function is way less tenuous than we think. In fact, the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world, just behind petroleum.
Just by the numbers, the way we go through clothing is actually causing a real problem:
Over 1/3 of women wear an item less than five times before getting rid of it.
This problem stems from buying a new outfit for every special occasion. You buy a dress for a first date, you wear it once (maybe two or three times if you’re lucky), and then it sits in the back of your closet, forgotten about. The cost per wear ends up being more than the meals it attended!
43% of all purchases are impulse buys.
I’m looking at you, yellow leather jacket that I bought to look like the Black Mamba in Kill Bill. That was a fail.
70% of the average woman’s closet goes unworn.
I’ll admit, this one I found hard to believe, but after going through my closet I guiltily found not two, but three shirts with the tags still on. I now accept it: the data doesn’t lie.
Americans throw away over 14 million tons of textiles per year.
What’s worse is that 99% is recyclable, but 85% ends up in landfills anyways. A polyester shirt ends up being a 200-year-old hand me down to Mother Earth.
It’s not just the rapid cycle with which we go through clothing; it’s the hidden cost this pattern has on the environment. Between producing clothing, transporting, wearing twice, and then disposing, the fashion industry is making a huge dent in our ecosystem. Let’s break it down:
Companies like Forever21 or Zara produce one million garments a day. The top criminal here is cotton. Cotton is one of the most pesticide intensive crops on the planet. It’s estimated one pound of cotton requires a third of a pound of pesticides to grow. ½ pound of cotton = 1 t-shirt = ⅙ pound of pesticides!
Cotton also uses an insane amount of water. Producing one pair of jeans takes 1,000 gallons of water. That adds up to 450 billion gallons of water just to produce the jeans sold every year in the US.
98% of clothing sold in the US is manufactured in China. A single t-shirt has a 9,000-mile journey to end up in a shop in LA, with 2 pounds of equivalent CO2 emissions along the way.
This is where the bulk of the solution comes in. Textiles take forever to decompose, and release toxic chemicals like formaldehyde while they do. Buying a used garment extends its life by an average of 2.2 years, which reduces carbon/waste footprints by 73%. There’s no benefit to cute clothes sitting in a landfill!
Be proactive! Buy secondhand, thrift (vintage is always in), borrow from your friend, steal from your sister, and rent clothing instead of buying! Here at Armoire, clothing rental is about more than helping our boss ladies find looks they love. We love being able to share those statement pieces, bold prints, and fancy favorites without having to worry about them sitting in the back of someone’s closet.
Long story, short: Sustainable shopping is a small change with a big impact. If each of us cut down on those impulse buys, twice-worn splurges and landfill-destined garments, we can keep the fashion industry at a sustainable level of consumption. If we’re allowed to look this good, shouldn’t Mother Nature be allowed to too?