It takes up to 10,000 litres of water to make one pair of jeans.
Up to 30% of young British women wear new clothes only once before they throw them away and the average is 7 times. The UK throws away 350,000 tonnes of good quality clothes each year, amounting to £140,000,000 worth of used but wearable clothing going to waste.
The landfill site in Kpone, Ghana is oversaturated with textile waste. Credit: The OR Foundation
Well-meaning people who give dirty, worn old clothes to charity shops are unaware that clothes that are unsaleable here are shipped to the Third World, where they are also unsaleable. In Accra in Ghana, for example, the surrounding area is piled high with landfill sites of our old, dirty clothes, causing huge environmental damage and undermining the local economy – see here
These startling facts highlight the environmental damage caused by the fast-fashion clothing industry.
Fortunately, the seeds of change are just visible. Here are some examples of what can be done instead.
- Buy second-hand. The movement for buying pre-loved clothes is growing. As well as local charity shops, there is also a thriving online market. Websites such as Re-Fashion and Thrift+ – there are many more – were founded in order to encourage sustainability in the fashion industry; some of the clothes they sell are completely unworn and still have their shop tag attached.
- Clothes swaps, instead of simply discarding clothes that are tired of. The success of Young ACAN’s ‘Back on the Rack’ event in April and the demand for more similar events testify to the popularity of clothes swapping. The next event is planned for Friday 23rd September from 3.30 – 6 pm, at the Maltings Centre in Alton.
- Clothes hire. Another way of promoting sustainability without appearing repeatedly in the same item or spending money on something new. An example of this is the Prime Minister’s wife, who hired her wedding dress for the occasion. Some websites are https://www.hirestreetuk.com, https://hirethecatwalk.com and https://www.hurrcollective.com and there are plenty of others. The theme is being taken up by the media. The Guardian Weekend Magazine fashion feature includes sections titled ‘Buy It’, Rent It’ and ‘Thrift It’.
- Some fashion houses are highlighting the need for sustainability. ‘Forever Fashion’ has become the new watchword as they advocate the purchase of fewer but longer-lasting clothes. Scandinavian houses are setting the pace here, with the Danish company Kerne Milk even using cut-off fabrics in its SCRAPS collection.
- Some celebs are showing us the way. Stars such as Keira Knightley, Angelina Jolie and Kim Kardashian have appeared in public in previously worn outfits. In this country, the Duchess of Cambridge is a great role-model as she often wears the same outfit more than once. She also buys from High Street stores as well as high fashion houses. Just as the High Street stores follow the Fashion Houses in the styles they offer, now they must now also adopt the same sustainability policies and encourage their customers to keep their clothes for longer.
- Governments and international organisations are slowly coming into line. In November 2021 UN Climate Change News announced that ‘The fashion industry is raising its collective ambition with updated science-based emission reduction targets under the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action.’ And in Glasgow last November, COP26 recognised the fashion industry as ‘a major global player needing to take an active part in contributing to the Paris Agreement ambitions to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels’.
Now it is up to us all to play our part!
A useful summary of some of the issues mentioned in this article can be found at: