The true cost of the fashion industry and how to dress more sustainably

Alluring runway shows, shiny magazines and stylish clothes are all things we generally associate with the word ‘fashion’. But despite its glamorous connotations, the fashion industry is one of the most damaging in the world. Being our planet’s second largest polluter aside from oil, the price of fashion in the modern age is more than what it says on the label. The statistics can be shocking – up to 1800 gallons of water are needed to make one pair of jeans, the equivalent to the amount of water one person drinks over five or six years.

With the rise of fast fashion brands such as PrettyLittleThing, Missguided and Boohoo taking over the style scene over the last few years, clothing started to be seen as something disposable. But this isn’t doing the planet any good at all, considering synthetic fibres can take up to 200 years to decompose. Studies show that an average family in the western world dispose of 30kg of clothing every year, with only 15% being recycled or donated. Although landfills are becoming distressingly overwhelmed, the oceans are also suffering as a result. Alongside fashion waste making its way into the sea, over washing clothes is a huge problem. Every time we wash a synthetic garment such as something made of polyester or nylon, about 1,900 microfibers are released into the water and subsequently the oceans. These are then consumed by marine life and scientists have discovered that this has in turn introduced plastic into our food chain.

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But it’s not all bad news. Since a heavier discourse about the negative effects of fast fashion has opened up in the media and online in the last few years, some positive change has occurred. According to an article published by Dazed magazine in March 2020, a growing number of UK shoppers are buying secondhand clothing, with the number of sustainable shoppers in the UK increasing by a third since the beginning of 2019. The amount of Brits who favoured clothes that would last rose from just one third to 51.4% in this time as well, with the number of people favouring fast fashion decreasing by 46.2%. It’s important to remember that this article was written a few weeks before the pandemic, so it’s likely that these numbers have changed slightly due to the sharp rise in online shopping when the world went into lockdown, but nevertheless some change is still better than no change at all.

So what can students do to help?

1. Upcycling

Sometimes, we have clothing that could be good as new or a perfect fit if altered only slightly. Upcycling is a great way to keep clothes for longer, as well as a good way to get creative and even learn a new skill.

2. Buying second hand

If upcycling isn’t on the cards and you’d rather get a new item, buying secondhand can be a great ethical alternative and can often be cheaper than buying new. You can find some interesting and unexpected items in charity shops, but if you’d rather find something more specific, then you can still shop online when it comes to buying secondhand. Websites like Depop, Vinted and EBay have a huge range of pre-loved items.

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3. Buy with longevity in mind

When buying clothes, think about how often you’re going to wear them and how necessary the purchase is. Sometimes, buying sustainably – not only clothes but making a sustainable switch to other household items like toothbrushes and shampoo bars – can be scary because the price is often a lot higher than expected. However, they almost always last a lot longer and so this saves money in the long run. Fashion Revolution is a great online platform where you can find tips on how to compile a more eco-friendly wardrobe.

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4. Check the quality

A good way to practise more ethical buying habits can be to check the quality of a brand or shop before buying. A Google search can get you this information quite quickly, and another hassle-free way to check is the website ‘Good On You’ who also have an easy to navigate app for when you’re on the go. They do all the behind the scenes reading for us, and pull together all the relevant information about the brand, topped off with a simple sustainability rating.

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5. Clothes swaps

If a clothes swap is being hosted locally to you, it can be a great way to get a new wardrobe and also meet like-minded people. However, swapping clothes doesn’t always need to happen at a planned event. If you have friends or family members who are a similar size to you, why not discuss swapping and sharing garments with them?

Although changing our habits and buying from new places can sometimes feel daunting and disloyal, buying sustainably has so many amazing benefits. Many ethical companies use less water, use renewable energy to manufacture goods and eliminate disposing in unethical ways so waterways are not polluted. As mentioned under the third point above, sustainable products will last you years. Most fast fashion companies are renowned for making their clothing from cheap, flimsy material that only lasts a few wears. This is down to not just the low quality of a lot of the fabrics, but is also a marketing ploy that sees customers returning to buy new products regularly. You’ll often be drawn in by shiny discount codes on top of the already low prices but the clothes aren’t built to last. Buying sustainably, although more of an investment, is almost guaranteed to last longer and be better quality. Over time, you’ll end up saving more money than if you were to buy new clothes regularly from fast fashion websites.  

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