The Clothing Industry Weighs Heavily on the Planet; Here’s How Consumers Can Reduce the Load

Featured on The Inertia


If you’re looking for a way to reduce your environmental impact, look no further than your closet. The fashion industry has a waste problem that weighs heavily on the planet because the average consumer throws away 70 pounds of clothes per year while globally we produce 13 million tons of textile waste in that same timeframe.

As surfers, outdoors people, and consumers, it’s important to be conscious of where our products come from, what materials they are made of, what working conditions they are made in, and, of course, whether or not they are built to last. The most sustainable thing you can do regarding your clothing is to buy as little new clothing as possible, but if you do have to purchase new clothing, take these steps to ensure you’re doing your part.

Shop Fair Trade

We’ve all heard the horror stories of sweatshops in remote corners of the world that capitalize on cheap child labor to churn out sneakers by the millions. Sadly, many of those horror stories are true. Many consumer brands benefit from the less than ethical working conditions that have workers of all ages slaving away for inhumane amounts of time, often in hot, dark, and dangerous working conditions. When you shop, you can ensure your money goes towards brands that pay their workers fairly and provide ethical working conditions by shopping fair trade. Fair trade stands as the counterbalance to the “free trade” system, which is responsible for countless lives being ruined all for the sake of profit. It’s common for these products to feature certifications from non-profits like Fair Trade USA.

Shop Organic

Cotton accounts for at least a third of all fibers found in textiles. Cotton can be farmed either organically or inorganically. During traditional cotton farming, harmful chemical fertilizers and pesticides are used in the growing process. These chemicals seep into the ground soil and wash into watersheds during heavy rainfalls, poisoning freshwater supplies and damaging marine life when those watersheds flow into the ocean. On the other hand, organic cotton farming uses organic fertilizers, composts, and herbal pesticides/insecticides. Other important discrepancies between organic and inorganic farming include crop rotation, seed treatment, the use of GMOs, and more. To shop for organic clothing, look for the 100 percent organic certified label from organizations like Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS), USDA National, Organic Program (NOP), European Organic Regulations (EU 2092/91), Export Certificates for Japan (JAS Equivalent), Indian National Program for Organic Production (NPOP), Quebec Organic Reference Standard (CAAQ), Bio Suisse Standards, and IOFAM Basic Standards.

Buy Products that Last

As we mentioned above, the most sustainable shopping practice is to not shop at all. Buying new clothing, even those made from eco-friendly materials takes a toll on the environment. While cotton can be organically farmed, it still takes an enormous amount of water to grow. Ten thousand liters of water are used to grow just enough cotton to make a single pair of jeans. Additionally, when considering the environmental impact of your clothing, you need to factor in the carbon emissions from transportation. Most of the world’s clothing is produced in Asia and sold in the US. In addition to the emissions from travel, plenty of clothing and fabric from manufacturers ends up in landfills. So, if you’re really looking to do your part and reduce your environmental impact, stop buying new clothes. Try it for a few months or a year to see how it affects your life. Ensuring the products you do buy have a long shelf life and repairing clothing are two ways to avoid having to buy new clothes.

Buy Secondhand

The reality of not buying new clothes for an extended period is challenging. One way to reduce your impact on the environment without cutting out shopping altogether is to buy secondhand. Buying secondhand clothing has turned from taboo to trendy, with the rise in popularity of vintage fashion and thrift store shopping. Websites like Etsy and Depop make buying and selling vintage threads fun and easy.

Shop Sustainable Brands

While not every brand is committed to protecting the environment, a handful of brands go above and beyond to reduce for the planet. Patagonia is known as perhaps the most sustainable brand out there. The outdoor apparel giant regularly sacrifices profit in the name of environmentalism with its Worn Wear program, in which Patagonia repairs its clothing and accessories free of charge. Consumers can also shop for secondhand clothing through the Worn Wear program. Patagonia has had so much success in its environmental endeavors that they’re inspiring a new generation of brands to adopt similar practices.

Whether you’re a serious environmentalist or just looking to adopt some sustainable practices, changing the way you shop, dress, and discard your clothing will significantly reduce your waste. Next time you buy new clothes, think twice about where they came from and where they will end up once you’re through with them.

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