We buy a lot of clothes! On average, German women own 118 pieces of clothing, of which 40% is hardly ever worn. So you would think that we have more than enough clothes in our closet. But it still seems like we have nothing to wear. So, we buy more; an average of 60 new garments per year! But these consumption patterns put a heavy burden on the environment, especially in the fast fashion industry. The production of clothing harms the environment by the amounts of energy and water it requires. Additionally, during production, toxic chemicals are released into the air and the soil. So fast fashion is very polluting for the planet. And, as you can read in our last post the workers in the fast fashion industry are subject to abuse, a bad working environment and low payment.
But not the entire fashion industry is so grim. As awareness about the problems of fast fashion grew, many new fair fashion labels were founded. Lots of emerging brands offer more environmentally friendly and fair alternatives to fast fashion. However, ethical fashion has an impact on the environment too. After all, we are still consuming and consumption (almost) always requires depletion of natural resources. Even though the environmental impact of ethical fashion is smaller than that of fast fashion, there is still a negative impact when we shop.
The impact of buying
So, some people argue that we should stop consuming completely. Instead, we should buy second hand and swap our clothes. Or just be happy with what is already in our wardrobe. After all, fashion makes up 2% – 10% of the total emissions caused by consumption in the European Union . It might not be such a bad idea to slow it down. But… does that mean that we can’t shop anymore?
Well… A big aspect of the environmental impact of fashion is in the items that get thrown away and end in landfills. In the EU, 80% of the clothes that are thrown out end up in these landfills. Once there, they slowly decay and pollute the environment by the chemicals and greenhouse gases they release. But a lot of these textiles can still be useful for intents of upcycling. Research shows that 95% of fabrics that are thrown away can be reused. An effective way of avoiding pollution in landfills is thus saving textiles from going to the trash.
Many fair fashion brands step into this gap; they save valuable materials and reuse them in their products. That is what we do too. By upcycling denim, Bridge&Tunnel saves jeans. Instead of decaying in the landfill, they are reintroduced in shops as beautiful bags, jackets or rugs. And there are many brands out there that, like us, work with used materials. Not only does keeping textiles in the cycle prevent pollution on landfills, but it also reduces the demand for new materials. This also saves energy and resources that are required in new production.
So what does that mean for consumers? How can we enjoy fashion without making the whole thing worse? Well, if we want to enjoy fashion in a more sustainable way, we can take inspiration from the wise words of Vivienne Westwood: “Buy less, choose well, make it last”. Firstly, don’t buy too much; before buying, think about what you really need. Then, you should choose well; check if a fair fashion brand has the product you want to have. These brands might be a bit more expensive, but if you buy less, you save money to invest in more sustainable products. Lastly, wear your clothes as long as you can. If you want to know how you can best take care of and love your clothes, read the tips in our Wardrobe Challenge blog post. And once your jeans are finally falling apart, you can send them to us and we’ll reuse them for you.
Above all, let’s not forget that fashion is fun! Fashion is a way to express your personality and show your style. Yes, it is very important to think about what you buy and what impact your consumption has on people and the planet. But we still want to enjoy shopping. So our answer to the question ‘does that mean that we can’t shop anymore?!’ is no. But if we want to be better to people and planet, we definitely need to slow things down.