Around the New Year my wife and I decided to live more sustainably. We already try to live as environmentally-conscious as possible. We don’t live in an area with good public transportation, but we both have as fuel efficient of cars as we can afford. We do out best not to waste food or buy too many plastics. We’re not obsessive about it (although one could argue that maybe we all should be), but we’re definitely aware of the footprint our habits leave on the world.
One area we hadn’t thought about that, once we did and looked into it, is terrible for the environment is clothing. We already did out best not to shop at stores we knew had poor labor practices (which was itself a trial to learn about), but didn’t know that clothing in general had such a negative impact on the environment.
According to this Huffington Post article from 2016, non-natural fibers in clothing like nylon releases nitrous oxide during its production, a greenhouse gas 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Even natural fibers like cotton have an adverse environmental affect due to logging, water consumption, and more. This article from November 2019’s LA Times states that “…the clothing industry is responsible for about 10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and consumes more energy than aviation and shipping combined…”
That’s a huge imprint to leave. With this understanding, my wife and I decided to be proactive about it.
First, my wife decided to limit her clothes to a lower number. She loves fashion and, although we’re not huge clothes-buyers, she had collected a lot of items. So she decided to do a capsule wardrobe, limiting herself to only 30 items of clothing (not including undergarments). This first step got her thinking about how to mix and match clothing items to feel fresh, even if they were older pieces. Anything that no longer fit in her capsule wardrobe we donated. I followed suit, which was much easier for me because I don’t own a lot of clothing.
But how would we get new clothes when we needed them? Well, astute reader, it turns out there are a lot of options for the sustainable thinker. My wife found ThredUp, an online thrift store, that she quickly became obsessed with. ThredUp allows you to follow people with similar fashion sense to you, creating online wardrobes of things you may like. They also make it easy to purchase and resell second (or third, or fourth) hand clothing.
For new clothes, we researched ethical companies. Our favorites so far are tentree, whose clothes are all made from fairtrade cotton and plant ten trees for every item of clothing sold; Everlane, who operate ethical factories and are transparent about every aspect of their business; united by blue, who remove one pound of trash from waterways for every item sold, as well as has multiple initiatives around sustainability, like removing plastics from their workflow; and KOTN, who use ethically sourced Egyptian cotton for all of their clothing and help economic development of farms and schools in Egypt.
These clothes are more expensive than the articles you’d find at Old Navy or something, which is an understandable hurdle for lots of people, but they’re also much higher quality and are designed to last. With our capsule wardrobes we only need to buy a few pieces per year, and those will last us a long time, so in time we may actually save money in addition to doing something small to help the planet.
Doing this research sent us down a rabbit-hole of other ways to be sustainable. We now use sustainable cleaning products (Method, mostly). There are still lots of ways we can improve, but these small steps tend to snowball.
There is a lot to be said about companies being the largest polluters on the planet and the need to hold them accountable for the destruction they’ve caused, but in the absence of governments willing to do that individuals can use their money to support companies that are ethical. A good place to start is by finding those companies that are certified B Corps. If a company has gone through the arduous process of becoming a certified B Corp, they’re likely a trustworthy place to spend your money.