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Saturday, July 13, 2024

Sustainable shopping to reduce global carbon footprint

Experts hope that success of sustainability is mainly linked to the efforts of consumers to add to their wardrobe carefully and shop for each piece to understand how and where it was made as fast fashion has come to dominate global shopping trends.

Fast fashion refers to the rapid production and distribution of clothing to reflect the latest trends. Since the early 1990s, technological improvements, lower costs of production and streamlined supply chains have significantly shortened fashion cycles. Clothes today can be made and sold to consumers at a low price within just a few weeks of being designed.

Two seasons — autumn/winter and spring/summer — were common in the Western fashion industry just a few decades ago. Nowadays, some retailers offer tens of small seasons a year. This constant churning of trends pushes consumers to update their wardrobes frequently by encouraging disposability.

While easier on the wallet, the consequences of the fast fashion industry are myriad. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, the global fast fashion-dominated clothing and textile sector is responsible for two to eight per cent of all global carbon emissions and nine per cent of annual microfibre pollution to oceans.

In addition, fast fashion uses about 215 trillion litres of water annually, the equivalent of 86 million Olympic-sized swimming pools. Moreover, workers are often exploited in inhuman conditions for little pay while shareholders pocket skyrocketing profits.

In response to these criticisms, a growing number of fast-fashion retailers, such as H&M and Zara, are claiming to take steps towards reducing their environmental footprint. These outlets claim, for instance, that they have replaced synthetic fibres and polyester, made from oil and petroleum, with natural and recycled ones. However, the ubiquity of greenwashing across the fashion industry makes it hard to tell if these claims have any weight.

Experts advise to buy less and buy better. Most fashion retailers do not control the entire supply chain and, thus, cannot guarantee the sustainability of their clothing. This means consumers must be diligent when shopping and make informed choices themselves.
Recycling and clothing rental are valid options, however, it is worth noting that textile recycling can be expensive and not without environmental impact in terms of both materials and carbon footprint.

Prolonging clothing life by wearing pieces over several years and mending it when required, rather than throwing it away, can also be a great way to reduce the environmental footprint of buyers wardrobe.

The French government recently introduced a country-wide program to subsidize clothes and shoe repairs with the aim to reduce the amount of clothing thrown away. Buyers should opt for natural fibres such as organic cotton, linen, silk, hemp and bamboo. Ideally, clothing should be durable, locally manufactured and made from fair-trade, sustainably sourced natural materials.

Clothing, such as jeans, should be worn for as long as possible and be made from safe, recycled or renewable materials. The design of the garment should also be minimal. For instance, distressed jeans require the use of several toxic chemicals to give them their worn-out appearance.

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