Written by Nerida Lennon, Sustainable Fashion Campaigner, Film Maker and Model.
As a fashion model I’m constantly surrounded by an abundance of clothing. Some would consider this a temptation, but I haven’t bought a new garment in at least a year. I could easily buy new outfits, but I simply haven’t needed to because I’ve chosen to love my threads. I invest in good quality, versatile clothing that is designed for longevity, while appreciating, caring and preserving it like fine wine. I know I’m not alone as The Nordic Initiative Clean and Ethical (NICE) group has observed that a new wave of consumers “keep and wear garments for more seasons and occasions; they care for garments in a low-impact way; repair them whenever possible; and share them with friends and family members.”
Don’t get me wrong: fashion is fun, glamorous and chic, but when you split open the seams there are some sad closet tales about how our clothing is wearing out our world. Clothing is something we wear everyday, but how many of us stop to think about the impact it’s having on our environment? Negative impacts resulting from our clothing include things like air pollution (CO2), water pollution (chemicals, pesticides), depletion of our natural resources (water, precious metals, oil), and lack of human rights for the people making our clothing.
Interestingly, the biggest environmental impact doesn’t result from producing the clothing we buy, instead it’s caused by the consumer use-phase: washing, drying, ironing and dry-cleaning. While a pair of jeans can consume up to 10,000 litres of water, a study by Levis Jeans found 45% of water used over the life cycle their jeans occurs during the consumer use phase. They also found that 58% of the total energy was when consumers use their jeans.
Given that such a large portion the environmental impact of clothing is caused when we wear and care for our clothing, it’s easy for us to make a positive difference through the simple steps outlined below. As you incorporate these steps into your routine, you will save time, money and water while reducing chemicals and CO2 pollution.
Think investment shopping and buying better quality, more durable pieces that are designed to last. You may pay more upfront, but you’ll save in the long-term because you won’t be churning through so many of the same items. Also get involved in Buy Nothing New Month.
Dirty is the new clean. How long should we wear clothing before it needs washing? Apparently for a lot longer than we realise according to a recent study on cleanliness and hygiene. Airing clothing in bathroom steam while showering or in the sunshine rids clothing of stale smells meaning less washing. Try spot cleaning stains rather than washing whole garments.
If you need to wash use a lower temperature (30C) and an eco-friendly clothing detergent. Don’t wash different colours together and avoid the dryer by line drying. Try to avoid dry cleaning, but if you must dry clean find a service that uses non-toxic solvents.
Love something that has a fault? Repair it. Start small, like sewing buttons back on clothing and re-soleing shoes. I’ve had a good quality pair of boots for six years that I’ve re-soled saving time and money. If you can’t repair it then think about re-purposing it. Browse YouTube to find videos explaining how to re-purpose your clothing in new and creative ways.
Join the swapping revolution and attend swap markets to trade your unwanted clothing with something you love and will wear. Otherwise, donate to a friend or family member, your local op-shop and vintage stores. If you can’t swap or donate, try to use it as a cleaning rag.
Once you master the steps above, you’ll be well on your way to helping the environment through your clothing choices. To think more critically about what considerations to make when buying your clothing read Cheap Phenomenon.
About the author: Nerida is an international model who has worked with labels such as Gucci, Chanel, Calvin Klein and Dior. Nerida is well place to comment on fashion from the inside, but it’s not just the glamour of the catwalk that excites her; it’s the industry’s ability to become socially and environmentally innovative. Nerida is a School for Social Entrepreneurs fellow and a recipient of the Big Green Idea grant, awarded by the British Council globally to eco-visionaries. This grant and support from Film Victoria is assisting Nerida to produce a documentary film illustrating that while fashion is foremost about style; in a resource-starved future sustainability is critical to its survival. Nerida is one of 500 sustainable fashion pioneers taking part in a global initiative run by the Ethical Fashion Forum, London. Her work has been featured in various publications and she was included in The Age Top 100 most influential, inspiring and creative people in the city of Melbourne for 2011. With her participation in local and international sustainable fashion groups, Nerida is well connected and well informed when it comes to anything sustainable in the world of fashion.