Do you want to reduce your personal carbon footprint? We asked experts how to manage closet consumption in a manageable and meaningful way.
Reminders of the carbon footprints we create when we fly or drive are just about everywhere, from car charging stations to the offsets we can buy with our flights. But what about the damage caused by our love of fashion?
“I had heard about carbon footprints for years, but never thought they applied to clothing; I thought they were only referring to things that you can actually see the fuel coming out of,” says Randa Salloum, a Vancouve entrepreneur who founded Collective Will, a second-hand boutique and studio. “I want people to understand that improving their carbon footprint doesn’t just mean not buying fast fashion or buying slow fashion; it also involves thinking about where the clothes come from, as they have to go through many hands.
It’s also important to think about what happens to your clothes over the years, Salloum adds. According to statistics provided by the circular economy-focused organization Ellen MacArthur Foundation, less than 1% of old clothes are recycled into new ones.
Data as grim as this – plus the confusion perpetuated by greenwashing and the shame inherent in confronting our habits – can make change overwhelming. But sustainability-focused leaders have insights that will help show you the way and maybe even improve your journey.
Face your consumption
Sustainability campaigners note that everyone’s carbon footprint and socio-economic circumstances are different, and therefore their approach to changing their footprint will also be unique.
To get started, try using the Fashion Footprint Calculator from resale platform ThredUp. By asking a series of questions, it can tell you what your habits (in kilograms) correspond to in annual emissions. Salloum says the result may be shocking but is ultimately a good motivator. But before making drastic changes, you shouldn’t “set yourself totally unattainable goals, like stopping fast fashion cold turkey,” advises writer and fashion consultant Aja Barber.
Instead, she notes, “one of the things we can all do is just slow down.” Cultivate the “less is more” mindset by buying fewer pieces (from sustainable labels or not), re-examining your clothing budget, questioning the business practices of the brands you buy from, and knowing your measurements before making an online purchase (to avoid returns, a huge contributor to the carbon footprint).
Take stock with an open and informed mind
Kelly Drennan, founding executive director of Canadian organization Fashion Takes Action, says a closet audit is key to reducing your carbon footprint. Your audit should include three piles: retain, retain (“You may need to get a little creative” and modify or recycle items, she says), and donate. It is important to point out that there is a dark side to clothing donation; items that North Americans throw away often end up in Southern clothing markets and landfills to languish or be incinerated. Drennan recommends researching the operations of companies that receive donations (finding out whether they can afford to recycle parts that can’t be resold, for example) as well as calling organizations such as shelters ahead of time. to know what they are in. need before donating after verification.
Make “handling with care” your mantra
Drennan notes that putting away clothes properly after use, doing full loads of laundry in cold water, using waterless and plastic-free detergents, dealing with stains right away, and avoiding dry cleaning are manageable gestures that will extend the life and beauty of what you wear.
If you don’t know what to do with a damaged item, seek out repair resources like Lily Fulop. Her @mindful_mending Instagram account is full of ideas for extending the life of your clothes and accessories. Or take parts to a nearby repair shop for a tune-up. In addition to taking care of rips and holes, tailors and retouchers can adjust the length of cuffs and hems, as well as update the size and fit of a garment as your body changes. .
“We need to think of our clothes as assets, not just consumables,” says Nina Van Volkinburg, co-founder and sustainability director of recycling platform Reture and lecturer at the London College of Fashion in England. “My goal is really to bring the idea of upcycling to a new audience.” Reture allows consumers around the world to collaborate with a host of designers, including Canadian Olivia Rubens, to update wardrobe items. Not only does this mean you’ll use more of what you already have, but, as Van Volkinburg says, “it also empowers the consumer.”
Know how and why you buy
Removing shopping apps, unsubscribing from brand newsletters, and erasing your credit card information from automated fields can limit the immediacy of so-called retail therapy – a misnomer that implies that the serotonin boost we get from making a fashion purchase can soothe deeper areas of trouble inside ourselves. Drennan says part of Fashion Takes Action’s programming includes educating young people with the goal of instilling better habits at a young age. It also helps people separate their wants from their needs – a crucial differentiator when it comes to what motivates us to buy.
Reduce, reuse and re-wear
Barber recommends that in addition to following social stars who proudly wear their pieces, such as Lydia Okello and Omar Ahmed, you should “watch the designers.” She names Phoebe Philo and Tom Ford (“People who bring you great designs every season usually have a uniform they don’t stray much from”) and adds that while you’re developing your own conscious fashion statement, using Pinterest as a A place to put your product wish list is good practice, as is working with a personal stylist who can maximize the potential of your pieces.
This article first appeared in THE FASHION April issue. Learn more here.