Are your clothes really causing climate change?

Now how is it that clothes are causing climate change? …..Where in the world are your clothes made?  Take a look through your drawers and cupboard to find out! In the 1980s lots of clothes manufacturers decided they wanted to copy some of the big expensive brands, however to ensure they sold more and more cheaply and faster they moved their manufacturing bases to Asia. Most of the world’s clothes now are made in China, India, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Vietnam and Sri Lanka where the price of labour is much cheaper.

Container ships produce more greenhouse gas emissions than some small countries. According to The Essential Daily Briefing: “It has been estimated that just one of these container ships, the length of around six football pitches, can produce the same amount of pollution as 50 million cars (22/04/2018)

Like many commodities, clothes are transported by cargo ships which equals a rather serious carbon footprint and directly contributes to climate change.  The environmental impact of shipping clothes tens of thousands of miles is astonishing (air, water, acoustic, and of course, oil pollution as well as climate changing emissions).  The International Maritime Organization (IMO) estimates that carbon dioxide emissions from shipping were equal to 2.2% of the global human-made emissions in 2012[3] and expects them to rise 50 to 250 percent by 2050 if no action is taken. 

Now if we bought these clothes and wore them until they were worn out and then sent them off to be recycled or even better, creatively used the materials to MAKE something new, that would not be so bad. Better still of course would be a return to UK based clothes production, like the good old sustainable days!

The biggest problem however, lies in our throwaway culture.  With cheap fashion has come the fast rise of the ‘grow it, make it, dump it’ mentality and in the UK alone it is estimated £140 million of clothes are sent to landfill or incinerator each year. The value of unused clothes hanging in wardrobes in the UK is £30 billion.

Apart from the cheapness of fast fashion, the escalating carbon footprint of the industry continues when people feel they can justify buying new clothes because it’s an easy feel good factor to donate what was bought last month / last year to a charity shop.

But here’s the catch.

What many folks don’t realise is that more people are giving to charity shops than those people who are buying second hand clothes, which means the excess is then shipped 10,000 miles or more to ‘poor people’ in Africa.  Many African countries are now saying they don’t want any more clothes, because they simply just do not need any more, they are swamped.  Effectively we are dumping our unwanted cheap clothes in their country and asking them to deal with the problem.  In many instances this is undermining their clothes industry with local clothes manufacturers going out of business due to the constant flow of second hand clothes from Europe.

You’ve probably heard of food miles but have you ever heard about clothes miles? Well you have now!

By the time you add up the miles involved in transporting the raw resources from other countries, the transportation around the countries where the clothes are actually made, the transportation to and around the UK / Western countries, and then finally ending up in Africa or other countries, this can very quickly equate to around 30,000 miles.

There are many other problems with the fast fashion industry such as the huge amounts of water it takes to grow and make cotton clothes (2,700 litres for a cotton T shirt, that’s 2.5 years’ worth of drinking water for one person) and up to 25 different chemicals can be used to grow cotton.   Clothes made out of synthetic materials (plastics) when discarded take hundreds of years to biodegrade and when washed are causing plastic pollution in our oceans. Chemical dyes used in the fast fashion industry are often dumped into rivers causing water contamination…. ENOUGH I hear you say! 

This is a pretty bleak picture, so what is the solution? There are many……..

Buy less and wear longer – only buy clothes when you NEED them, either because you have changed size or you have worn your clothes out.

Buy better – if buying new, choose clothes made using recycled natural materials and or organic. Natural fabrics have many advantages not least they will rot down at the end of their life. It is estimated that synthetic fabrics will take 20 – 200 years to decompose. Non-organic cotton can have had up to 25 different chemicals sprayed on the plant and the surrounding countryside, farmers and wildlife! Choose clothes which have been dyed with natural dyes causing no pollution.

Buy ethical and sustainability sourced – choose clothes manufactures who are being responsible about their manufacturing, for example organic, Fair Trade and Fair Wear. Learn more here.

Buy second-hand – When children have outgrown their clothes, hand them down to younger siblings or smaller friends or give them to a charity shop. We always say “if you give to a charity shop you must buy from one”. Buying from a local charity shop gives second life to those clothes with minimal clothes miles.

Consider buying from other second-hand clothes outlets – pre-loved high street shops, kilo sales (pop-up sales who charge £15 per kilo of clothes, see below), E-bay and there are lots of on-line pre-loved stores.

Or don’t buy at all – use the materials you already have, get creative, get making, repairing and adapting the materials and clothes you already own. If you don’t know how to sew there may be someone in your family who can teach you. Alternatively find a local sewing groups or repair cafe. Over the last few years many Repair Cafes have popped up, once a month volunteers repair electrical household items, phones and clothes. Damaged clothes are relatively easy to repair, but many people have so little repair knowledge that they don’t succeed in doing so independently. Sit with a repair café volunteer and learn these long-lost skills. We run the Horsham Repair Cafe with lots of volunteers, Horsham Repair Cafe or find your nearest Repair Cafe Repair Cafe map.

Love your clothes – wash them on a low temperature, use washing liquid, its more gentle with fabrics, line dry- do not tumble dry and do not wash any more often than needed. Use a Guppy Bag to wash your synthetic clothes, it is a self-cleaning fabric bag made of specially designed material and filters out the tiniest microfibers released from textiles during washing.

Education, education, education! We give talks on clothes and climate change for adults. We also offer FREE lessons to West Sussex schools (charges apply for other areas) and children’s groups about the problems and solutions of clothes and climate change, more information can be found here. This is a game which we give out at the end of the lessons in schools to help the children to take home the message about the problems and solutions of clothes fashion. You can download it here or Climate change education.  ***Include a downloadable pdf of our textile eco warriors guide and game.

Try and find a local clothes library, become a member and get discounts on all products and the ability to be able to sell your high quality, vintage and

designer fashion clothes. If you can’t find a local clothes library set one up!

Local textile recycling. We work in partnership with a West Sussex company called Bags of Support who offer textile collections for schools. They try and keep the textiles donated as local as possible, they pay schools 50p per kilo and their end beneficiaries are orphans in three countries.

Have you heard about Kilo Sales? It is a sale of vintage or pre-loved clothes, where you pay £15 a kilo, which equals about five T-shirts, three or four dresses, or a heavy winter coat. We are organising a kilo or pre-loved clothes sale in Horsham on Saturday 9th November 2019 and only charging £10 per kilo, a bargin, find out more here. If you would like to learn about future dates contact us.

Or organise a clothes swap or swishing event with some friends. It makes for a cheap fun social event!

As you would imagine there is a lot of ethical and sustainable fashion shops in Brighton. This is a Ethical Fashion Map of the shops you can download here.

Think carefully about what your clothes are made of, always choose natural fibres and organic if your budgets will allow. Here are a few sustainable natural fibres….

Bamboo, smooth and luxurious to the touch, bamboo fabric keeps you cool in high temperatures, while warming you when it’s cold. The fastest growing plant in the world, it thrives naturally without need of fertizers or pesticides and needs very little water. Its yeild is 10 time that of a cotton crop, which is great news for the soil too. 

Eucalyptus/Tencel, is an award winning eco fibre made from eucalyptus cellulose farmed on wasteland. In contrast, cotton uses productive agricultural land, which means it is competing with food production. Moreover, water consumption is 10 – 20 times lower than with cotton. It is highly economical in its use of energy and natural resources, it is bio-degradable and it feels great.

Hemp is probably the smartest and most sustainable plant for clothes.  Did you know that hemp was the earliest plant cultivated for textile fiber? It comes from the cannabis sativa plant which grows densely and swiftly in poor soil to a height of 4 meters giving a yield 3 to 4 times more substitutes (like cotton) without the need of agro-chemicals. The plants do this by capturing very high levels of carbon dioxide. It is one of the most useful plants on the planet.  Learn more about the history and uses for hemp here.

WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme a U.K. non-profit recycling advocate) developed the Love Your Clothes campaign aims, to raise awareness of the value of clothes and encourage people make the most of the clothes they already have. They are also working with sector leaders through this Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) to reduce the impacts of clothing. This includes reducing production impacts and influencing consumer behaviours to reduce the impact of clothing when in use.

For the sake of future generations and to reduce the effects of climate change please can we all take personal action now on this incredibly important issue. You can download a list of actions you can take to reduce your carbon footprint here.

Sussex people inspiring a climate for change