The carbon footprint of fashion

written by Melody Flumendorf

How bad is fashion for the environment? 

Fires. Floods. Deforestation. Climate change has made itself felt this year. There are many reasons for global warming, but they all go back to one problem: we’re consuming too much. The fashion industry is no exception. But how damaging is it exactly? 

The crazy thing is, we don’t even have reliable data about the fashion industry’s impact. Not many articles will tell you that, but only a few facts are based on science and studies. The rest is based on estimates and gut feelings. Like everyone else, Vinokilo can only work with what we’ve got, so we will quote these sources here. Unlike everyone else, though, we like to be transparent about that. 

In 2018, the fashion industry was responsible for 2.1 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). That’s about 4% of the global total. That’s about the same quantity per year as the entire economies of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom combined. The fashion industry is also wasting water. In fact, they are responsible for 20% of global wastewater.

But clothes can be recycled! 

Yes, they can- but it has become harder. Even before lockdown stretch became a thing, we all liked elastic fibres for a stretched look. That makes discarded denim clothes harder to recycle. Since the ’90s, the quality of the clothing we wear has gone down significantly. That’s because man-made fibres are cheaper and faster to produce. Around 85% of all clothes in the USA are either thrown away or burned, not recycled. And before they even get there, clothes pollute the earth. They account for  9% of the microplastic we find in the ocean. 

What exactly is a carbon footprint? 

It is an easy way to measure the impact you have on the environment. Your carbon footprint sums up all the Carbon dioxide (Co2) produced due to your lifestyle. That can be directly or indirectly. You can calculate yours with the help of the WWF or the UN. Remember that these calculators will give you an estimate, not an exact number of your impact. However, they can help you see where you’re already doing pretty well and give you tips on improving your overall footprint. 

What is a good carbon footprint?

Worldwide, the average carbon footprint is around 4 tons. To make an impact, we should all aim to reduce it to 2 tons. 

What can the industry do?

At the moment, only 60% of clothes are sold at full price due to massive overproduction. Producing fewer clothes would mean less packaging and fewer rucks on the road. Together with improvements in the retail operation, that could reduce 308 million tonnes of CO2 by 2030. Not bad at all. 

These changes wouldn’t even cost much money: According to McKinsey, 90% of them would cost below $50 per tonne of CO2 emissions. Former Global Fashion Agenda CEO Eva Kruse sums it up: “Real, long-lasting change hinges on the fashion industry’s ability to come together.” The goal is a circular economy where items are recycled, and the raw materials can be used again and again. But there’s also a lot you can do as a consumer to change things for the better. 

What can I do to reduce my carbon footprint?  

Wash clothes less often

We don’t suggest you should ignore pungent smells, but these days, we often wash our clothes out of habit, not out of necessity. 

Buy high-quality items

Whether you shop for secondhand items or not, always choose clothes that are made of high-quality fibres. They will look better for longer. That doesn’t mean natural fibres always win. What really matters is the lifespan of the item you bought. A synthetic top that lasts 5 years is better for the environment than a linen one you can’t wear after 2 years. The same goes for shoes. Resist the urge to buy summer sandals for a Fiver and get some good quality ones, and you can wear them for years to come. Your planet will thank you. 

You can find more tips on how to shop consciously here

Take good care of your clothes

Do you know that 60% of British people say they can’t or won’t sew on a button? If you’re one of them, don’t worry, we feel you. Our team once set itself a DIY challenge, and let’s just say, not every button stayed fixed. There are some helpful guides out there to make it easier for you. Colour mishap? A bleach accident? There’s always a solution. And, of course, there’s an app for that.  

Focus on a wardrobe that works

Choosing the right pieces for your lifestyle and body can be tricky. Luckily, these three personal stylists have done it for you. Their tips can show you how to be stylish and eco-conscious at the same time. And yes, you can break up with fast fashion and still enjoy fashion. Remember, until the 90’s people did exactly that. 


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