We seem to have a love-hate relationship with clothing in this country. We are buying many more items each year than a few decades ago – but wearing them for less long. And it is wreaking havoc on our planet. Why? Because each new item of clothing comes with a cost that is way more than just the figure on the price tag. A T-shirt that you bought for a few pounds would have needed around 2,700 litres of water to produce. That is more than one person drinks in three years. Most of the water is needed to grow the thirsty cotton that is used to make the T-shirt – and cotton is often grown in countries where water is already scarce. You might have seen satellite pictures of the Aral Sea which was once the fourth largest body of inland water in the world. It has shrunk to a tiny fraction of its former self because it was used to farm unsustainable volumes of cotton used in clothes manufacture. On top of that the cotton industry accounts for huge volumes of pesticide use – a sixth of the world total. Using pesticides so that we can wear more clothes is not a good way to care for the planet we rely on.
Water is not just a problem with production. Remember that Christmas jumper you bought last year? Chances are it was made of synthetics fabric – a product of the fossil fuel-based plastics industry. When we wash synthetic clothes very tiny plastic microfibres come out in the wash – and into our oceans. They are absorbed by living creatures – and ultimately by us.
Our clothes have an impact at the end of their lives too. We bin around 300,000 tonnes of clothes each year – which (and this is based on my back of an envelope calculation) is the equivalent of more than 2 billion T-shirts. That is a huge waste problem: once in the household rubbish bin clothes will end up in incinerators or landfill sites. And the planet does not have the resources to keep making ever more clothing items to satisfy our fast fashion fascination. On top of that around a third of clothes in the average wardrobe have not been worn for over a year. That means that all the water and energy and labour that went into making them is just being wasted.
Fortunately, things are starting to change as we understand more about the impact of our clothes buying habits. And there are things each and every one of us can do straight away.
Start with buying less – it is really that simple. Go for a walk outdoors on the day you planned to go shopping. If you are feeling brave you can set yourself a target to buy nothing new (bar absolute essentials) for a month. You could even work up to a year. A year? Yes, it has been done. And if you do buy something new choose something that will last.
In the meantime, have a look through your wardrobe. One of the best things we can do to reduce the impact of our clothes habit is to make more use of the items we already have. What are you not wearing? If it is good quality but you really can’t wear it then sell it, donate it to a charity shop or swap it with a similarly-sized friend. Got an item that you love but in need of mending? Get the needle and thread out. And if you are not confident with sewing, then book yourself on one of the Textile Transformation sewing workshops starting in March. We will get you on the road to repairing your clothes!
Textile Transformation is a joint project between Making Space and Planet Aware supported by Hampshire County Council and is all about helping us to cut the amount of waste textiles that we each produce. Check out our full list of workshops and events on our blog page and follow #TextileTransformation on social media to stay in touch with the project.