It takes 700 gallons of water to grow enough cotton to make one simple T-shirt. Let that sink in next time you’re standing in a three-level discount superstore.
"Fast fashion" is wreaking havoc on our planet, and the landfills, toxic chemicals and carbon emissions are just the beginning of our global headaches. Low prices we see in trendy stores often are artificial, reflecting a range of poor working conditions and, in extreme cases, child labor or human trafficking.
Fortunately, some manufacturers are looking for ways to revolutionize garment making, and there are simple steps consumers can take to cut down on clothing waste by transitioning to more sustainable habits — just in time for spring cleaning.
1. Buy less.
Fifty years ago, folks bought fewer items of well-made clothing and took good care of them. Ask yourself:
• Do I need this?
• Will it last?
• Can I repurpose it later?
2. Learn basic mending skills, and pay attention to care labels.
When a garment is high quality, it lends itself to simple repairs that allow much longer wear. So familiarize yourself with basic stitching and proper laundering techniques.
3. Know where pieces come from.
More than half of all clothing companies don’t know exactly where their products are made. Responsible labels can trace the origins of their garments all the way back to a specific factory.
4. Support e-commerce.
When there is no brick-and-mortar store to support, labels use up to 30 percent fewer resources.
5. Ditch the fake fabrics, but be aware of the water cost.
All the synthetic fabrics created over the past few decades are still around. Uncle John’s polyester tie from the 1970s is chilling in a landfill somewhere, and it’s not about to biodegrade anytime soon. Cotton will, but its production sucks up water resources fast — Even more incentive to put down that stack of threadbare tops! Lean toward natural fibers, but make your choices count.
6. host a clothing swap.
Much of our addiction to fast fashion is about satisfying the desire for something new. Why not host a clothing swap with friends? Everyone brings gently used items that they’re ready to trade for something else fabulous.
7. Fill in wardrobe gaps with finds from thrift and consignment stores.
Why pay department store prices when there are trendy, next-to-new items to be found secondhand? Thrift shops are an inexpensive way to add unique pieces to your wardrobe without contributing to further waste.
8. Say no to fast fashion.
Cheap dresses are tempting, but they often represent the worst conditions in the industry. Instead of packing a shopping cart full of cheapies, treat yourself to a couple of high-end pieces made from beautiful fabrics. You’ll like wearing them a whole lot more.
9. Don’t throw away clothes!
Donate instead. The average American tosses 68 pounds of apparel every year, and it ends up clogging our landfills. Drop unwanted items at a thrift store instead. Even if nobody buys them from Goodwill, they can be shipped to a textile recycler and repurposed.
Sustainable designer spotlight
• Name: Tom Cridland
• Hometown: London, England
• Years in fashion: 3, after starting the business in his kitchen with a $9,000 startup loan from the British government
• Famous fans: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Stiller, Kendrick Lamar, Rod Stewart, Daniel Craig, Miley Cyrus, Clint Eastwood, Brandon Flowers
Is it really possible to recapture the days when people bought fewer, higher-quality items of clothing made with care?
That’s what Tom Cridland is banking on with the 30-Year Collection. If something happens to your sweatshirt in the next 30 years, Cridland will repair or replace it free of charge.
“I came up with the idea in 2015. We had a chance to make trousers for Leonardo DiCaprio, and we learned about his environmental work and I thought, ‘This industry is in need of an antidote to fast fashion,’ ” the young designer said. “Twenty-five percent of the world’s chemicals are used for textile production, and 10 percent of the world’s carbon emissions come from the apparel industry.”
While much more can be done by manufacturers to change the practices Cridland says make apparel the second-most polluting industry (right after coal), he has advice for consumers, too: “Buy less, and buy better!” He and his girlfriend, Debs, created the 30-Year concept for making sweatshirts, jackets and T-shirts out of luxury Italian fabrics that last.
“We’ve got customers on every continent, from such a huge variety of backgrounds,” said Cridland, who is keen to introduce his concept to the Las Vegas market. “What unites them is a love of well-made clothing, and our sustainable ethos.”