Fashion is a billion-dollar industry which is even more polluting than the aviation and shipping industry combined: it is estimated that the retail industry accounts for 10% of the global CO2 emissions (i) and it is constantly generating waste. In fact, textile waste has doubled in the last 20 years due to the rise of Fast Fashion brands, which encourage quick disposal of our garments to get new ones every season. When we expect new products in stores every month, while not really wearing 30% of our wardrobes (ii), we are doing something wrong!
Of course, most of the environmental impact of our clothing is generated during production (think of high energy use and water pollution with dyes, chemicals and micro fivers). For example, the retail industry releases half a million tonne of microfibers in the ocean every year, which is the equivalent of 50 million plastic bottles (ix). The industry also produces MASSIVE waste since 73% of the clothes we buy end up in landfills or being burnt instead of recycled (ix). However, consumer behaviour in terms of laundry routines, purchasing choices and disposal methods also plays a key role! Although the best solution would to reshape the industry altogether, you can also help as a consumer by reducing your own environmental footprint.
You might ask yourself how you can achieve this. Don’t worry, it doesn’t mean that you need to stop buying clothes entirely ! Although that would really help, you can also participate in creating change within the fashion industry by buying less or buying different products. This way, you send a clear message to the large corporations that you want to change since, by demanding other types of products, we contribute to making companies supply those alternatives on a larger scale! Also, simply changing how we take care of the clothes we already have is a great step to reduce your footprint!
how green is your closet?
How often do you go shopping?
a. Every week, I love it!
b. Once a month
c. Only when I need something
Do you buy new clothes or second-hand?
a. I only buy new clothes
b. I buy as much second-hand as new clothes
c. I try to buy as much second-hand as possible
At what temperature do you wash your clothes?
a. Hot hot hot, let’s make sure they are clean!
Do you check what your clothes are made out of before buying?
b. No, not really, should I?
c. Wait… You can check the material??
What do you do with old clothes?
a. I throw them away
b. I recycle them
c. I donate them?
some things you should know...
Shopping for fun or by necessity ?
The fast fashion industry encourages us to buy anything, any time; however, this has disastrous consequences for the environment. When going shopping, ask yourself these 3 questions: ‘How much do I need it?’, ‘Will I wear it often?’, and ‘Will I like it for a long time?’. If you want to learn more about fast fashion, read this article by Good on You.
If we bought 10% more secondhand clothes, instead of new, we could reduce carbon by 13% and water use by 4% per ton of clothing (iii). You don’t need to buy everything in second-hand but switching to second-hand for a few pieces can be better for your wallet and the environment. You can also get your hands on some very unique pieces! Second-hand shopping is becoming increasingly easy through apps such as Vinted and secondhand shops such Kringloop winkel. Scroll down to check out some addresses.
Washing your clothes
Your laundry routine will determine the overall environmental footprint of your clothing. This means frequency of washing, temperature and loading. Washing your clothes at a lower temperature (40° for towels and underwear instead of 60°, and 20-30º for everything else) does not mean they will not be as clean and it reduces energy consumption by around 25%.
When buying your clothes, checking the label for the materials can be an easy way to ensure the sustainability of the piece of clothing. When buying, it is best to choose a clothing made of organic and natural materials or recycled materials. Scroll down to find out what sustainable materials to look for! Finally, whether the sweater is a blend or 100% cotton makes a great difference. Pieces of clothing which are made of more than one material are a lot more difficult to recycle.
Every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is landfilled or burnt (i). A family in the Western World throws an average of 30 kg of clothes away a year (ii). Out of these clothes, only 12% will be recycled into new products and only 1% is used to make new clothing (i). Don’t be part of that statistic! Donate or recycle your clothes instead of throwing them away! Would you like to know more about the ecological impact of your personal daily consumption ? Take an online test to calculate your carbon footprint !
Let’s make it better together !
There are many things you can do to transform your closet in a green fashion heaven. It might seem daunting at first but don’t worry, we’re here to help you! We’re going to look together at what you can do to green up your closet, from buying a new shirt to cleaning it, as well as disposing of it. First, ask yourself: Should I buy it?
How Green is this shirt?
You decided that you really need to buy this shirt. Now, let’s take a look at what you should check to make sure this shirt will green up your closet. It’s time to:
I. Check the rankings !
If you don’t really know if a brand is considered sustainable or not, you can check online for rankings by websites such as Good on You or Rankabrand to get a trustworthy overview! If you don’t find the brand on those website, you can easily just check the website of the brand itself and investigate on what materials it is using or where they are coming from.
II. Check the material !
III. Check the eco-labels!
Eco-labels are a good way to make sure that your t-shirt aligns with your values. In order for you to identify which labels are trustworthy, we made a list of the labels most often used. If you want to discover more labels go take a look at the Sustainability Certification Guide. Click on the headings to visit their websites !
Oeko-tex certificies the textile product is free of a certain group of chemicals. They have 3 levels of certification 100, 1000, and 1000 plus being the highest level guaranteeing the entire product has met the criteria.
The Green cycle of clothes
Now that your closet is Green, how do you keep it Green? With sustainable laundry practices! Every time you wash your clothes, you consume valuable resources (namely water and energy) and thousands of microfibres are released into the water. Here are some ways you can take care of your clothes without harming nature!
Filter out micro-fibers: reduce microfiber release using a washing bag such as guppyfriend or a microfiber-catching laundry ball such as sold by Cora. You can also install external filters such as those from PlanetCare. Whatever you choose, just make sure not to flush the microfibers down the toilet!
Only wash full loads: and save up to 19 000 liters of water per year as well as a lot of energy (iii). It also reduces friction in the washing machine which limits the release of micro-fibers!
Wash cold and quick loads: and reduce the release of micro-fibers, use less water and less energy. By deciding to wash one load cold instead of warm, you are saving emissions that are equal to 123 km by car (iii)
Reduce laundry frequency: you don’t need to wash your clothes after every wear (at least not all of them). For example, sweaters can be washed after 5-6 wears, if worn with an undershirt. Jeans also stay clean for around 6 wears.
Air-dry your clothes: and save 360Kw per year!
Limit dry-cleaning: as it often uses harsh chemical processes. Look for a dry-cleaner with a more sustainable process!
Repair your clothes: your favorite pair of jeans is ripped? This does not mean you have to buy a new one! Learn to repair your jean with Youtube video’s or take part in a sewing class at het werkhuis
What do I do with my old clothes?
The average Western family throws away 30 kg of clothes a year (ix). Don’t be part of the statistics! You’ve had this coat for 5 years and it really isn’t your style anymore? That’s fine but this doesn’t mean your coat has no value anymore! What can you do to give your coat a new life?
Sell your clothes
Maybe your coat isn’t your style anymore but it might be someone else’s. Sell it on Vinted and make some extra pocket money !
Give it to the Kringloop winkel
If you are looking for a place to donate your coat you can always go to the Kringloop winkel (thrift shop), and maybe even find a new one for yourself!
Organise a swapping event
In Maastricht, regular swapping events are organised, for example at De Brandweer. Keep an eye open or organise your own event with some friends! This way, you can even swap your coat for a great pair of trousers!
Use them for other things
You can use an old t-shirt for many different house tasks, shorten jeans and create shorts, and make tops out of dresses! Check out DIYs on Youtube and find out what else you can do with your old clothes !
Make sure they get recycled
Okay, so your old socks have too many holes… time to throw them away? Wrong! They can still be recycled (yes, even with holes). In 2025, it will be mandatory for every EU country to have a proper container for textile recycling, just as paper or plastic now. Till then, look for your nearest Sympany container to ensure that the fibres and fabric of your old clothes live a circular life.
The Human Cost of Fast Fashion
Have you ever wondered why clothes from most big brands are so cheap? Or how so many brands seem to have so many new items and trends? Now that we have looked at the environmental cost of fast fashion, it is time to dive into the real dark side of this industry and talk about the incredibly high human cost.
Did you know that…
● Apparel industry workers earn wages that keep them living in poverty. They usually earn minimum wages (or slightly more), which is lower than the living wage (the required salary to cover for basic needs)
● Workers work for extremely long hours. 14 to 16 hours per day is the minimum working day in most manufacturing countries.
● Short term contracts are common, putting workers in a precarious, unstable employment status. This makes it difficult for workers to exercise their rights (especially right to unionize or collectively bargain)
● Sexual harassment and gender-based violence are rampant. Human Rights Watch found that 59 countries do not have any specific legal remedies for sexual harassment at work, and in the countries that do (such as India or Pakistan), such laws are not meaningfully implemented.
But how is it possible? That is because the working model of the Fast Fashion supply chain fosters human rights abuse. Let’s take a look at the different pillars that make this possible.
1. Fragmentation of Production
Big clothing brands usually do not own the factories in which their clothes are made. Most of the time, their clothes are made in independent factories in countries of the Global South (very often Asia) where materials and labor costs are much cheaper (v). This is very convenient for brands since, even though they are responsible to make sure the rights of workers are enforced throughout their entire supply chain (vi), they can dissociate themselves with the working conditions in these factories. A lot of brands even put economic and political pressure on host countries or factories, which incentivises them to implement measures that don’t respect labor rights (viii)
2. The Disproportionate Influence of Multinational Apparel Brands
Big apparel brands are the ones that shape the retail game. In recent years, clothing production has exploded in the Global South (especially Asia) when big brands started to move their production there. These host countries, pressured to attract foreign investments, have adopted measures to seem attractive to big brands (such as keeping wages low or passing more ‘flexible’ labor and environmental laws (v)). As a result, many countries economically depend on the apparel industry like Bangladesh, where clothing has come to account for more than 83% of its export over the past three decades (vi). Now, many countries are incentivized to keep such measures, so that the big apparel companies don’t decide to move production elsewhere.
3. Lack of Transparency
Brands have a responsibility to make sure the rights of their workers are respected throughout the entire supply chain. However, too many brands lack transparency when it comes to their supply chain. Many refuse to divulge the names, addresses and other important information regarding the factories that manufacture their products (vii). This is really bad since it prevents brands from addressing and preventing human rights violations and stops the public from pressuring these brands to adopt measures meant to secure the rights of workers.
4. The Pressure Brands put on Factories
Brands always look to reduce costs to sell their clothes at the lowest price possible. However, too many do so by lowering the purchase price of production. In 2016, an ILO global survey revealed that 52% of apparel suppliers reported that brands paid prices lower than production costs. Paying such low prices pressures factories to cut costs in ways that favoritise workplace abuse (viii). On top of that, brands usually ask factories to produce clothes in very little time (even though most of the delays come from brands themselves) (viii), often leaving the suppliers to absorb the costs of such delays and exacerbating risks for human rights abuse in the workplace (viii).
5. The Fast Fashion Consumption Model
They always encourage their clients to buy more, buy the spanking new designs coming out next season, buy while it’s on sale, just buy! The problem here is that their well-oiled machine of efficiency and cheap goods relies on a system that continuously oppresses people around the Globe and strips them of some of their most fundamental human rights.
What can you do?
REDUCE your consumption of clothes that come from fast fashion companies
SUPPORT ethical brands or find alternative shopping solutions (second hand stores, exchange with friends…)
READ READ READ: document yourself on the subject to know more! This issue is incredibly complex and cannot be summarized in 2 pages
DEMAND the companies you love to be more transparent regarding their supply chain and most importantly
Second-hand and sustainable retail addresses in Maastricht
Weggeefwinkel De Heeg
Everything is free and relies on donation.
Kringloop de Loods
We-ar Vintage & Design
Curated vintage clothes.
Terre des Hommes
Donation based shop fighting against child exploitation.
Magnolia Thrift Store
Curated vintage clothes.
Predominantly women’s curated vintage clothing.
Second Hand 4 All
Curated vintage clothes.
Secondhand/ vintage clothes and records.
Vintage clothes stalls every Saturday morning at the Markt.