Should we stop shopping?

This white vest which I recently bought is the last clothing purchase I’ll make until June 2022. 

The major reason is that I have so many clothes.  Switching from my autumn/winter wardrobe to my summer wardrobe has been quite an undertaking, involving many hours of unpacking, hanging clothes out to air, washing and ironing.  And then struggling to find space in my overly full wardrobe to hang them up.  In my defence, the majority of those clothes are several years old as I’ve cut down a lot on shopping.  Still, I have more than I need.

This year I’ve experimented with buying from more environmentally and socially conscious brands – that’s included Nobody’s Child, Zara’s Join Life and H&M’s Conscious Collection.  These are brands that offer better-than-average sustainability credentials, but are a long way from perfect: the clothes are usually only partly made from recycled or organic fabrics.  And they still use materials that will shed microplastics into the water supply when washed.  However, they do offer more sustainable clothing at the same prices as H&M and Zara’s standard clothing.  The vest I’m wearing here is from People Tree, a genuinely sustainable brand that’s also fair trade. 

Another reason I won’t be buying any new clothes for a year is that through my studies in Environment and Sustainability, I’ve realised that the fundamental problem for the environment is overconsumption – of clothes, as well as many other categories.  According to the UK government, the purchase of clothing in the UK rose by almost 20% between 2012 – 2016. Globally, clothing production approximately doubled between 2000 – 2015.  Doubled!  Isn’t that mind-blowing? 

Even when clothes are made from more sustainable materials or using renewable energy, they often still cause a lot of pollution, use up a lot of water and generate significant carbon emissions.  Take the example of ASOS.  The online retailer joined the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP).  That’s a really good thing.  SCAP participants agreed to reduce both carbon and water footprints by 15%, per tonne of garment sales.   ASOS achieved this goal … but the brand’s growth means that its absolute carbon and water footprints are likely to have increased substantially, In fact,  ASOS reported that in 2018/19, total carbon emissions grew by 14% compared to the previous year.  So, even though the brand became much more resource-efficient, because people are buying more and more and more clothes every year, the total environmental impact is going up. 

But what would happen if everyone stopped shopping? 

That would be a bad thing.  The covid-19 pandemic had a devastating impact on global garment workers, most of whom are women and are in Asian countries such as Bangladesh.  When lots of people did stop shopping in 2020 because of lockdowns, brands cancelled orders from factories and this jeopardising the livelihoods of many thousands of workers.  So, the answer isn’t to just stop shopping.  Instead, wholesale reform of the fashion industry is needed.  This would mean people in developed countries such as the UK buying less overall, but better quality and paying a fair wage to global garment workers. 

But with my over-stuffed wardrobe, a year-long break from shopping feels right. 

#30wears #sustainablefashion #ethicalfashion #payup #sustainableclothing

Published by jengreggs

I'm a London-based writer and blogger focused on sustainability in fashion. My purpose is to help everyone discover the joy of living more sustainably.

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