Sustainable fashion is a rapidly growing movement. Honoring the labor, expertise, and material resources used to make clothes is also an essential way for people of faith to honor God. So how do we do that effectively? Thankfully, the solution starts no further than your closet. Here are five ways to dive in and begin embodying Christ’s righteousness in your relationship to your clothes:
1. Buy less and more purposefully.
It’s estimated that Americans buy up to one fifth of the world's clothes and wear them for a quarter as long as the global average. Shoppers regularly buy items they won’t wear because of sales or overlook flaws due to price. Consider limiting purchases to 1-2 items per shopping trip, and you will more likely avoid the impulse-buy regret experienced by up to 44 percent of shoppers. Take time to notice what you enjoy wearing and where there are gaps in your closet. While it is important to support companies that try to do better, some folks have a hard time buying clothing from expressly transparent or ethically conscious companies due to limited size ranges, lack of fluidity in gender expression, or prohibitive cost. Buying less and more purposefully still allows you to purchase clothing that you love while cutting down overall consumption.
2. Mend, re-wear, and customize.
Neighbors, family, or friends can help with the basics like sewing on a button or mending a zipper, skills often lost from previous generations. Tailors and cobblers are another fantastic resource for repair and alterations. Clothing is dynamic and customizable, and many of us have more preference about our clothes than we realize. Caring for your clothes extends their life and cuts down consumption over time. The most sustainable clothes you could possibly have are the ones you already own. Repairs are often not as pricey as we think and will lead to well-loved wardrobe.
3. Consider how you care for your clothes.
The environmental impact of clothing does not end when it reaches our closets. Laundering clothing is second only to manufacturing new textiles in terms of impact. Wash clothes less often, wash only full loads on cold water, and hang dry garments as much as possible. Just by doing our laundry, Americans use as much electricity per year as the state of Minnesota (66 billion kilowatts). We can dramatically prolong the life of our clothes and lessen their impact by better daily care. Consider using a device to catch microplastics from activewear and other polyester or synthetic fabrics that would otherwise end up in waterways.
4. Purchase second-hand.
Thrift stores or online resellers like ThredUp or Poshmark are a great way to purchase new-to-you clothing while diverting waste from landfills. Brick-and-mortar resale shops are also becoming more popular than ever before. Cultivating a sustainable wardrobe need not be an expensive endeavor, and trashing clothing that still may have useful life is not cheap. New York City pays more than $20 million per year to incinerate and landfill old clothing. Diverting clothing from the waste stream is particularly important because natural fibers such as linen and cotton slowly break down over time and, like food waste, produce methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. Synthetic fibers are plastic based and can take hundreds of years to decompose, with some materials releasing harmful chemicals as they break down. But according to the EPA, keeping 2 million tons of textiles out of landfills reduces carbon emissions equivalent to taking 1 million cars off the road.
5. Participate in the movement.
There are so many ways to help effect change in the fashion industry. From Fashion Revolution’s viral social media campaign #whomademyclothes to supporting workers’ rights organizations like the International Labor Rights Forum to writing to your favorite brands asking for transparency in their supply chains, there’s something everyone can do. A recent New York Times article by author Elizabeth Cline clearly laid out the connections between climate change and the clothing industry, noting that clothing is connected to every other environmental issue we care about and advocate for. Journalist Elizabeth Segran notes: “Government and policymakers need to create policies that force brands to comply with higher standards, investors need to support brands with strong missions, and the media must continue to draw attention to the problems in the industry.” Yet, individuals have influence over the market too, as 38 percent of 3,000 worldwide consumers say they actively choose brands that stand for positive environmental and social practices. Keeping pressure on the industry is vital to encourage faster change.
Imagine the power of a national movement calling for change in the fashion industry from a faith-based perspective! By incorporating these practices into everyday living, Christians can start to make a significant difference in advocating for righteousness in the global fashion industry.