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Environmentally Conscious Clothing: What You Wear Matters

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Humanity faces a lot of challenges in the modern world, despite all the conveniences. Dramas, disparities, and disagreements can sometimes overshadow the more important things in life—caring for ourselves, each other, and the environment.

Now is the time that we need to all step up our game and take environmentalism more seriously, even if it means making some tough sacrifices and lifestyle changes.

But before you sell your car and live off the grid in the wilderness, start by being a more responsible consumer. Buying environmentally conscious clothing is a great first step. Here’s what you need to know about eco-friendly clothing and some tips for how to be part of the solution moving forward.

How Clothing Impacts The Environment

If you’re at all familiar with the principles of environmentalism, you’ll know that sustainability is a central focus for policymakers, activists, and other organizations looking to protect the planet.

The basic idea is that sustainable practices work to minimize harm to the environment while providing populations with essential goods and services that we need to grow and thrive. This could be anything from clean energy and food to transportation and medicine.

Clothing is often overlooked in the environmental equation; however, and considering it is such a universal necessity, it certainly deserves more attention from thought leaders and everyday citizens alike, especially in industrialized countries. 

The reality is that clothing is up there with food and shelter in terms of importance, and in the developing world, there is a lot of work to be done to ensure growing populations are clothed properly year-round.

On the other hand, clothing production, distribution, and consumption have been thrown out of balance in parts of the world, where trends like fast fashion and mass production have taken a destructive turn for the worse.

Consider the sheer quantity of clothing produced every year, much of which is never sold or quickly turned over into waste. These products require unthinkable amounts of water, fossil fuels, organic materials, and synthetic chemicals to make. They are often produced in areas of the world where environmental regulations are less than ideal.

Not only does mass production contribute directly to environmental pollution (air and water quality most commonly affected), it also creates a surplus of clothing that ends up wasted, breaking down slowly in landfills and further harming the ecosystem.

Additionally, we have to account for the ancillary aspects of the clothing industry that often go undiscussed, all of which factor into the broader sustainability picture. There are transportation and shipping needs, which demand heavy resources in their own right, plus storage and warehousing demands that can’t be ignored.

Rather than simply looking at the materials that comprise a shirt or pair of sweatpants, zoom out further and think about the many ways in which the item has impacted and interacted with the environment worldwide. 

There are so many aspects to sustainable clothing that they are impossible to list in a short article, but we must continue to absorb as much knowledge as we can and adopt smart practices that help on every level.

Socio-Economic Considerations

Environmental concerns are legitimate and require our attention more than ever, but it’s vital that we don’t overlook the social and economic repercussions of our choices as well. 

The health of the ecosystem and human rights causes fall under the same umbrella of ethics, and they both need to be addressed with the same level of care and consideration.

Take some extra time to research how clothing companies treat and compensate workers for their labor and services, not just in stores and malls near you but at every stage of the supply chain. You may realize that it’s worth spending a bit of extra money to ensure the fair treatment of workers and help to sustain economies on a more fundamental level.

Recognize that change is often economic and not purely political in nature, and we vote with our wallets to promote progress in the regions of the world that need it most. Whenever you purchase clothing from companies that care about these issues and use sustainable methods, you are doing a small part to push things in the right direction.  

Materials And Methods To Avoid

While no one person can single-handedly undo the damage done by the more reckless aspects of the clothing industry, we owe it to the world to make smarter choices starting ASAP.

But before we discuss the clothing that we should be buying, let’s talk about the stuff to avoid. After all, the vast majority of the items available on retail shelves are less than ideal for the environment, and we need to know the good from the bad.

Here are some common clothing materials you may want to minimize or decide to keep out of your closet altogether:

  • Synthetic materials like polyester, polypropylene, nylon, and spandex are okay in small doses, but these man-made fabrics require heavy amounts of chemicals, fossil fuels, and water to produce en masse. Washing these garments in a laundry machine can also disperse toxic microfibers into the surrounding ecosystem.
  • Animal-derived fabrics such as wool, fur, and leather may have once been considered sustainable, but it’s hard to defend these practices nowadays. These protein-based fibers are more biodegradable than synthetics, but they also require mass amounts of water and lead to increased methane production - a major greenhouse gas.
  • Cotton is an old standby that may be more harmful than it appears, according to experts. It is an extremely water-intensive crop, and farmers now rely on heavy use of pesticides to keep cotton growing strong. Consider avoiding pure-cotton basics like tee shirts, underwear, and socks. 

  • Remember, it’s important to consider the entire life cycle of the products you purchase, not just the materials from which they’re made. 

    Don’t hesitate to look into the practices and standards of a company before buying their goods, and cross them off your list if they don’t check the right boxes. Share these no-go companies with friends to raise awareness, stick to the ethical manufacturers you know and trust, and support them financially for the long run.

    Eco-Friendly Alternatives

    It’s clear that the way we produce, distribute, and wear our clothing makes a real difference in environmental outcomes, so it’s time to get aligned with best practices and leave behind our old habits.

    Go through your wardrobe and see where you can make improvements the next time you buy clothes. Do you see too much polyester or cheap cotton on the labels? Are you relying too much on wool or leather in your outerwear collection? Ask the tough questions to see how you can step it up.

    This doesn’t mean you should immediately ditch your current clothes and go 100% organic. Wear your clothes as long as they last, or donate them before you toss them away.

    When it does come time to invest in some new sustainable threads, look for materials like bamboo viscose, cellulose fibers, or bast fibers that come from hemp, flax, or nettle. There are more options out there than ever, so you won’t have to look far!

    Always do a bit of extra research about the brand before you buy, and read up on their website to see if they are truly on board with sustainable practices and causes. 

    Be The Change You Wish To See

    One of the most powerful ways to initiate positive change is to simply raise awareness with your own actions and daily practices. By being active in the community and expressing your beliefs with honesty and kindness, your influence can be broad-reaching and make a real impact.

    Posting articles online and discussing issues with friends is all well and good, but leading by example is often more effective. As humans, we respond to actions more than talk, so make a commitment to the environment with more than just your words.

    Rather than standing on the sidelines, hoping for the best, get into the game and inspire people around you by practicing what you preach! Not only will you feel great making these changes, but you’ll see the ripple effects pay off as your friends, family, and community follow suit.

    Conclusion

    You’ve heard many of the talking points before, whether it’s lowering your carbon footprint, reducing greenhouse gases, and stopping the oceans from being infused with toxic chemicals. There are certainly noble causes, but true sustainability goes even deeper than that.

    It’s about creating a more harmonious relationship between us and the planet earth, as well as improving the connections among people and creating circumstances for a brighter future everywhere. 

    As you become more environmentally conscious and truly adopt the principles and guidelines we discussed here, you’ll feel far more enlightened and connected with the world around you. Clothing can be that entryway, and it’s a feeling that goes way beyond skin deep. 

    Sources:

    https://www.greenstrategy.se/sustainable-fashion/what-is-sustainable-fashion/

    https://goodonyou.eco/what-is-ethical-and-sustainable-fashion/

    https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/fabrics-environment-fast-fashion-eco-friendly-pollution-waste-polyester-cotton-fur-recycle-a8963921.html

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