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The Climate Chap: Is fashion destroying our climate?



25 April, 2022


SteveGreen-607-315Surely the fashion industry has nothing to do with the climate crisis. After all, we feel better wearing new outfits and inevitably you will need a new frock or tuxedo when next ‘walking the red carpet’!

But the global fashion industry is based on promoting new styles of clothing every few months and enticing you to abandon recently bought garments – ‘Fast Fashion’. According to one survey, nearly half of the clothes in the average UK person's wardrobe are never worn, primarily because they no longer fit or have gone out of style. Another found that a fifth of the items owned by US consumers are unworn. Don’t get me wrong, that’s also my wardrobe, and if in doubt when you next go to a shopping mall simply count how many stores are devoted to selling schmutters. Local fashion shows and ‘runways’ remain regular features of our news and TV entertainment.

Back in the 80s many garments were made in Aotearoa (previously known as New Zealand) but a quick scan of your wardrobe will result in over 90 percent now made in China or Asian nations and then imported, therefore adding to the huge pollution generated by shipping and aviation. Much publicity has rightly been given to the horrendous working conditions and slave pay rates in many ‘third world’ nations, all aimed to get the cheapest ‘fast fashion’ products to market in the ‘first world’. Fortunately, many Kiwi clothing companies now operate sustainable and fair-trade policies regarding sourcing garments.

Sadly, according to the UN Environment Program, the fashion industry is the second-biggest consumer of water and is responsible for 8-10 percent of global carbon emissions. According to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, these emissions are expected to skyrocket 60 percent by 2030. This is simply huge, generating more nasty emissions than shipping and aviation combined. Fast Fashion is one of highest polluting industries in the world, aside from oil and gas. By using cheap and dirty fabric, it is causing all kinds of pollution to our environment. The toxic chemicals in these types of fabric also cause negative effects to the planet and threatens our oceans.

It’s no longer cotton that rules the garment trade. Sixty-five percent of the clothing we wear is polymer-based and around 70 million barrels of oil a year are used to make polyester fibres in our clothes. A shirt made from polyester has double the carbon footprint compared to one made from cotton, the equivalent of 5.5kg of carbon dioxide compared to 2.1kg from a cotton shirt.

Many garments, both new and pre-loved, end up at the local tip. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that in 2017, 10.2 million tonnes of textiles ended up in landfills while another 2.9 million tonnes were incinerated. Next time you go to a clothing store at the mall by all means ask what happens to those items that never sell. Chances are they go straight to the tip.

So what approaches are readily available for us to reduce the emissions and pollution associated with the rag trade? Fortunately, lots:

· Purchase what you genuinely need, and not what fashion dictates.

· Recycle by donating unused garments to local op shops.

· Ensure that all schools have a program to collect no longer needed uniforms from graduating students and freely allocate them to new students. Same for sports clubs.

· Sell or gift them via social networking and auction web sites. Especially look to reallocate infant and kids gear that no longer fits.

· Look to buy Kiwi-made garments, and ideally from any of Mangawhai’s excellent fashion shops.

· If needing that special outfit for the red carpet, consider hiring it in preference to purchasing a ‘one-off’. Ask friends if they can help out.

· Consider buying ‘pre-loved’ designer-labelled garments in preference to brand new, and ideally ensure that the garment can be worn alongside numerous existing items in your wardrobe. This facilitates having a smaller wardrobe but a more flexible one.

· Clothes are expensive – look after them.

· Simply look to buy garments made to last beyond one season. I applaud the many young ladies I often see in Bennetts who proudly wear old jeans with numerous tears and rips in them!

A shirt made from polyester has double the carbon footprint compared to one made from cotton, and sheds microplastic. PHOTO/THE ROBIN REPORT

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