I have a list of sustainable criteria when choosing what clothes to buy or make. They have to meet as many of the following as possible
Fabric is mostly
made from natural fibres
Fair-trade or U.K. made
Clothes can be gifted/secondhand but only in limited amounts
Have to be fairly made / homemade i.e. made by adults who are paid a living wage or me.
From shops /businesseswith sustainable environmental policies
Or local shops & suppliers
Made using plastic free thread
Fastened with plastic free fixings
Bought in fair and sustainable amounts.
unhung & unpackaged
Natural Versus Synthetic Fibres
My clothes are mostly made from natural fibres because on consideration they are the greenest, biodegradable option. If you need it, there is a quick intro to synthetic, regenerated, combination and natural fibres here.
Problems with Synthetic Fibres
Like most other plastics many synthetic fibre do not biodegrade so are difficult to depose of.
Synthetic fabrics shed plastic microfibres when washed which are being consumed by plankton.
They cannot be dyed.
And more reasons why I prefer natural fabrics over the others here.
Buying Ready Made
Buying ready-made, plastic free clothes is a real chore. While I might choose to buy cotton that does not mean the clothes I buy will be entirely natural fibres. Even if it says 100% cotton, you will often find that the washing instructions are printed on a synthetic fabric, the thread used to sew may be polyester, that buttons zips and other fixings and finishings will almost certainly contain synthetics.
Plastic Free Packaging
And even if I can get plastic free clothing there is the packaging and presentation to consider
While you may see clothes in shops unpacked, many fabric items come to the shop plastic packed for protection. Even clothes hanging unpacked on hangers will most probably have arrived plastic packed and then been unpacked .
And you will of course see clothes hanging on hangers. I used to think that when the clothes arrived at the shop they were hung on hangers that would, if I refused them, be re-used to hang more clothes. This is not the case. Many clothes now come already hung hangers. If I refuse a hanger chances are it will not be reused but may thrown away, possibly recycled.
Recycled Plastic Packaging
Though the bags and hangers can probably be recycled I have no way of knowing if they will be. Even if they are, recycling is only a more responsible form of waste disposal. It still comes with an environmental cost. Just because plastic can be recycled is no reason to use it to create everlasting trash and in such ludicrous amounts.
Price Tags & Labels
Even if you manage to source a packaging free item there will be size label, stickers, price tags and irritating plastic ties to contend with. Even cardboard labels will most likely be plasticized.
Buying On Line
While you might avoid the hangers and price tags by buying online there is onward packaging to contend with. In my experience many companies send stuff out in plastic and refuse to otherwise stating that they need the plastic is needed to protect the product. Even the greener companies do this.
Buying Second Hand
One way to cut the packaging, hangers and price tags is to buy second hand. It is also in many ways a greener option than buying new but I don’t like it.
I have no problem with buying or better still being gifted second hand clothes but there are a number of issues to be considered. For me the most important are you cannot use your money to influence how the clothes were made and by whom. Buying second-hand clothes made in sweat shops out of unsustainable fabrics are not, to my mind, guilt free.
Yes it is greener but the plastic packaging rubbish has still been created, fair-trade, organic and natural fibres may not be available and they still use those irritating plastic tags to attach their own labels. But most importantly I feel that charity shops take some of the guilt out of excessive consumption. People feel good about giving clothes to charity it helps raise money for good causes, helps people who cannot afford to buy new and so on. It also means that the donor can go out and buy more clothes. It does nothing to reduce the unsustainable levels of clothing consumption. In fact too many clothes are donated to charities and they simply cannot sell them all in the host countries. Many of the clothes donated to charity shops are sold to second hand dealers. You give to Oxfam, (and lots of other charities), they sell it to textile businesses (not charities) who make a profit from selling it in developing countries. The second hand clothes trade is credited with hindering the development of sustainable industries in developing countries. You can read more here.
I only feel comfortable buying sustainable clothes. I mean clothes made from cloth woven from fair-trade, ideally organically-grown, natural fibres, by people paid a proper wage. The articles then need to be sewn up in safe and healthy environments by adults who can live off what they earn. Problem is I can’t afford those kinds of clothes on what I earn.
So I shop at M&S. one of the more sustainable high street stores and pretty good value. They also do reasonably good quality cotton basics. They sell a lot of stuff unhung and they actually reuse their plastic hangers. But….. much as I like M&S I have to admit that they can be a little… erm…. stodgy? And some of the above plastic related issues still apply,
Making Your Own Plasticfree Sustainable Clothes
Seems to me the only way to get completely compostable clothes that are, sustainable, affordable and plastic-free as possible is to make them yourself. So I dragged out my sewing machine and started stitching my own sustainable duds in sustainable amounts.
What’s A Sustainable Amounts Of Clothes
Of course one mans over consumption is another’s nothing to wear so how to decide what is sustainable?
This is how the equation works for me. We cannot exceed current levels of production. We cannot expect others to want less than we have. Therefore we can only consume our global share
Whats a global share?11.74 kg per person of which 3.8 kg is natural fibres. all You can check my figures here.
See my global share here…