I’m going to kick off Eco Week with a sort of manifesto sent to me by a person who knows what they are talking about on condition of anonymity.
It’s about clothes and it’s interesting and they have this to say:
“I think we all know by this point that fast fashion is a complete environmental omnishambles. But if we all stopped buying it, the millions of young women around the world who currently make it for us are going to lose their toehold on economic independence. Likely many will end up back in their home villages, unemployed, married off and mothers before their twenties. Which would make us pretty shit feminists. On top of which, the world population will then rise massively, and we’ll all be screwed environmentally anyway.
It’s complicated. But if we accept that we are all complicit in this, this monster of globalised exploitation we have created, then we also accept that we can actually do something about it.
Here are some very easy ways to start:
1. Leave your clothes hangers at the till. Plastic clothes hangers are pretty much only made by two companies globally. The type of plastic they are made from means most councils cannot recycle them, however both these companies have massive industrial recycling schemes. So as long as you leave the hanger behind it will be reused or recycled. Some retailers tried having take back schemes, but it turned out people just shoved any old crap in the collection boxes in store, because people are jerks. So unless you really really need another clothes hanger, please just leave it behind in store.
2. Be a vocal consumer. I have a very limited budget where I work to do cool things like work with disadvantaged women in Bangladesh or support NGO projects to remove plastic from the sea. If our customers started sounding off a bit more at AGMS and writing to our CEO etc, then there would be a bit more traction for me to get a bigger budget to do more. In the absence of David Attenborough narrating a documentary about every important issue, it would be nice if customers were asking for this stuff. Just please not in a dramatic, public way at ten to four on a Friday afternoon when I just want ten G&Ts and a lie down.
3. Don’t be tight. It costs more to source recycled polyester, or certified sustainable viscose. We can’t do it if you won’t buy it. Historically when retailers have done ranges such as Fair Trade cotton they’ve just tanked. I appreciate that some people are fighting just to make it through to the next pay day, but for the rest of us I get really narked when people won’t pay a couple of quid more for something that might help ensure their children and grandchildren won’t have to live in a post climate change world of fiery doom.
4. For the love of god do a service wash on your washing machine. If you look at the life cycle of a garment, the “consumer use” bit is a massive, massive part of the total energy use. One of the easiest ways to make it more efficient is to just do a service wash on your machine every month (cheapest way just run it empty on a high temp with white vinegar). This keeps the machine running efficiently so it uses less energy. And obviously yes it’s boring but tumble drying is the devil’s work, it uses loads of energy, damages clothes so they don’t last as long and apparently may also burn your house down.”
Informative AND amusing (my favourite bit was about people being jerks). Please, of course, share anything you want to add to this below. More later or tomorrow or as I have it. Putting these Eco Week things together has been weirdly time-consuming and there was an overwhelming response that all had to be read and sorted. It’s at times like this that I wish anyone wanted to do work experience with me. Or that I had gone on a fundraising round and had an office and an assistant.
THANK YOU to everyone who commented or emailed and my most huge and fulsome apologies if you have not been replied to promptly (or at all). I read them all and we are go this week.
There is still plenty of time to email me with your suggestions for interesting companies or best practices – firstname.lastname@example.org. The suggestions are broadly falling into a few categories: Heath, Beauty, Food, Clothes, Further Reading (by which I mean anything from documentaries and podcasts to Eco-devoted Instagram accounts).
very helpful, just put a vinegar wash on!
Hmmn, I’m not sure about the argument that if we don’t keep on buying crappy clothes women will be out of their crappy jobs? It’s like those people that say it’s better to have battery chickens because otherwise chickens will become extinct. The bottom line is that we need to buy less, and wash it less. Every time you put your polyester anything in the wash, microplastics go into the sea. A service wash isn’t going to stop that. Sorry to be a downer.
I am the author of this post. You are not a downer, you are, admirably, a realist. However I find very few people are inclined to suddenly implement an existence based on a bottom line of grimmest reality. But I have found that people can and will make positive steps forward if they know what to do, and I believe that maybe if enough of us do this then humanity will redeem itself.
The point I was making is that destroying our planet and economic growth have been, so far, sadly, inextricably linked. Unless we find a way to change this then stopping consumption will, at least in the short term, put people out of jobs. Battery hens are I imagine bred based on the supply and demand of battery eggs. Women in less economically developed countries tend not to have the luxury of family planning based on the prevailing economic climate.
The clothing industry is currently developing a test method to measure the scale of shedding from synthetic fabrics and ultimately this is a problem for the textiles industry to resolve. You are completely right that washing clothes less is better on a number of fronts, but we all have to wash things eventually so it makes sense that when we do, we do it as efficiently as possible.
This is super, thank you! Doing a vinegar wash now. I didn’t even know polyester, fleece and polypropelene were BAD until recently (I know, so obvious) so for (a bit crap) people like me, posts like this are really helpful. Also interesting to hear that writing to CEOs etc is in fact worthwhile. I fear that could open the floodgates for me on a range of different incendiary fronts.
Original author of the post here.
Firstly I very much like the sound of these incendiary fronts and feel that they should definitely be unleashed on the unsuspecting population. Consumer activism is totally worthwhile. Remember the customer is king/queen and all that brands are doing is supplying what we demand. So if you want something different, then speak up.
I would however advise against classifying things into GOOD and BAD. I hear that even gin has downsides. Synthetic fibres do have a number of admirable qualities such as using limited water in their production (unlike cotton), lasting forever without wearing out (unlike most natural fibres) being fairly easily recyclable. I generally advocate trying to make positive steps forward with whatever problem you are dealing with, rather than cancelling it completely and starting with a new problem. So in this case, if you need a synthetic garment then you could opt to buy a recycled or second hand one, and/or you could ask the brand you buy from what they are doing about synthetic fibre shedding or textiles recycling.
Jane Harrison says
Being of a certain age I avoid polyester, why is there so much of it? I am happily now in a position to pay a bit more for good quality, sustainable viscose, sustainably sourced cotton & bamboo. Great article, will do the service wash regularly from now on.
I think the first point in this post is just an excuse to help privileged people justify buying tat. In todays world, if you hold any kind of privilege, white, middle class, well off you should NOT be buying ANY fast fashion. You should be supporing businesses that are already doing the right thing, not propping up a system that means our purchases keep women in developing contries in exploitative work. Everything has to change, not little bits of flimflam here and there to make those of us who are comfortable feel comfortable in our ‘ethical’ choices. If anyone is reading this and wants a reality check I suggest following Aja Barber on Instagram.
Also use a guppy bag to wash your synthetics in.
Annabel Morgan says
Tallulah I completely agree. Well said.
I’m simply making the point that globalisation is a very complex issue and knee jerk responses will have both positive and negative effects.
I agree that capitalism is broken (or never worked at all) and I wholeheartedly agree that those who can, should support other ways of doing business. Ideally they would also inform mainstream retailers why they are taking their money away, to give them a driver for change and help ensure that we do not end up with a two tier market system where only the privileged can afford to have ethics.
If we are to act in a black and white manner then we have to be clear about what we are committing to. For example if we are NOT going to buy ANY fast fashion, how do we define the limits of fast fashion? I have been into garment factories producing for Primark on line 1, M&S on line 2, and high end American brands on line 3. Not every garment factory exploits its workers either, and believe me I have been in a fair few. I would agree that supply chains for pretty much all products involve some form of exploitation somewhere along their murky lines. And even the best “ethical” brands still generally have to use global sea freight, warehousing etc. It’s very difficult to step away from any form of consumption at all, to have a completely clear conscience.
Ultimately I agree with you that everything has to change, but all change starts with a first practical step forwards, and I am offering a few of those above. I have found that telling people they only have 12 years to reverse climate change causes them to either run away or stick their head in their sand. But give them a practical step to follow, let them feel good about it, and then give them another step to follow, and another, then change can and does happen.
Buy second hand!
Some very interesting points raised, and I do completely agree with Tallulah about fast fashion. Well said.
I have just ordered two tshirts from The Cotton Story, who sold themselves to me on honest pricing, beautiful products and ethical factories. Am trying hard to buy fewer clothes, make better purchases in general and buy second hand clothes for my ever-growing kids, but as my favourite tshirts from Hush have gone holey and a bit out of shape, I feel it’s okay to replace them with a brand that is sustainably and ethically run. Hope they are all that’s been promised…
Lesley Somerville says
My thanks to the original poster. Getting information from people with first hand knowledge is so empowering and with that knowledge of course comes the power to do something. I’m very encouraged by the will to do better. Like you said, we *just* need to now what ‘better’ actually is.
Again my perspective is a bit useless as I’m in the States where having a clothesline makes you a bit of a social pariah, but as we have a private balcony that is not under the thumb of a management association I’ve discovered that what really keeps me from abusing the tumble dryer is, paradoxically, to just chuck things in it for ten minutes after they’ve been on the drying rack all day. It knocks that stiff feeling out of the fabric without making me have to iron, it takes off that last little bit of dampness, and frankly it kills any spiders that are trying to occupy my sweaters, but it doesn’t commit the dryer to a whole hour-long cycle (or get our house all hot).
I’d be interested to know more about what constitutes fast fashion- obviously places like forever 21 and Primark… but what about stores such as Hush, Reiss, Jigsaw- clothes that seem better quality, but would they still it under that fast fashion umbrella?