We are all aware that our beautiful planet is literally choking on plastic. As the UN Environment Chief, Erik Solheim has stated, "we are on the edge of a plastic calamity." Our oceans are being littered with plastic to the extent that whales and sea birds are being washed up dead with stomachs full of plastic waste. It is heartbreaking to watch and what's worse is that all indications our that our platic consumption will continue to increase at alarming levels with production levels meeting 619 million tonnes by 2030. The message that consumers need to do something is starting to hit home as we try to use less and less plastic in our daily lives. So what about our clothing? What is its plastic impact and what can we do as consumers and retailers to make things better?
"we are on the edge of a plastic calamity."
First things first - fashion is one of the worst polluters out there, and a great deal of our wardrobes is actually made from plastic, so it doesn't take a genius to figure out that we, as fashion consumers, are contributing to the plastic problem. In fact according to the recent Ellen McCarthur Foundation report, clothes release half a million tonnes of microfibres in to the oceans each year - the equivalent to 50 million plastic bottles. The problems are several fold. Firstly is the abundance of cheap materials favoured by fast fashion brands - these materials are made of plastic which means when they end up in landfill as cheap clothes invariably do (over 200 million items go to landfill per year in the UK alone) they take more than a lifetime to biodegrade. Secondly to keep costs down further fashion brands mix different man made fibres together which means they cannot be broken down and recycled. Perhaps most worrying is the issue of the shredding off of microfibres from clothing in the wash cycle. These microfibres cannot easily be removed and plastic particles from our clothes are now found in our drinking water, our food supply and even our own bodies. As yet the medical effects are unknown but it's not a pleasant thought.
"Clothes release half a million tonnes of microfibres in to the oceans each year - the equivalent to 50 million plastic bottles."
So what to do about it? How can we address the plastic problem in fashion? As an ethical fashion retailer we take it very seriously. We work with brands who come up with innovative solutions to tackle the issue. First are those that produce plastic free clothing, looking back to natural fibres that biodegrade. Organic cotton is something that we have championed for years and there is a reason that the likes of Beaumont Organic and Kowtow's 100% organic cotton ranges are so popular. The materials are soft, luxurious and hang beautifully off the body. Yes they are going to be more expensive than cheaper manmade alternatives, but they will last you years longer - making the so called cheaper option false economy.
Secondly, we work with brands who are embracing a circular economy approach - whereby they use recycled materials and offer customers to recycle their own clothes once they are finished with them. Fittingly, considering that the oceans are often the biggest casualty of plastic pollution, our swimwear options are almost entirely made from recycled plastics. Apricoss and new brand Stidston both use recycled polymide for their swimsuits which not only provide reuse for plastic waste but also turns out to be an innovative and high performance material. The same applies to our activewear collection from Satva - recycled polyester leggings and tops that will withstand the sweatiest of hot yoga classes.
Veja, one of the most successful eco brands around uses wild rubber from the amazon instead of plastics in their sneakers. Not only does this mean no plastic, it also means they are able to provide their suppliers with sustainable livelihoods and fair trade wages for the supply of their traditionally tapped rubber - a heritage method that is now being safeguarded for future generations.
As well as being prudent about our new fashion choices - we need to really take into consideration what we do with our existing wardrobes in order not to add to the problem. First we need to ask ourselves if we really can't use said item anymore. Can it be fixed or altered to make it more wearable? We need to get our sewing kits out and start using our creativity when it comes to upcycling. Secondly, if we really feel we need to get rid then think carefully about how you do so. Selling your things on resale sites will not only ensure they find a new home that will make use out of them but will also make you a little extra cash (and don't we all need that at the moment). So many charities are looking for second hand clothing, so you could just donate. Or how about swapping with some of your friends. You'd be surprised at how rewarding this can be. Finally, when it comes to washing our clothes, we need to wash synthetic fibres less. You can also now buy micro filter bags that will collect 99% of shredded fibres so that they don't end up going back into the water system. Simple but effective.
There is so much we can do. We're adapting our recycling habits in the home, avoiding single use plastic in the supermarket so let's start actioning the same mindset when it comes to fashion, and putting pressure on the big brands to do the same. The future lies in all our hands.