For quite a long time when I would think of sustainability, climate change, and the environment, reduction of plastic consumption would come to mind. As far as I can remember plastic has always been a known cause of environmental problems because it’s nonbiodegradable and it produces toxic fumes when burnt, we all probably know that. What fascinated me was finding out that clothing had an impact on the environment, the debate continues as to how bad the industry is compared to the oil and gas industry.

The problem with the clothing industry it seems is the mass production and consumption of clothing and a quick disposal rate which has coined the term Fast Fashion. In simple terms, I’m sure most of you, or someone you know, owns clothing from Zara, Primark, H&M, New Look, River Island, Boohoo, Missguided, Pretty Little Thing to name a few. These brands bring the latest fashion trends from the runway and offer them to us at a low price. An example is shown below, the chunky Alexander McQueen sneakers cost about £365/ ZMW5790/ P5120 however Primark sold a very similar version for only £8/ ZMW126/ P112, which sold out quite fast. It works for us as consumers because on average, when we’re about to make a purchase dopamine “happy drug/chemical” is released in anticipation of a reward and when we see a discount or the word “sale” it spikes up (Dahl, 2017).
Source: Murphy, 2019


Source: Murphy, 2019
What the example above illustrates is that, as a rationale shopper who cannot afford the originals but admires the look of the sneaker, it’ll make logical sense that you go for the cheaper option. How does this impact the environment? The increase in demand for these products results in mass production in factories that are often set up in countries with less stringent environmental regulations. The factories release toxic fumes into the air containing greenhouse gases, they spill chemicals and dyes into rivers and one other major problem is that a lot of water is required in the process of growing cotton for our clothes.
Tullahan River contaminated with dyes
There are some opposing views as to whether the clothing industry is a major concern and if we should focus on more pressing matters. I can see where they are coming from but I think looking at our consumption behaviour as individuals is a way in which we can help “save the environment”, placing taxes on heavily polluting industries can only be done by our governments which means we sit and watch by the sidelines. I did not give any facts and figures as I just wanted to give an overview of what I have learned from my own research, I don’t remember exact figures but they were convincing enough to make me believe that I had to make some changes.
It is also important to note that these brands are trying to produce more ethically by sourcing their fabrics in a more sustainable manner, for instance, Zara has a Join Life collection and H&M has a Conscious line. Whether its a case of greenwashing is hard to tell but I guess they are trying. There are other purely ethical brands like Everlane, Arket, Reformation, etc but they are quite pricey.
A few tips on what you can do to make a change without spending loads of money on ethical and sustainable brands:
1. Don’t shop for the sake of it. Appreciate what is already in your closet and make the most of it instead of buying an outfit for every occasion. I personally use Pinterest on days when I can’t think of outfits to wear. I simply type in the item of clothing I want to wear e.g. black t-shirt and a bunch of suggestions come up. Sometimes I simply search ‘winter outfits/ going out outfits’ and I pick the ones that match the clothing I already own.
2. If you do feel like shopping or “treating yourself”, invest in versatile and classic pieces that go with multiple outfits finding clothing to wear will be so much easier. Look at capsule wardrobes for women and men.
3. Buy quality clothing, ‘cheap is expensive’, if you buy something cheap and it loses it shape or colour quickly then you’ll probably keep repurchasing the item and in the long term, you’ll realise that saving up for a better quality option could have been cheaper.
4. Buy from charity shops. I personally still struggle with this because I can’t always find my style and I don’t like the musty smell of the clothes but I’m trying to give it a shot.
Resources to find out about fast fashion and its environmental impact:
Building a capsule wardrobe:
True Cost documentary on Netflix
Stacey Dooley’ Fashion’s Dirty Secrets documentary on BBC iPlayer
NB: If you are a student at Nottingham Trent University you can take the Sustainability in Practice course on Clothing to find out more information.


-This blog post was written by Luwi Kapepa, a student in the Nottingham Business School who completed the Clothing theme of the Sustainability in Practice Certificate 2018-19.  

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