We may not realize it, but the clothing choices we make can have a huge impact on the environment. On the one hand, this is kind of disturbing – as it means that our taken-for-granted shopping habits may be causing great harm to an ecosystem on the other side of the world. On the other hand, this is a liberating realization. We all have the power to make small, conscious decisions to ensure that we are buying clothing that is sustainable.

You may be thinking that conscious consumerism is time-consuming, boring, expensive, and generally inconvenient. That’s understandable. Many of us lead fast-paced lives, and we know what brands we like, so we want our shopping for clothes to be simple and straightforward. However, it’s also pretty easy to buy sustainable clothing online that is affordable, high-quality, and fashionable.

When we think long and hard about the consequences of our consumer decisions, it becomes clear why we should choose sustainable clothing. But first, it can be helpful to highlight the true cost of unsustainable brands. These brands might not hurt our wallets, but they can certainly cause harm elsewhere.

Unsustainable Clothing

‘Fast fashion’ involves taking the latest design trends and producing cheap pieces in those designs for mass consumption. This aspect of retail clothing is extremely unsustainable. This low-cost clothing is only meant to last for one season. The high turnover is what encourages consumers to visit stores like H&M, Zara, and Topshop frequently. Research shows that the average Australian buys 27 kilograms of new clothing every year­ – twice the global average of 13 kilograms.

One of the reasons fast fashion is unsustainable is that the majority of the textiles used are made of synthetic fibres. Textiles made of natural fibres can biodegrade, whereas those synthetic fibres do not. We now know that the latter, when washed or thrown into a landfill, shed thousands of microplastic particles. These kinds of particles constitute up to 30% of the 9.5 million tons of plastic polluting our oceans.

The effect of this on wildlife is severe. It is estimated that around 90% of seabirds have plastic in their stomachs. Marine animals also end up consuming these microplastics, leading to harmful changes in their reproductive and digestive systems. Joao de Sousa, marine project manager at the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Global Marine Program, argues:

“Solutions must include product and infrastructure design as well as consumer behaviour. Synthetic clothes could be designed to shed fewer fibers, for example, and consumers can act by choosing natural fabrics over synthetic ones.”

However, others think the problem goes much deeper than this. Alexandra Perschau, a campaigner at Greenpeace Germany, stresses:

“The whole fast fashion system is the problem…it's overconsumption. There are so many surveys out that indicate that consumers, be it in Asia, or in Europe, all say we have more than enough clothes in our wardrobes and yet we are buying more and more.”

Another crucial reason why fast fashion is unsustainable is that it requires using up large amounts of natural resources. Making the clothing that we buy requires land, water, and energy, and this mass production is also linked to increasing levels of carbon emissions, which drives climate change. 

If fast fashion is contributing to climate change, which is a major threat to the existence of wildlife and humans alike, then we desperately need to think about how we can shop in a way that is more sensible. The clothes on our back don’t need to depend on destructive practices. Luckily, there are plenty of sustainable clothing brands for men out there. They produce clothing that is designed to last.

5 Sustainable Brands to Keep on Your Radar

United by Blue

 

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  • uses organic textiles whenever possible, and for each product they sell, they remove a pound of trash from the world’s oceans and waterways.

Everlane

 

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  • prides themselves on their radical transparency, so customers can be confident in knowing that what they buy is of exceptional quality, has a low impact on the environment, and is produced in ethical factories.

Nudie Jeans

 

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  • is transparent about how they use only 100% organic cotton for their jeans. This means the cotton doesn’t depend on the use of insecticides and pesticides, which WWF highlights “has severe health impacts on workers in the field and on ecosystems that receive excess doses that run-off from farms.”

AG

 

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  • makes their jeans using Ozone Technology, a process that significantly cuts down on water consumption. AG is also committed to using eco-conscious fibers and has partnered up with charity: water that works to bring safe and clean drinking water to people in developing countries.

Patagonia

 

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Shopping consciously also means being aware of when sustainable clothing brands aren’t as sustainable as they would have us believe. As always, educating ourselves on these issues can be a powerful force for change.