If you’ve ever encountered a paper straw or paid more for a plastic bag at the grocery store, you’ve already witnessed some of the steps industries are taking in becoming greener. While most consumers are aware of the importance of preventing waste from products such as paper and plastic, sustainability within the apparel industry is often less discussed.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, an average of 16.9 million tons of clothing was generated in 2019. In turn, 6.3 percent of clothing was collected as municipal solid waste (MSW) and thrown into landfills that same year.
Not only do these fabrics crowd landfills, they also secrete harmful greenhouse gases and dyes while taking over a century to decompose.
It's no question that the apparel industry’s effect on our environment is both large and highly impactful.
However, there have also never been more environmentally friendly alternatives available while shopping for apparel. Searching for sustainable clothing may seem complicated or overpriced, but the truth is going green is as simple as knowing where to start.
Keep it Local
Perhaps the easiest way to lead an eco-friendly lifestyle while shopping for apparel is to shop locally. When ordering from larger corporations, most products tend to reflect quantity versus quality. Shopping for apparel at larger companies also surrenders a certain amount of choice from consumers. With no ability to meet one-on-one with company personnel or witness the care and craft put into each product, customers are forced to blindly trust these large corporations. By supporting local businesses, customers have more access to the staff and facility they are choosing to trust. Details such as fabrics, dyes, vegan leather, and other eco-friendly choices can be more closely ordered and delivered. With a more precise focus on quality, these products will also ultimately last longer against wear and tear.
Avoid Fast Fashion
One of the biggest contributors to the large amounts of waste generated each year by apparel comes from companies that often practice fast fashion. Fast fashion is a term for apparel brands who produce mass amounts of cheaply made clothing. These products are meant to mimic the latest popular trends in fashion; however, due to the ever-changing nature of these trends, most of the garments are quickly forgotten and thrown away. Once thrown away, most of the cheap dyes and fabric used in the products secrete toxic chemicals and dyes into the environment. By avoiding these companies, consumers have the ability to reject the highly harmful and dangerous tactics used to create such large amounts of non-sustainable clothing.
Eco-friendly printing focuses on the inks and dyes used in printed fabrics in order to avoid high levels of toxicity. For example, eco-friendly printing commonly uses veggie and soy-based inks as an alternative to petroleum-based inks. Petroleum-based inks can sometimes leak volatile organic compounds, whereas veggie and soy-based inks are less harsh for the environment. The lower levels of toxicity also help to make eco-friendly printed fabrics easier to be reused and recycled. Focusing on using alternative, natural based-inks also helps to keep volatile organic compounds and other chemicals from contaminating local soil in the process of being recycled. While these details may seem small, the environmental long-term impact is immeasurable.