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The 2021 Guide To Sustainable Fashion

Kim Kim 06 Nov 2020 The 2021 Guide To Sustainable Fashion

— The beautiful images in this blog come from sustainable fashion label J-LAB3L. Shop the collection here »

Nowadays you hear it everywhere: life just has to be more sustainable. We all simply live far beyond the carrying capacity of the earth - and this has to change. But what does that have to do with your wardrobe you might be wondering? What’s the problem with those clothes? What role does the coronavirus play in this? And where should you even start?

Tip: lees deze blog ook in het Nederlands!


In this article I'll tell you how you can make more sustainable (and very easy!) choices for your wardrobe. Not only this, but also the following:

Why sustainability also counts in your wardrobe

Already halfway through this year, we reached Earth Overshoot Day again. While we expected that day to fall somewhere at the end of July, the extreme impact of the coronavirus on our consuming and travel behaviour caused it to get pushed back until August 22nd. 

Even though we gained 3 weeks on that compared to last year, the fact remains that from that day on, we had already used up all the raw materials that our earth can actually produce and process in waste every year. We then started living on reserves that we borrow from the future.

And did you know that the Netherlands already reached its overshoot day on May 3rd this year? That means that if everyone in the world lived like us Dutchies, the latest Earth Overshoot Day would've fallen on May 3, 2020! Truly alarming as every year this date comes earlier and earlier.

When was your countries' Overshoot Day? Unless you're living in Guatemala, Egypt, Cuba, Nicaragua, Iraq, Ecuador or Indonesia - your country too has reached its limits:

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country overshoot day

What if you already ‘live quite consciously’?

Maybe you have already tackled your travel behavior (shoutout to that flight shame that makes you plant your behind in a train seat more and more often). Perhaps you are already eating more plant-based, more local and seasonal. You may already save a lot of energy in your house, run entirely on green, renewable energy sources or even live super energy efficient, assisted by smart household appliances. Perhaps you consciously shop as packaging-free as possible and you already very rigorously separate the waste that you do produce?

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ben je al milieubewust bezig?

Yeah, maybe you are doing quite well. But then you suddenly get a "Yes, but how do you deal with clothes?" thrown at you.

Okay, we'll play: so what about clothes?

The fashion industry is so polluting (and unfair)

The fashion industry, because of its huge production chains and ridiculously energy-intensive production, accounts for about a tenth of all greenhouse gases we emit. That is more than all aviation and sea shipping combined! From the colossal amounts of water used in the leather industry, to the production of silk or non-organic cotton, to the tons of chemicals needed - our earth is simply running out.

In addition to this, the lives of the people in the clothing industry (farmers, factory workers) and the animals (for their fur or skin, or to end up as an ingredient in cosmetics) are often downright pitiful. In a ruthless drive for profit maximization, they are incredibly exploited by the industry.

Fast fashion on steroids: the frequency of new collections is flying up and prices are falling. Buy more, replace faster. The result is a thriving but consequently damning billion-dollar industry and waste dumps full of clothing that has barely been worn. 'Fun' fact: every second, an amount of clothing comparable to the contents of a garbage truck is burned or dumped. It costs so much, but it is worth next to nothing.

Also read:

In the meantime, our colleague Ineke is working hard on a bundle of articles surrounding working conditions in the clothing industry and why the counterpart of fair fashion is so incredibly important. From the history of fast fashion, the history and impact of slavery and colonialism, child labor and oppression of women and environmental racism, but also surrounding what fair fashion means, what meaningful certifications are and what they actually mean.

The impact of corona on the clothing industry

How wrong the current system is is again painfully exposed by the corona crisis. During the outbreak, factories came to a halt, supply of raw materials and semi-finished products ceased, and now that the world isn’t buying new clothing en masse, the clothing industry is completely paralyzed. To avoid warehouses full of unsold clothes, fashion companies are now increasingly canceling their orders with manufacturers.

With bankruptcies lurking in all areas, the money has suddenly disappeared. In low-wage countries, textile workers are fired without compensation. But the hard truth is: as unfortunate, unsafe and unhealthy as the clothing industry often is - millions of people in the poorest countries and their families are completely dependent on it.

Perhaps when reading this piece, a radical idea will start to develop with you. What if we decide to do it completely differently?

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The 2021 Guide To Sustainable Fashion

— The beautiful images in this blog come from sustainable fashion label J-LAB3L. Shop the collection here »

The solution

It all intertwines. Once you are aware of all the misery caused by the (fast) fashion industry, chances are that you no longer want to fund it with your heard earned money. Fortunately, this is now paving the way for more sustainable, fair production systems. It is an opportunity for investing in the right thing: on better paid and safer jobs throughout the fashion industry. Passionately world changing companies that want to tackle things better, just like us, are sprouting up everywhere. The amount of fair chain brands and vegan companies is growing at a rapid pace. This is the future.

As our own seller Marlieke (Wolf and Storm) put it nicely this week:
 

"That you are daring to make a difference in times like these is very admirable. It’s heartwarming that in addition to your own problems in this day and age, you are also thinking about women in dark sewing sweatshops, animals in miserable conditions in the name of fashion and our earth that has received a major blow in recent decades. Your vote is more important than ever, because it has become painfully clear in recent weeks that these companies can make the difference if they are forced to do so. If there weren't people like you, sweat shop orders wouldn't even be paid by big clothing chains, and thousands of garment workers would again be short-lived. In recent years, a large group of people has made a huge difference and fortunately, more and more honest brands have emerged. Let's make sure that there is only going to be more and that when this hysteria is over, fair and less becomes the new normal.”


But watch out:

Perfectly sustainable doesn't exist

If you've read articles like this from me before, you've probably heard me say the following. While I fully applaud every new fair brand or produced product that exploits neither humans nor animals and that has been created with significantly less harmful environmental impact, my enthusiasm does not come without an important warning.

The production of clothing is of course never completely sustainable: to make clothing, (depending on what you choose, to a greater or lesser extent) land, water, energy and all kinds of chemicals are needed. The cultivation and processing that is necessary to get from fiber to garment have a certain impact on the environment. Just like any other product you buy, whether or not you use it for years or put it in your mouth to eat for a one time hit of happiness. First it has to be made, then you (hopefully) use it up and then you throw it away. That process is inextricably linked to human life; almost automatically un-environmentally friendly. But it is not like you cannot have a positive influence on this.

Because, whenever you buy something new, you can always make more sustainable choices within this decision. Recycled materials or fibers, materials sourced locally in Europe and materials processed with fewer chemicals, pesticide-free and grown and processed with as little water as possible: there are absolutely more environmentally friendly choices to be made. Shop Like You Give a Damn offers these kinds of fashion and cosmetics products. For anyone who wants to do better.

So if you don't really need something, consider not buying it. It saves unnecessary, negative impact. That is why we say: buy with compassion. As little as possible. But always vegan, fair and as sustainable as you can.

But how? Like this:

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fair fashion sustainable fashion duurzame fairtrade vegan kleding
— The beautiful images in this blog come from sustainable fashion label J-LAB3L. Shop the collection here »

7 tips for a more sustainable wardrobe

Yes, I promised you tips at the beginning of this article. After all, that’s what you’re here for! Following the next tips, you and your wardrobe will kick off this fall or spring cleaning of 2021 sustainably!

1. Fall or spring cleaning - Marie Kondo style

Okay, okay, I confess: I've also seen the Netflix series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. I just love how she lights up when something unmistakably 'sparks joy'. To my great amusement, Stephan is now organising his drawers according to her sweet instructions. And to be fair: she has a point. Minimalism gives peace. You may have some spare time here and there in these crazy quarantine times. And now it is officially spring. An excellent time to undertake a major spring cleaning / clearance session!

Clear out your wardrobe. Keep only what you wear, what you only occasionally need for special occasions and / or what simply puts a smile on your face. Who knows what treasures you’ll find. And which items that you can give up surprisingly easily? Give it away, take it to a charity shop, sell it or put it in the textile container if you really can't do anything with it anymore. But do try to give them a second life.

Please note: the Dutch companies behind the textile bins are asking everyone to temporarily not throw clothing in their containers. The trade in used textiles has also come to a halt and this waste stream (which normally still contains good money) is now accumulating at a fast pace. A story for another time ??

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2. Buy less, and more thoughtfully

Elaborating on Marie’s philosophy: embrace minimalism in your purchasing behavior. As I mention under “There’s no ‘true’ sustainable”: just be critical of what you (think you) need. Don’t launch into a purchase impulsively, but rather wait a couple of days with it. Do you still think it is a must-have? And did it really fit that beautifully?

And of course, just like when you were younger, do find the fun of saving for something you really want. Make sure to look past fleeting fashion trends and focus on what you really need and / or what you feel absolutely fantastic about - something you'll wear dozens of times, hopefully for many years to come. Especially if you know that this item will pair well with items already in your closet. Who knows, you might accidentally build your own capsule wardrobe!
 

3. Be critical: choose only fair, more sustainable and vegan

When you do buy something new, choose an item that has been made with love. That not only looks beautiful, but also carries a beautiful story with it. That's kinder to our fellow human beings, kinder to the other animals, as well as kinder to the earth. I notice that I have started to enjoy these kinds of items myself, which feel more precious than the cheaper 'disposable' items that I used to buy when I was younger. Fortunately, you can find these kinds of items in all price ranges nowadays.

Don't you know where to start? If you shop within the Shop Like You Give a Damn collection, you’ll see that items can meet up to 14 social and environmental criteria. Be sure to check them out, they will help you filter out the issues that are close to your heart. This way you can shop stylishly, ethically and with peace of mind!


4. Fast fashion, slow fashion

Don’t get distracted by the newest trends. You don't have to have the latest of the latest to look fantastically stylish. In fact, if you develop your own, timeless style that the rest of the people in an average street don’t possess, you’ll be sure to make an impression. Dutch fair fashion queen Marieke Eyskoot said it so beautifully: "Buy what you want, rather than what you see."

Fill your wardrobe in such a way that you will still be walking in it in a year, five years, hell, ten years time! Let it grow with you, dress it up, find your signature style. Slow fashion is more durable, more powerful and, if you invest in real quality, ultimately also better for your wallet.
 

5. Take good care of your clothes & repair them

Not only does the making and transport of a garment to your home have an impact on the environment: your choices as an owner also have an effect. Taking good care of your pieces makes a world of difference. This way you can stretch your garment to last a very long time - relatively even resulting in less emissions.

For example, wash only if it's necessary and when a day of hanging out from your window, balcony or garden isn’t enough to air and freshen up your clothes. Feel free to turn your laundry a bit colder and preferably don’t use an aggressive detergent or fabric softener. Leave that dryer - and instead let your laundry air dry.

All is not lost if a button pops off somewhere or if you have worn a hole through it. You can easily repair your old or damaged clothes yourself or, if you don’t have the time or know-how: a local tailor (#SupportYourLocals!). Shoes and bags: same story. Just a little effort and you can enjoy this beautiful item for much longer!

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kleding goed verzorgen en repareren
 

6. Renting isn’t just for flats and cars

Do you have a special occasion where you want to show off your most radiant self, but is it also one that unfortunately requires an outfit that you will definitely not have the opportunity to wear more often? Then consider renting a nice outfit! In this case that’s the most environmentally friendly choice you can make, and it saves your money. Bonus: this way you can show up to every special occasion in a different, snazzy outfit!
 

7. Second-hand is now called vintage - and is totally hip

Along the same line of thought: you can also opt for a pre-loved item for both special and non-special occasions. First of all, going for something you already have in your closet is always a great idea. But you also don't always have to supplement your collection with something new. You can search through vintage stores, clothes swap apps, markets or charity stores both on and offline these days - depending on how much effort you put in (it can indeed be some detective work), there are some real treasures out there.

This way you can save (sometimes for next to nothing) a few precious items from that aforementioned garbage truck that pours a mountain of (un)worn clothing into a waste dump every second, no new raw materials have to be put into a new garment and you have something unique. Triple awesome!