On hectic mornings when you can’t seem to find anything to wear, you might feel inspired to pick up a whole new set of outfits the same day. This is especially high around this time of the year when events like Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Boxing Day await to feed our consumer high. But this mindset leads to the startling statistic that 40% of the clothes we purchase are infrequently (or never) worn.

As the documentary The True Cost revealsthe human and environmental cost of fashion is at an all-time high, from needlessly fast-paced production to unfair working conditions. The fashion industry is the second-most pollutive industry in the world, second only to oil, and it still contributes more to the world’s total carbon footprint than air travel, a staggering 10% to the aviation industry’s 2%. Plus, every single stage of the production process creates waste.

On average, we buy 60% more clothing now than we did in the year 2000, yet we hold onto these garments for half as long. Globally, this equates to a 400% increase in clothing consumption over the last two decades.

The takeaway here? We need to start changing our ways. By keeping the following steps in mind, we can work to decrease our environmental footprint and still look good while doing it.

Buy less, wear more

If you invest in high-quality pieces and extend their use from one year to two, it can reduce fashion-related emissions over the year by 24%. If you fear repeating outfits too much, style and layer the piece to get the most out of it.

Think twice before “donating” your clothes

The idea of donating our unwanted clothes sounds noble but the fact is that most unsold items still end up in landfills. Most of our clothes also consist of microfibers and plastics which make the decomposition process difficult. The clothes also often end up in dumping yards of developing countries. By getting rid of our clothes, we are not only harming the planet but dumping the problem onto other countries.

Thrift, rent or swap

In recent years, second-hand stores have really come into the spotlight. Your mom’s boyfriend jeans have made a comeback too and what better way to catch that style train than wear them? Not only do you get designers of a bargain but look great doing it.

Renting is also another great option to cut back on your environmental impact. Everything from shoes, bags and wedding dresses are available to hire. It’s perfect for occasions you know you won’t be repeating the outfit.

My sisters and I often swap our stuff when we don’t have time to run to the store. Most times we have items in great condition, but they’re just worn too often. Swapping gives us the feeling of wearing new clothes with the added gratitude of not paying for them!

Wash better

A P&G study found that almost 70 percent of people said that the reason they get rid of clothes is that the garment faded in colours, lost its shape, or started to look old. Correcting or improving cleaning habits can help increase the life of fast fashion items. Treating stains immediately with a stain removal pen, washing in cold water, using less detergent, drying on clothing racks and learning basic mending can all go a long way.

Hold ethical brands to their standards

Many brands promise sustainability and ethical labour practices but it’s not always true. In a recent episode of the Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj, a political satire show on Netflix, the comedian and commentator touched on the “greenwashing” tactics employed by fast fashion companies like Zara and H&M to make it seem like they’re more environmentally conscious than they really are. So, doing a bit more research about where our stuff comes from can help shrink our fashion footprint.

Zahra Khozema

Journalist at Truly Belong
Zahra is a Pakistani-Canadian journalist who’s currently living in the U.K. She has a BA in media production and a master's in journalism.

Zahra has written for platforms like CBC News, Brown Girl Magazine, Broadview Magazine, and Narcity Toronto. Her work often centres around topics related to social justice, culture, and travel. She enjoys fondling Spanish on Duolingo, practicing salsa moves in the shower, and talking to strangers on the subway.
Zahra Khozema