EPISODE 68: 8 practical ways to keep being sustainable when the cost of living keeps rising.
- A report on sustainability indices in fashion
- How the impact per wear concept can help guide sustainable decision-making
- Practical tips for customers to shop sustainably
- The challenges of sustainability in today's fashion industry
- The use phase of a garment's life cycle
Welcome to the Fashion Unearthed podcast. If you need help navigating the fashion industry sustainably, you have come to the right place. I'm your host Belinda Humphrey and my hope is to simplify the fashion industry so that businesses can make the best decisions for people, planet and product.
Hello and welcome to episode 68 of the Fashion Unearthed Podcast. This episode was prompted by a little series that I'm doing on Instagram called Mythical Mondays, where I try my best to answer or respond to some of the common myths in the industry, which I'm still doing. So if you have your own myth, you would like debunked or my perspective head to Instagram at @belindahumphrey_and send me a message.
The idea came about when I was listening to an interview with a business owner on another podcast, and there was a lot of nuance missing in the conversation, a little bit of misinformation and skipping over details that should be discussed, in my opinion, to give a more balanced view. And I went into a bit more detail about my thoughts on that in my fortnightly newsletter, which you can sign up to at belindahumphrey.com. It reminded me that there is still a lot of great marketing in commerce happening in the industry, and no wonder customers are confused.
One of the questions or comments that I got last week from a person on Instagram was that they said they wanted to be more sustainable, but it's expensive. And in today's episode, I wanted to expand on that a little bit more with another report that came to light because I totally get this. The cost of living is putting a real strain on everyone, and sometimes it can feel all too hard from both a business owner and a customer perspective.
I wanted to draw on the same report amplifying misinformation, the case of Amplifying Misinformation - The Case of Sustainability Indices in Fashion that I mentioned in the last episode, and highlight that on average 10% of the lifetime climate impact of a garment can be attributed to the fibre production or the raw material phase, whereas the use phase accounts for roughly 22%. There's a much larger percentage of impact happening within that use phase. Adding to that, a peer-reviewed textile fibre, cradle-to-grave Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) study was recently published in The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment Titled Environmental impacts associated with the production, use, and end-of-life of a woollen garment. The study aimed to address the knowledge gap in cradle-to-grave research as the majority of wool LCAs at the moment focus only on the beginning of the supply chain, such as the farm and early stages of wool processing. This study also found that the number of times a garment is worn is the most influential factor in determining garment impacts in the present study. The total number of wears was estimated to be 109. However, if the garment was disposed of after only one season or 15 uses, this would result in a 5.8 to a 6.8 fold increase in environmental impacts and resource use.
The impact per wear is a term that explained this concept. It's essentially dividing the production impact or the CO2 emissions by the number of times an item is worn. The amplifying misinformation report gives the example that if a pair of jeans has a production impact of 11 kilos of CO2 emissions and they're worn 10 times, that's 1.1 kilos of CO2 per wear. If they have an impact of 20 kilos of CO2 emissions, but they are worn a hundred times, that's only 0.02 kilos of CO2 per wear. It goes on to say that in the second case, after a hundred wears, there's only one pair of discarded jeans to process, whereas in the first case, there are 10 pairs.
So the good news is there is great power in your hands rather than getting caught up deliberating over how a fibre type was grown. The recent fraud with organic cotton is a good reminder that certifications are not 100% perfect, and according to Veronica Bates Kassatly, the author of Amplifying Misinformation, there is no robust independent evidence that preferred materials such as organic cotton or responsible alpaca contribute to achieving either the SDGs, the sustainable development goals or the Paris Agreement. Switch your focus to this use phase first and then use that to decide on your fibre and garment type.
If you are a customer, what does that actually mean? Well, here are eight practical ways that don't cost any more money so that you can keep sustainability a focus. Firstly, buy as good quality as you can afford. For example, heavier fabrics will be more durable.
Secondly, consider what kind of business you are buying from businesses. Dropping new collections every five minutes and promoting halls are generally less concerned about product longevity. However, if this fits your price point at the moment, I'm not here to shame people. Buy something that is made well in a good quality fabric that fits well and will live in your wardrobe for a long time or, and this is relevant for kids able to be sold on easily. And if you do buy something and it shrinks, pills, or fades in the first couple of washes, don't buy from them again.
Number three, buy secondhand. You've got more chance of getting a higher quality item for less evidence that it's already lived one good life and has still got many lives left in it. And this is particularly good for kids' wear too.
Number four, wait before purchasing, have a little Pinterest board and look for items you continually save and can wear a number of ways easily without needing the help of a stylist.
Five, think about how you can repair the item, and if it's both physically and economically viable, meaning that repair needs to be possible on the item and the cost needs to be less than just repurchasing the item.
Number six, wash in cold water, not hot.
Number seven, line dry over tumble dry.
Number eight, wash only when needed. Items that aren't as close to the body don't need as much washing such as jeans, jackets, skirts and shirts. Also, items made of fabrics that naturally breathe won't hold onto an odour as much as synthetic ones. And remember, you can also spot clean items if you've just got a mark somewhere instead of washing the whole garment.
All of these tips not only reduce the use of electricity, but they have the added benefit of also making your clothes last longer. All fibres shed when washing, yes, even the natural ones, and that makes fabric thinner and there's abrasion through the washing cycle. So following those tips will help your items last longer and not get tatty. The goal is to maintain your items so that you prolong the need to repair or dispose of the items and get that impact per wear number down. And if you're a business owner, these are the situations you need to be designing for. This use phase should be something you are thinking about first when you're designing a product and we're testing it. Really think about how are you making it easy for your customer to care for your product or repair your product. Even simple things like are you putting cold wash and line dry on the care labels?
I hope that has made you feel more hopeful about how to keep being sustainable when energy material and shipping costs are going up. These are all simple things based on evidence and credible studies that although seem a bit boring, they're well within your control to actually make a measurable difference. As I said on Instagram, you don't need to be able to afford the latest mushroom handbag. Keep it simple.
I'd love to know what myths or ideas you have on sustainability. I'm still running Mythical Mondays, so you can send me your questions or ideas by emailing email@example.com or DM or message me on Instagram at @belindahumphrey_, and you can sign up for my monthly newsletter to get more of my perspective on the industry by heading to my website, belindahumphrey.com. And like always, you'll find the show notes and any links on the website in the podcast section. Thanks so much for listening. See you next time.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort is made to ensure that information is accurate at the time of recording, much like the fashion industry itself, this information may change.