I grew up in the North-West of Europe, in the Netherlands to be precise, where capitalism and consumerism have been leading principles since the nineties. Me and my sisters must have shared over twenty barbies and every birthday and Christmas there’d be piles of gifts to unpack. Buying cheap clothing was the accompanying norm. I would go and buy clothes with my friends during school breaks. We’d have small budgets and want to buy a lot, so we’d only go to fast-fashion chains like H&M, Coolcat, Bershka and later Primark. We didn’t consider the quality of garments, or how often we would wear them. At the time, we didn’t know any better.
Over the past two decades, fast fashion changed the fashion industry to the monster it has become. Estimates are that between 1996 and 2012 the amount of clothes bought by Europeans grew with 40%, while they relatively spent the same budget. Over 30% of clothes in our wardrobe is not used and nearly 60% of all clothing ends up in incinerators or landfills within a year of production (Environmental Impact of the Textile and Clothing Industry EPRS 2019, NY-times 2018, Fixing Fashion 2019). We all know that the fashion industry is harmful. Including footwear, it accounts for more than 8% of global climate impact. The way we use and care for our garments has a big share in this, considering the use of water, energy and chemicals and the shedding of micro-plastics, when we wash our clothes. The industry’s climate impact is more than all the airline flights and maritime shipping combined. Aside from that, the textile industry is one of the largest polluters of chemicals globally, often dumping toxic chemicals from dying and textile treatments directly into rivers (CEO Fashion Agenda 2020, Measuring Fashion Quantis 2018, Deutsche Welle 2020). Let alone the social inequalities and abuse throughout the production chain.
Over the past years, my relation to my clothes has changed. I started to enjoy thrifting a lot and learned more and more about its positive aspects. Then I discovered sustainable brands that I liked and invested in some high quality pieces. As I’m becoming more educated on sustainable fashion, I’m starting to realize that this might be the key to disrupt the fashion industry: to change our relationship with our clothes. If we can learn to value clothes, we will realize their actual cost, grow willing to invest in them and take good care of them. We have to reevaluate our perception of clothing, understand the costs of what we wear and take our responsibility to change the industry.
We live in a time where every element of our day-to-day lives is being challenged in the face of climate change or other global problems. We have to change nearly every belief, habit and behavior that were once so normal to us. This can be overwhelming. Still, these are not the nineties anymore and we do know better. As with any big task: the key is to start somewhere. In this light, I will commit myself to the following and I hope you can join me on one, more or even all of these commitments.
… take good care of the clothes that I own.
… be mindful of the climate impact that taking care of my clothes might have and research ways of reducing this impact.
… rewear, restyle and repair clothes before buying new ones.
… share and swap clothes before buying new ones.
… only buy high-quality clothes, either secondhand or organic and sustainable.
… invest in fewer, better garments.
… keep up-to-date on sustainability in the fashion industry.
… try to inspire others by promoting sustainable fashion, sharing information and starting conversations.