These are the most planet-damaging fashion items you can buy

These are the most planet-damaging fashion items you can buy

Fashion staples such as jeans and a white cotton shirt are found in many a wardrobe, but did you know that some of these classics are actually really bad for the environment?

We take a look at the damage they’re doing and what alternatives you can choose instead.

Jeans: Takes 20,000 litres of water to produce one pair

Could your favourite blue jeans be the most damaging fashion item on the planet? Quite possibly.

A single pair of cotton jeans uses between 10,000 and 20,000 litres of water to produce. It doesn’t stop there – add in the huge doses of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, plus the toxic dyes used to finish he denim, and the production of one of our most loved clothing items has a troubling impact on the planet.

With over 2.2 billion pairs of jeans sold globally every year, it’s without a doubt one of the most damaging items of clothing sold. While some companies are taking steps towards making greener blue jeans, it’s a small fraction of the business doing so and much more needs to be done.

What to wear instead

According to the International Fabric Institute Fair Claims Guide jeans last between 2-3 years, but if you look after them, they can last longer. Choose the highest quality you can afford and don’t wash them every time you wear them.

However, if you really need to treat yourself, look out for sustainable brands such as Nudie jeans (below), who don’t just produce jeans sustainably but also offer lifetime repairs to ensure your jeans will literally last forever. A single pair of their jeans also uses 210 litres of water in the manufacturing process, a lot lower than the regular 20,000 litres!

Sustainable jeans from Nudie

Alternatively, you could try Khadi denim, a much more sustainable and ethical fabric. Khadi denim is hand-spun, hand-dyed, and hand-woven by artisan communities from across villages of India. While it’s more expensive than traditional denim, it definitely doesn’t have the environmental impact regular denim has. Try Varana’s cullottes, currently £285.

White shirt: Creating high emissions

A white shirt has long been a classic for both men and women, but did you know that buying just one white cotton shirt produces the same amount of emissions as driving 35 miles in a car. It takes about 700 gallons to produce enough cotton for one shirt, and while cotton isn’t man-made, it has become one of the most unsustainable crops on the planet. For example, in Uzbekistan, cotton farming used up so much water from the Aral Sea, that it dried up after just 50 years.

What to wear instead

Choose organic cotton. While it isn’t 100% sustainable it does use 91% water than regular cotton and it’s grown without the use of nasty pesticides, which means it doesn’t pollute water. It also produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions. To ensure the cotton you’re buying meets approved standards, look out for bodies such as the Organic Content Standards (OCS) and Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). We love Albaray’s oversized white cotton shirt, £79, which uses GOTS certified cotton.

Other fabrics to look out for include hemp, linen, Ecovero™ viscose or recycled polyester. Everlane has a great selection of stylish linen shirts (below), from £84, that are not only eco-friendly but also cool to wear on hot days.

Everlane linen shirt

Swimwear: Adding to the microplastics problem

Your favourite bikini or one piece may be great for swimming, but it’s not so good for the planet. Swimwear is usually made with harmful synthetic fabrics like nylon, polyester, and spandex. These fabrics not only cause harm to the planet with how they’re produced, but also release micro-plastics into water when washing, causing a double blow to the planet.

What to wear instead

It’s taken a while, but more brands are slowly producing sustainable swimwear, and incorporating more eco-friendly materials such as ECONYL, hemp, and recycled nylon into their products.

OHOY swimwear, for example, create their stylish swimwear from plastic and fishing nets collected from the ocean. Cornish brand Finisterre not only produce sustainable swimwear (which is also reversible so can get twice the wear) but also wetsuits from natural rubber and recycled plastics.

Finisterre recycled plastic reversible bikini

Woolly jumper: Unkind to the planet and sheep

While a woolly jumper is a mainstay of most Brit’s wardrobes, it’s not the kindest or environmentally option. Sheep on wool farms aren’t always looked after, due to the methane sheep release, plus the land needed for farming, it’s not very eco-friendly either.

What to wear instead

Thankfully there are lots of wool alternatives that can keep you warm and are kind to the planet and animals. Alligne’s collection of knitwear for example is made from recycled polyester, while Bare Fashion favourite Sarah Regensburger (below) uses organic cotton for her cosy knits.

Sarah Regensburger sustainable cotton jumper

Bright clothes: Poisoning rivers

Dopamine dressing has been the rage for some time and while brightly coloured clothing can make you feel happier, it certainly doesn’t put a smile on the planet’s face. Sadly, textile dyeing is one of the most polluting aspects of the fashion industry.

The cheapest way to get rid of toxic chemicals from dyes is to dump them into nearby rivers and lakes, which not lowers oxygen levels in the water, killing plants and animals, but is also harmful to humans. Chemicals consumed in the water build up over time leading to cancers and other acute illnesses.

What to wear instead

If you want to add some conscious colour into your life, look out for either natural, sustainable dyes or low impact dyes.

Natural dyes: These literally come from plant-based materials but can’t always be certified as sustainable as some chemicals made be used in the manufacturing process.

Low impact dyes: These dyes contain no harmful chemicals and are certified free of harmful substances by the OEKO-TEX Standard 100. They also require less rinsing so use less water.

Some clothing manufacturers may also practice closed loop dyeing, which means nearly all inputs from water to chemicals are recaptured and recycled to be used over and over.

Silverstick, who make stylish leisure wears, uses low-impact dyes in all their items. Both their dyes and dye houses are certified to be non-toxic by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and Oexo-Tex.

Silverstick low impact dyes


>> Related blog: Is it ever acceptable for vegans to buy second-hand animal-based clothing?

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