10 ways to become a sustainable fashion consumer

9 Feb, 2021

Alacoque McAlpine, a lecturer in supply chain management in the School of Marketing at TU Dublin, has some practical tips to help you create a more sustainable wardrobe.

Modern consumers are more aware of the environmental and human costs of their wardrobes. Surveys in Europe and the US show that consumers would like to buy more sustainable clothes - and are willing to pay a little extra too.

But, let's face it; most of us don't even know what 'sustainable' means anymore. According to Edited, a London based retail analytics company, the number of clothes described as 'sustainable' has quadrupled among fashion brands in the US and UK in the last four years. 

We are being bombarded with messages about organics and recycled fibres, environmental certifications, vegan, eco-conscious collections while the same fashion brands continue to tell us, that garments are disposable and we need a new outfit every week. The message is false and contradictory. Unlike food labels such as ‘free-range’ or ‘organic’, which are regulated and carry penalties for misappropriation, ‘sustainable’ is not a regulated term so companies are free to attach it to anything.

From RTÉ's Dirty Laundry podcast, FAQs and sustainable fashion tips and tricks with host Tara Stewart and guests Síofra Caherty, and Taz and Geraldine from Sustainable Fashion Dublin (recorded with a live audience in the Mutiny Theatre, Dublin in 2019)

In fact, the fashion industry is becoming less sustainableEpitomised by the multinational retail chains, it relies on mass production, low prices and large volumes of salesLittle progress has been made on improving garment workers' rights or reducing fashion's environmental impact - and the sector is growing at such a pace that its impact on the planet is actually worsening.

Thanks to fashion companies, consumers believe recycling clothes will help, but modern garments are often made of multiple fibres and heavily embellished, which makes recycling extremely complicated. More than half of the clothing given to charity shops and textile recyclers ends up in landfill or incinerators. More alarmingly, microplastics which are released when we wash syntenic fibres such as polyester, nylon and acrylic are released into our oceansrivers and are found in our food chain

From RTÉ 2fm's Louise McSharry show, Sustainable Fashion Dublin's Geraldine Carton on how to avoid fast fashion

Retailers have been leading the conversation on sustainability and providing a lot of misinformation. The European Commission has launched a consultation requiring companies to back up statements about the carbon footprint of their products. In November 2020, the UK's Competition and Markets Authority began an investigation of products and services making 'eco-friendly' assertions. In the meantime, consumers can empower themselves with information and through small behavioural changes reduce fashions impact. It is easier than ever to indulge our passion for fashion without leaving a massive carbon footprint behind. 

Here are 10 ways to to make your wardrobe a little more Sustainable

(1) Surround yourself with inspiration 

Fill your Instagram feed with people and brands who will inspire you to live your best sustainable life. You may wish to shop ethically, but your good intentions will lose momentum if your feed is full of influencers promoting fast-fashion outlets. Instagram is full of inspiring people and businesses who are doing things differently, and seeing these is really encouraging. Check out Environmental EadaiFuture DustLucy Siegle, Venetia LaMannaAja BarberThe Right ProjectSophie Benson and Kellie Dalton.

(2) Unsubscribe

Take the time to unsubscribe from fast fashion emails. It will help stop you mindless scrolling and over-consuming.

From RTÉ Lifestyle, Jennifer Zamparelli on sustainable fashion

(3) Buy less and wear your clothes for longer 

Vivienne Westwood said it best: 'buy less, choose well, make it last'. Choose high-quality pieces that you absolutely love and ones you know you'll keep forever.  When buying something, ask yourself 'will I wear this item 30 times?'  If the answer is yes, buy it. But you'd be surprised how many times you will say no. Livia Firth, the founder of Eco-Age and executive producer of the True Costbegan the #30Wears campaign to end the culture of buying a cheap outfit and only wearing it once. She wants us to "re-engage with the clothes we wear, thinking of them as investments rather than disposable, easy come, easy go pieces."

(4) Repair before you replace

Small rips, holes and missing buttons can easily be fixed. Learn how to alter, repair, upcycle and repurpose your clothes at the Rediscovery CentreAlternatively, get to know your local alterations shop and cobbler.

(5) Read the label

One of the best ways to ensure your purchase will be good for both wallet and environment in the long-term is to check the fabrics. As well as releasing micro-plastics, oil-based synthetic materials do not decompose. Opting for natural, biodegradable fabrics is the most sustainable option. Good materials include organic cotton, tencel, linen, recycled polyester & recycled nylon. Avoid polyester, nylon, spandex and acrylic.

From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Petula Martyn reports on a sustainable fashion store in Limerick.

(6) Do your research

The GoodOnYou.eco app rates fashion, jewellery and footwear brands on environmental impact, supply chain labour conditions and animal welfare. Download the app to discover cool ethical brands and to see how your favourite brands measure up.

(7) Buy sustainable pieces

Gone are the days when sustainable fashion choices meant itchy hemp knickers or over-priced linen trousers. Dozens of slow fashion brands have emerged in the last decade that are dedicated to ethical and sustainable practices. As a result, today's ethical brands are making affordable, size-inclusive sustainable products for the most dedicated fashionistas. Some of my favourites include ReformationMother of PearlTwoThirdsNinety PercentEcoalfPatagonia,  Asket Little Green Radicals , PitupiMate the LabelGirlfriend Collective

(8) Buy vintage

As well as being an easy sustainable option buying second-hand, upcycled and vintage clothing allows consumers a new sense of individuality that you cannot find on the high street. For consumers who don't have time to trawl the charity shops, there are plenty of online retailers selling pre-loved clothes, discounted high end, vintage and more. Check out ThiftifyDublin Vintage FactorySiopellaVestiaire CollectiveDepopSelfridges Resellfridges and Cos Resell

From RTÉ Lifestyle, a report on Sustainable Fashion Dublin

(9) Green your laundry

Greenpeace has reported that laundering accounts for 60 to 80% of a garment's total environmental impact. They suggest reducing washing temperature, washing at full load, avoiding tumble-drying and purchasing eco-friendly fibres. Invest in a Guppy baga mesh laundry bag that slips into your washing machine and prevents shredded microplastics from getting into our water systems.

(10) Rent your clothes

Owning clothes is so last year. Fashion rental is having a moment and not just for event wear. Where once people only rented formal wear for a special occasion, companies are now renting everyday clothing, handbags, shoes and accessories for one-off fees or via low-cost subscription. Rental offers a solution for those of us who don't want to invest heavily in clothes for a few wears but want to keep up with the trends. Many of the rental platforms allow consumers to share their pieces, thus helping them to contribute to the circular economy. Check out: The Nu WardrobeBorrower BoutiqueDesigner RoomCovetRag Revolution.

Alacoque McAlpine is a lecturer in supply chain management at the School of Marketing at the College of Business at TU Dublin. This article was originally published by RTÉ Brainstorm in December 2020.