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What Is Sustainable Fashion, And Why Does It Matter?

What Is Sustainable Fashion, And Why Does It Matter?

When we think about trying to be more environmentally friendly, there are a few things that immediately come to mind, such as recycling and using clean energy. However, we don’t often think about the clothes that we wear. Do the clothes we wear even have an impact on the environment? As it turns out, they do, and it’s BIG. There are many environmental consequences associated with the fashion industry of today, but the two largest issues come from water misuse and pollution.


Water Misuse

  • Did you know the fashion industry is the second largest consumer of water and generates, on average, nearly 20% of the world’s waste water
  • The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that within the fast fashion industry--meaning clothing created without sustainability in mind--it takes an average of 3,781 liters (998.8 gallons) to create one pair of jeans. 
  • The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that the fashion industry uses 93 billion cubic meters of water. To give you a little context on how astronomical that number really is, Lake Superior contains around 12,232 cubic kilometers of water. Essentially, the fashion industry wastes the same amount of water as if you drained and refilled Lake Superior8,000 times.


  • Every time you wash your clothes, tiny bits of the material your clothing is made out of separates and washes down the drain with the water. These tiny bits are called microfibers, and they don’t disappear just because they’ve washed down the drain. They remain in the water as it travels through pipes, out into the rivers and streams, before eventually ending up back in the pipes.
  • Orb Media conducted a study regarding the presence of microfibers in drinking water, and they found the presence of plastic-based microfibers in 80% of the water sampled over five different continents. This means much of the world is drinking in tiny bits of plastic with each sip of water, including the U.S. While water in the U.S. is filtered, it is estimated that only half of the microfibers present in water are filtered out before they reach the tap.
  • Because of the rapid change in modern-day fashion trends, clothing is bought and then discarded at an alarming rate. In 2017, an estimated 13 million tons of textiles were thrown away in the U.S. alone. It’s also been found that over 80% of the clothesdiscarded in the U.S. are either incinerated or thrown into landfills rather than redistributed or recycled.

If the fashion industry continues to follow this trend of water misuse and pollution, all other environmental efforts may be in vain. In order to achieve cleaner living, we must also incorporate sustainability into our fashion.

What is sustainable fashion?

Sustainable fashion refers to textiles and clothing that have been made with the environment in mind. From the very beginning stages such as growing the raw materials to the final stages when the product is purchased by the consumer, all practices are carefully considered in order to avoid environmental consequences such as water waste and pollution. 

For example:

  • Using natural resources (like water) responsibly 
  • Utilizing natural energy sources such as hydroelectric, wind, and solar
  • Creating durable clothing that will last and is less likely to be quickly discarded

It seems simple, doesn’t it? Companies and organizations within the fashion industry just have to modify their practices to be more environmentally friendly, and those ghastly statistics we discussed will change. Despite the seeming simplicity of the solution, many companies are continuing to disregard the impact their actions have on the environment. Why is that?

Why aren’t companies and cooperatives making these much needed changes to help the environment? The answer: money.

In 2019, the net worth of the fashion industry within the U.S. was valued at $1.5 trillion. On a global scale, the industry is valued at $2.5 trillion, making it one of the most profitable industries in the world. On a large scale, the fashion industry is a money making enterprise with the goal of rapid production and rapid sales. We mentioned the term “fast fashion” earlier, and it is a concept that has largely taken over the fashion world.

Some elements of fast fashion include:

  • Clothes being made quickly and cheaply to be sold quickly and cheaply
  • Fashion trends constantly changing so consumers constantly buy new clothing to keep up with the trends
  • Clothing being made with less durable materials so they deteriorate quickly causing the consumer to have to replace them sooner

Fast fashion acts like a cycle. Clothes are cheaply made so they are priced “affordably.” The consumer believes they are getting a good deal and buys the cheap clothing. The cheap clothing deteriorates or falls out of style and is discarded. The consumer then buys something else to replace that item of clothing. It feels like we are spending less on our clothes because each item costs less, but in reality, we are spending more because we continuously buy the cheaper clothing. This is where the consumer’s responsibility in sustainable fashion comes in.

You as a consumer must play a part in sustainable fashion, too.

While it’s easy to get caught in the cycle of fast fashion, breaking out of it is the first step in sustainable fashion. Rather than mindlessly buying off the sales rack at large retailers, take some time to think about the clothing you’re buying.

Here are some tips for shopping more sustainably:

  • Look for small businesses that are taking the steps to incorporate sustainability into their business practices. There are thousands of artisans around the world taking the time and effort to make eco-friendly clothing. We work with many of them here at Clear Givings! Invest in them rather than continuing to throw your money at corporations who have no qualms about killing the planet.
  • Invest in clothing that is made to last. While longer-lasting items will be more expensive, they won’t require replacement and will save you money in the long run. 
  • Resist the urge to keep up with every fashion trend. Shop for timeless clothing rather than what’s hot and trendy today and gone tomorrow.
  • Spot clean when you can rather than needlessly using the washing machine. Water waste in the fashion industry doesn’t stop when you take the clothing home. Unnecessary trips through the washing machine is a large contributor to global water waste, and it can be avoided by spot cleaning. Here’s a resource with great tips on spot cleaning.

In reality, the fashion industry won’t change its ways overnight, but small steps made by people like you and me will be the snowball that starts the avalanche of change. Living more sustainably can be difficult at first, but here at Clear Givings we are doing our best to make it easier for you by shining a spotlight on small businesses and vendors who are already utilizing sustainable business practices. We strive to be your one stop shop for all things eco-friendly, including the best in sustainable fashion. 

Let us know what you think, and tell us about your favorite eco-friendly fashion brands!

Natalie Michel
Natalie Michel


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