The True Cost of Our Wardrobes: A Destructive Power of Shopping

How much do we pay for a T-shirt? You can spend $100, $20, even $3. However, before a T-shirt is on our counter, it has to go through a lot: smoothing, bleaching, dyeing, printing – and for special outdoor clothing, waterproofing. For each of these processes, we pay much more to the environment. And it's not just dollars anymore: only dying one kilo of yarn requires around 60 liters of water, which will be inevitably contaminated with chemical additives.

In this article, we will discover how our wardrobes impact the environment and how to harmonize our personal style with planet-friendly choices.
Fast Fashion's Hidden Consequences
The global fast fashion market is poised to reach $122.98 billion in 2023 with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15.6%. It is known for its negative environmental consequences, and here are three key pieces of evidence that demonstrate how it harms the environment:

High water consumption
Fast fashion relies heavily on water-intensive processes. For example, it takes approximately 2,700 liters of water to produce a single cotton t-shirt, equivalent to what one person drinks in 2.5 years. The dyeing and finishing of textiles are also water-intensive, often involving harmful chemicals. In some regions, the fashion industry's excessive water usage has led to water scarcity, putting local communities at risk.

Microplastic pollution
Many fast fashion items are made from synthetic materials like polyester, which shed microplastic fibers when washed. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the North Pacific Ocean is a notorious example. This vast area contains an accumulation of marine debris, including microplastics, resulting from the breakdown of various plastic materials in the ocean. Ocean currents concentrate this plastic pollution, threatening marine life as these microplastics are ingested and enter the food chain. The long-term effects of microfiber pollution on ecosystems and human health are still being studied, but it is a growing environmental issue associated with fast fashion.

Textile waste
Fast fashion's disposable nature leads to a massive textile waste problem. In the United States, over 15 million tons of used textile waste are generated yearly, and only about 15% is recycled. The rest often ends up in landfills or incinerators, contributing to environmental pollution and the release of harmful substances. Additionally, synthetic materials common in fast fashion, like polyester, can take hundreds of years to decompose, further burdening the environment.

These three pieces of evidence highlight the significant environmental harm caused by the fast fashion industry. Unfortunately, the role of synthetic fabrics doesn’t end with this.
The Carbon Footprint of Clothing
With constant new trends at seemingly affordable prices, the temptation to buy the latest goods can be overwhelming. But what impact is this having on our carbon footprint?

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the fashion industry is the second-largest industrial polluter, accounting for 10% of global pollution, ranking higher than emissions from air travel! When factoring in the entire lifecycle of a garment, from manufacturing to transportation to, ultimately, ending up in landfill, in total, 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon emissions are released by the fashion industry every year.

Within the first decade and a half of the 21st century, clothing production doubled. Since 2000, most European brands have gone from releasing 2 collections per year for the summer and winter seasons to as many as 24 collections yearly! As a result, clothing utilization decreased by 36% between 2003 and 2018, with a third of young women believing that a garment is considered «old» after it’s been worn once or twice.

Changes such as switching to renewable energy in factories and reducing the use of polyester will all make a positive impact on reducing the carbon footprint of the fashion industry. However, if nothing changes, research has predicted the fashion industry could account for 26% of carbon emissions by 2050.

To decrease this industry’s massive carbon footprint, both individual and group action is needed to change the behaviors of the big brands – so how can we do this?
Embracing Sustainable Fashion: Time For Action
The EU wants to reduce textile waste and improve the life cycle and recycling of textiles. This is part of the plan to achieve a circular economy by 2050. What are sustainable fashion options today that are accessible to everyone?

Thrifting and second-hand shopping

Purchasing vintage jeans from a thrift store rather than buying a new pair reduces resource consumption and waste.
  • Reduces textile waste. By extending the lifespan of clothing items, it decreases the volume of textiles in landfills.
  • Lowers carbon footprint. Manufacturing and transportation emissions are minimized when you buy pre-owned items.
  • Saves money. Thrifted pieces are often more affordable than new clothing, allowing for budget-friendly and sustainable choices.

Eco-friendly and innovative materials

Buying a sweater made from organic cotton or shoes crafted from recycled plastic bottles contributes to a more sustainable fashion industry. For example, a recycled PET is a new sustainable material made from post-consumer plastic bottles. It is used to create textiles, such as polyester, and can be found in various clothing and accessories. By choosing eco-friendly materials, you can:
  • Reduce environmental impact. Sustainable materials like organic cotton and hemp have lower environmental footprints.
  • Promote responsible sourcing. Eco-friendly materials often involve ethical and environmentally conscious production practices.
  • Drive innovation. Innovations like lab-grown leather and recycled textiles offer eco-friendly alternatives to traditional materials.

Conscious consumption based on wardrobe analysis

By using an analytical platform like Dress2Save, you can contribute to conscious shopping in several ways:
  • Eliminate excess. Analyzing your existing outfits helps identify items that are rarely worn or unnecessary. AI stylists can recommend seasonal clothing, ensuring you avoid purchasing out-of-season items that may not be practical.
  • Save time and money. A conscious approach to augmenting your wardrobe can help you set and stick to a clothing budget, preventing overspending and impulse purchases. By having a clear plan, you're less likely to make emotional buys that exceed your financial limits.
  • Stay trendy without overconsumption. AI-driven stylist analyzes your fashion preferences, past purchases, and style trends, offering personalized clothing suggestions based on data rather than emotions. This encourages more rational choices.
Embracing these sustainable fashion options not only benefits the environment but also empowers consumers to make more conscious and responsible choices in their clothing purchases.
How AI Empowers Consumers to Make Informed Choices?
Studies that transparently reveal the ecological footprint of textiles play a crucial role in raising consumer awareness. They are instrumental in fostering a shift toward resource conservation. However, it's important to acknowledge that true industry change only happens when consumers witness tangible actions from companies. This includes measures to reduce their impact on climate change or water pollution. It's not enough for companies to merely share information; they must demonstrate their commitment to sustainability through meaningful actions and initiatives.

AI-driven tools offer businesses innovative solutions to engage consumers in building an eco-conscious brand image, opening up multiple new avenues for sustainable practices and establishing a positive and environmentally responsible reputation in the market. Here is how AI supports the fashion industry representatives:

Educating consumers on sustainable fashion
For businesses, AI serves as a valuable educational tool by providing consumers with information on sustainable fashion practices. This fosters a more informed and conscientious customer base, creating a demand for eco-friendly products and supporting businesses that embrace sustainability.

Transparent information on clothing labels and certifications
AI enables businesses to offer transparent information on clothing labels and certifications, building consumer trust. By clarifying product attributes, companies can attract consumers who seek ethical and environmentally responsible choices, ultimately boosting sales and brand loyalty.

Help to build a conscious wardrobe
Businesses benefit from AI-powered wardrobe management tools that assist consumers in curating conscious wardrobes. By encouraging thoughtful purchases and minimizing redundant buying, companies can promote sustainability and reduce the environmental impact of fast fashion, all while potentially increasing customer retention.

Supporting sustainable business practices
AI allows businesses to align with sustainability trends and ethical standards, attracting consumers who prioritize supporting responsible brands. By adopting sustainable business practices, companies can differentiate themselves in the market, appeal to an eco-conscious customer base, and contribute to a more environmentally and socially responsible fashion industry.
In the grand tapestry of our planet's well-being, it's now undeniable that the garments we choose to wear have a profound impact. From the water we consume to the emissions we generate, the consequences of our wardrobe choices ripple far beyond the closet. To safeguard our environment, a transformative shift toward conscious consumption is not a mere suggestion; it's an imperative.

In this journey towards a more sustainable future, AI emerges as a powerful ally, equipping us with the knowledge and tools to make informed choices, reduce waste, and champion responsible fashion. Begin the change with Dress2Save, and we will show the potential for positive transformation in your business!