The Inditex group, one of the most important in the fast-fashion world, recently announced that its suppliers are committed to buying 2.000 tons of raw materials made from recycled cotton textile waste from Swedish company Renewcell. Thus, the Spanish company looks for new ways to manufacture new fashion items with as low of a footprint as possible.
Inditex officials intend to source 25% of the required fibers from "next-generation" materials by 2030.
And still, despite the efforts made by companies to bring more sustainable products to the shelves, made from recycled materials, what can consumers do to become more responsible when shopping for new fashion items? What are some of the ways they can have a more positive impact on the environment and what do they need to look out for to avoid the possible mistakes they might make?
We talked to a few of the representatives from the fashion industry in Romania who promote sustainable fashion to find out how we can dress up without harming Earth.
Responsible consumption, increasingly popular in a fast-fashion industry
Although companies and consumers are focused more on the sustainable production and consumption of fashion items, few experts focus on what happens when we change our clothes and what happens to those when we decide not to wear them anymore.
When they go out of the wardrobe, clothes are being either thrown away or they go towards a recycling center, the preferable way to do things. When we talk about fashion, clothes can be swapped for a number of reasons, which can include out-of-fashion or due to boredom.
But that doesn't mean that the young are not interested in how they choose their next cool-looking piece of clothing. Diana Enăchescu, cofounder at Vintello, told Green Start-Up that "sustainable purchases are increasingly becoming more important for young people especially. In a study made in December 2022 in the US, one of the most evolved makets when it comes to resale platforms, it was showed that 61% of those belonging in the Gen Z and Millennials groups take into account the impact on the environment their next purchase has, compared to other age groups, which represent 51%.
We also learned from her that consumers that chose to buy second-hand items, instead of new ones, rose 40% in 2022. "This trend, to make sustainable and smart purchases from a financial stand-point, becomes stronger, especially in Europe", Diana added.
Vintello is a Romanian platform that promotes fashion resale and it offers a wide array of products, from luxury items, to more affordable accessories and clothes and we wrote all about it in this story article.
Still, adopting sustainable purchase decisions is not easy in an industry that promotes "fast acquisitions" and constantly getting new products, that's what Diana Ceresmis, cofounder at Uphave, believes. "All the ads focus on telling you why you need this product now and how it will change your life, that's all", she explains.
Uphave is a markeplace dedicated to vintage fashion resale and it hosts a large number of vintage and second-hand fashion items that can be found online.
Post-pandemic consumption habits are in the favor of the planet
We also learned from Diana Ceresmis that the increase in acknowledging how their purchasing decisions affect the environment determined a major shift in the behavior of some of the customers.
"Second-hand shopping becomes more popular after the pandemic. The trend reduces the need for new products and instead lowers the pressure of the natural resources, as well as wins time for recycling methods to develop", Uphave's cofounder added.
The changes regarding the customers' consumption habits determined the companies in the industry to also make changes, regarding how items are being made and to become more socially and environmentally-responsible.
Experts in the fashion industry estimate that we make around 80-100 billion fashion items per year, meaning that the amounts that can become waste, believed to be in the millions, also increase.
Diana Enăchescu says that "China and the US are responsible for the most fashion waste, estimated at around 20 and 17 million tons. But in the EU, 80% of those reach landfills, where they mix with other types of waste and end up incinerated."
Overall, only one percent of the disposed fashion items are being recycled and implemented into new products.
A new life for the unworn clothing items
Resale platforms for vintage or second-hand fashion items can be a good alternative for those who don't wear certain items that they've owned for a while, but which can get a new life.
Vintello's cofounder suggests that "new owners will avoid buying a new item and this will have a new life, instead of reaching a landfill."
Consumers that want to have a bigger positive impact on the environment must think well before purchasing new clothes, believes Diana Enăchescu, due to the fact that "on average, our wardrobe increased by 60% in the past 15 years, but the number of clothes we actually wear shrunk by 50%."
She suggests that, should a consumer need a new piece of clothing, the first instinct should be to reach out to resale platforms and if those don't have what they need, a new product can be purchased, under the condition to be manufactured sustainably, with recycled materials or organic fibers, that don't contain plastic.
Diana Ceresmis believes the same, adding that durable products should be a priority, as these are "made to last longer, which avoids frequent replacements."
How do we pick more sustainable clothes
Reading the label is the first crucial thing we can all do as consumers to make sure we choose sustainable products, is the shared piece of advice both fashion experts give out. The label gives us vital information about "the material, which can help us avoid plastic-made materials which become waste once they're thrown out."
Vintello's cofounder also says that it is important to know the brand's vision on the human and material resource used for production, as well as its investments that go towards finding alternative materials to manufacture lower-impact products.
Another thing to keep in mind, especially when talking about fast-fashion brands, is that a lower price tag means a lower quality for that product, leading to lower durability and lower resale chances.
If we choose to buy vintage or second-hand products, two big advantages are the lower price tag and the reduced negative impact on the planet.
"Second-hand items reduce the need for new production and also the pressure on the natural resources will be smaller. By buying used, consumers extend the clothes' lifecycle, leading to less waste accumulating in our rivers and forests", Diana Ceresmis said for Green Start-Up.
How to avoid the traps of fast-fashion in style
Buying a fashionable item just because it is the latest hit this season could be one of the biggest mistakes consumers can make, as stated by Vintello's representative. At the same time, massive sales that may take place every now and then can give us a nudge to buy an item we don't actually need.
"The approach should be towards "less and good". Thus, even if you can't afford a new, quality piece of clothing from a certain brand, instead of buying three to four cheap items made of synthetic materials, you can go to a resale platform and choose a quality piece that will give you more satisfaction on the long run."
At the same time, Diana Ceresmis believes that resale platforms, such as Vintello and Uphave, can encourage reusing quality pieces and reduces the need to buy new ones, which helps, among others, with maintaining resources and reducing the amount of waste we pump in the environment.
Avoiding polyester, unrecyclable materials and companies that don't produce sustainable clothing items are other ways consumers can start adopting more sustainable consumption habits that are also more responsible.