Treading Lightly
Treading Lightly

Why the Clothes You Already Have Are the Most Ethical

Ethical clothing is everywhere. From big brands to tiny blogs, everyone wants to be selling and wearing the most ethical items they can.

I’ve been feeling pressure lately to add ethical clothing to my closet, and I went through a stretch where I felt like the clothes I was wearing on a given day weren’t a good representation of my values. Many of my items have unnatural fibers that can leach into the water or environment, most were not created in safe or fair factories, and the dyes and other materials used were harmful on the environment and workers when they were made.

And yet the clothes already sitting in my drawers and hanging in my closet are the most ethical ones I could own. Why? Because I already own them.

minimalist ethical capsule wardrobe hanging in closet, image

Why are new clothes damaging?

  • Dying textiles is the second leading cause of water pollution worldwide, just behind agriculture. Independent.
  • Many of the chemicals used to dye clothes are toxic to humans and the local habitat/animals.
  • Independent.
  • Synthetic fibers like polyester leach small micoplastic fibers into the water. They make their way into the local waterways and the ocean where they are eaten by animals and humans. The Guardian, U.S. National Ocean Service, CNN, Scientific American, and the UN.
  • Fast fashion has led to 50-100 micro seasons a year rather than two to four. World Resources Institute.
  • “Cotton production is now responsible for 18 percent of worldwide pesticide use and 25 percent of total insecticide use.” True Cost documentary.
  • The textile industry is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than aviation and international shipping, combined. Vice.
  • We bought more than twice as much clothing in 2014 as we did in 2000, but kept those clothes half as long. World Resources Institute.
  • It takes 2,700 liters of water, enough drinking water to last a single person 2.5 years, to make a single cotton t-shirt. World Resources Institute.

The clothes you already have are the most ethical choice.

The emissions and harm from production and manufacturing have already been done. Now what matters most is helping them last as long as possible to lower their carbon footprint per wear, keep them out of the landfill, and reduce your overall consumption of clothing.

Rather than going out and buying new clothes, even used/second hand, to replace the items that don’t fit my values perfectly, I’m choosing to love and care for the things I already have. This not only saves me a lot of money, it also gives me peace of mind to know that I am making the most of the damage that has already been done.

And when they finally reach the end of their lives, I will carefully recycle them through a textile recycling program nearby before looking for a second hand option to replace them. If that fails, then I will buy new from an ethical producer.

See inside my minimalist capsule wardrobe.

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