Life Style

Buying clothes sustainably: circular fashion must be the future

Becca McHaffie / Unsplash

The relationship with my closet was an emotional pool in lockdown. I celebrated my sweatpants for weeks until I couldn’t see them for a day. I wanted nice clothes, new ones best. After all, we all deserved a bit of a breath of fresh air at a strange time. I ordered online, something I usually hate. But the shops were closed and my longing was great.

In retrospect, I ordered too much. Two or three sizes of various parts to have a choice and to land at least one hit. But while the package was still waiting, I wondered where the content came from. Probably from overseas. From factories that would surely have made me mad at the sight of them. In a quality that disappointed me in the long term and is only good for throwing away. Do I want something in my closet?

We consumers as poor victims of the circumstances? An excuse

My answer was the return. Ninety percent of the order went back. A faux pas for the life cycle assessment, but in retrospect it was my key moment: we have to rethink our shopping behavior. If you still haven’t understood this after the Corona crisis, you should immediately return to quarantine.

The excuse that industry is to blame for everything and that we poor consumers are only victims of the circumstances no longer counts. It is an interaction of all parties involved and we as consumers have to seriously (!) Deal with what happens to our clothes and, above all, what should happen to them in the future. Now, after the quarantine, is the ideal time to set new standards: especially in terms of the circular economy.

Worldwide estimates indicate that 15 million tons of clothing are disposed of annually in the United States alone. That is twice as much as 20 years ago, said a fashion expert in an interview with Deutsche Welle. In Germany, over a million are sorted out and thrown into the container – or end up in household waste. Fast fashion market leaders like H&M, Zara or Primark offer twelve to 24 collections a year.

First question: why do we need so many new things? And second question: What happened to the parts that were not sold in the global lockdown because the next “trends” were already in the starting blocks?

The fashion industry, as one of the most globalized industries, is particularly affected by the crash. The Bangladeshi Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) reported a loss of over $ 3 billion because of new clothes that are now leftovers – and mostly end up in the trash.

We would need two and a half planets of Earth for our claims

“Our consumer and market economy is based on the idea that you can buy happiness, how you can buy everything,” said social psychologist Erich Fromm in 1980. Our way of thinking results in our cycle: taking, producing, throwing away – especially in fashion . This not only requires huge amounts of raw materials and energy, but also permanently exceeds natural limits. The Federation of Nature Conservation says: If all people worldwide lived like average EU citizens, we would need about two and a half planets of Earth to meet our demands on nature.

It’s like drinking consumers out of a glass of water like crazy, knowing full well that it will eventually be empty and then we will be whining on dry land. Whether for consumer greed, convenience or for economic reasons (nice and cheap!): We always find excuses to continue as before.

Routines of consumers and the fashion industry are suddenly interrupted

There must be no going back to the old normal. That also became clear to me when I dragged the heavy package almost ashamed from the Späti to my apartment. But to feel guilty about yourself is even less of a goal. After all, our (in) consciousness in handling clothing has manifested itself over decades. I still remember too well how my friends and I used to run into town after school to make a cool piece for the parties in the evening. Ideally every weekend so that the friends just don’t think you have nothing to wear.

Now, through the Corona Crisis, our stubborn routines were suddenly broken – with no choice. Fast was normal, which seemed impossible, but with a positive effect. A recent study by the British Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce found that only 19 percent of respondents thought the fashion industry should continue as before. Half want the industry to be more sustainable. No matter what it costs!

Buy less, buy better

Generation Z in particular could become a role model for us with its demands on itself and the environment. Those between the ages of 18 and 24 were born into an era when it was easier than ever to get information, question the status quo and do it differently. While two thirds of all clothes were bought in shops before the pandemic, Gen Z had long since been shopping on sustainable sites such as Poshmark, Grailed or Vestiaire Collective, which experienced a real rush in the spring.

Buy less, buy better: Not only when it comes to online shopping, this motto leaves its mark on me. As I passed a sinfully expensive shop this week, a sign with “fifty percent” jumped out at me. I was about to fall into old patterns. But in the dressing room I asked myself: how often will you wear this dress? Will you love it Even if the seller initially praised it, she invited me behind the scenes to her private vintage sale. “I have so many designer parts. Many unworn, with a label. ” We exchanged numbers. I left the dress hanging.

The goal of the circular economy is to preserve the value of once used resources and materials as long as possible, to use them as often as possible and to generate as little – ideally no – waste as possible. Reduce, reuse, recycle.

Waste would no longer be garbage – it would be worth it

In Germany, the economy of the “circular economy” could reduce spending on mobility, housing and food by 25 percent by 2030, according to a study by McKinsey. For example, traffic congestion and housing costs could be reduced by a fifth. Measured at the current level, CO2 emissions could drop by around half. Raw material consumption through car and building construction, artificial fertilizers, pesticides, agricultural water use and fossil fuels will decrease by up to a third by 2030 compared to today. Waste would no longer be garbage, but would be of value

For fashion designers, this means, among other things, switching to safe and sustainable materials and thinking along with the design of the fabrics. For us as consumers, this means finding brands and manufacturers who are already doing so or going through sharing platforms.

For us consumers, circular fashion is more demanding

Yes, I know that takes a lot of time and nerves. This means that it takes us longer to find favorite items and we have to think earlier about where we get them from, when we are invited to weddings or want to celebrate at the weekend. Spontaneous purchases become more difficult because we do more research and a number of articles fall through the cracks. I know that sounds more exhausting than sexy.

But you can see it differently: Scientists say it takes us 21 to 66 days to establish new routines – somewhere in between was the duration of the lockdown. So we have the worst part behind us and can continue now. Until what is good becomes the new normal. Rarely, positive changes happen overnight. Whoever hopes to be perfect tomorrow will never start. It is much more important to know that we can make a conscious decision with every purchase. Keep this sentence in mind. The next flash sale is sure to come.

Better, healthier, more sustainable, more productive and at the same time more relaxed. We live in the era of self-optimization. But what really brings us further – and what can we save? In her column “Self-Optimized”, Laura Lewandowski regularly writes about what comes out when she implements (clever) advice or learns from her own experience. In life, at work and wherever it matters. The main thing is to optimize it yourself.


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