Can you get by with 85 pieces of clothing? It certainly sounds feasible.
A new report from the sustainability-focused think tank Hot or Cool Institute suggests that 85 pieces of clothing should be enough for the average resident of a high-income country with four seasons. This limit of 85 garments is also in line with the Paris Agreement target of limiting the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
Fashion is already one of the world’s largest producers of greenhouse gas emissions. This will undoubtedly increase as prices continue to fall, consumption increases and the wear time of each item of clothing decreases.
Preventing the worst climate impacts requires a transformation of the fashion industry. And this new research shows that change can be achieved in a similar way: making sure everyone has enough clothes and enough income from producing clothes for their needs.
The report “Unfit, Unfair, Unfashionable: Reshaping Fashion for a Fair Consumption Space” focused on G20 countries and found Australia to have the highest fashion consumption footprint (503 kg CO2).2 equivalent per year), Australians throw away almost as much clothing as they buy each year. India, on the other hand, is the lowest in the G20 (22 kg). In Indonesia, 74% do not have the clothes they need.
While these are huge differences, it is not just inequality between countries that matters. Inequality within countries is also significant. According to “Unfit, Unfair, Unfashionable”, the fashion habits of middle and high-income consumers in Indonesia, although they are a minority, are out of sync with the 1.5°C rise in temperature in mind. More broadly (and prepare for an onslaught of number 20 here), the richest 20% of G20 countries, on average, emit 20 times more fashion than the poorest 20%.
Classist shaming abounds in the spending habits of the less affluent; For example, news producers like to watch crowds of people queuing outside lower-market stores during sales. But it’s clear that the richest people are wreaking havoc on the environment.
Among the relatively wealthy, there is a very simple solution that sustainability advocates have been shouting from the rooftops for years: buy less and buy better. Buying less reduces the climate impact of producing, washing and disposing of clothing; And better sourcing will help distribute profits into the hands of garment workers. If we even out the spread, then it’s enough.
The single best way for people in wealthier countries to reduce the climate impact of fashion is to buy less new clothes, points out Louise Akenzie, managing director of the Hot or Cool Institute. Other measures – such as buying second-hand, choosing more sustainable clothing, renting clothes and washing less – are important, but pale in comparison to the sheer brute force of excessive consumption.
Second-hand shops, for example, are not a panacea. “This does not negate the need to reduce consumption – and, more importantly, to reduce production,” says Ekenji. For starters, there’s the classic rebound effect of people feeling justified in buying more stuff because they think they can leave the extra at the thrift store for later.
Anything that helps support the work of the charities that run the vintage stores is true. But it also contributes to the huge piles of unwanted clothing ending up in landfills and waterways – and, if the clothing reaches low-income countries, to dependency and underinvestment in local garment industries.
How many new clothes do people in rich countries have to give up? While some suggestions go as high as 75%, “Unfit, Unfair, Unfashionable” recommends that reducing clothing purchases by an average of 30% will hardly affect daily living standards (30% is the average share of unused clothing in German households). ), while in line with the 1.5°C target. 30% may sound daunting, but it’s really not that ambitious.
The report suggests an “adequate wardrobe” (how much clothes the average person needs) of 74 clothes in a two-season country and 85 in a four-season country. This includes shoes, but not accessories or underwear.
In general, fashion emissions statistics can seem abstract. This is in stark contrast to the experience of buying a new piece of clothing, which can be both physically and emotionally satisfying. The fashion media and advertisers feed the idea that innovation is necessary for satisfaction – for now. Understanding that psychology is the key to breaking the cycle of overconsumption.
Recovering fashionista Alec Leach got it. The former streetwear editor has quit that game and recently penned a no-nonsense book The world is on fire, but we still buy shoes, Leach’s main conclusion on sustainable fashion? “Ask yourself what you really want out of your clothes.”
It can be a sense of belonging, the excitement of the new, an expression of status, a show of creativity – a love of fashion need not be pathological. And for some groups, including women and gender-nonconforming people, expectations around appearance can be strongly linked to security, well-being, and success.
But recognizing that buying clothes is an attempt to fill a void is a step toward potentially scratching that itch for a long time. According to Oxfam, the discussion about buying a new piece of clothing is worn on average only four times in the UK. It may seem like an inadequate two-shoes goody, but lengthening the shirt with embroidery or pairing it in different combinations can help add interest.
Consumption is, of course, the main lever for policy change, as the driver of fashion’s wasteful emissions. To avoid placing all the responsibility on consumers, Leach notes that brands should be responsible for the supply chain and disposal. The European Union has integrated this into its proposed strategy for sustainable and circular textiles.
France is a leader on the legal front. There, as part of a legal scheme to extend manufacturers’ liability for the entire life of their products, it is illegal to destroy unsold garments, rather than to the point where purchases are made. This contributes to France’s relatively low fashion-related emissions compared to other wealthier countries. Similar legislation is under development in other European countries. The next step would be to address overproduction and overconsumption, not just on useful life.
Without comprehensive regulation, some companies have taken steps to self-monitor. For example, a retail site limits customer purchases to 12 per year, while a design agency prevents overstock by limiting production runs. But these individual regulations cannot make up for the lack of widespread government oversight, including the greenwashing that is rampant in the fashion world.
Ekenji believes that some sort of fashion rationing or quota is inevitable. While this may sound like an alarming prospect, he says that “rationing actually has a broad spectrum of possibilities,” with both producer and consumer bearing responsibility. For example, governments can control the amount of resources allocated to manufacturers or the amount of pollution generated in the production cycle. They may limit the number of new product launches by design firms or burden frequent purchases of clothing.
There is clearly a lot of room to reimagine the role of fashion in our lives. It’s a good cause for the creativity and ingenuity that inspires so many fashion lovers.