On Saturday 1 June, the climate action group Extinction Rebellion will disrupt Cabot Circus in protest against fast fashion and unnecessary consumerism. This coincides with a year-long boycott of new clothing which the group is spearheading. Environmental scientist Angela Terry, founder of climate action website One Home, explains how creating a more sustainable fashion industry is crucial in tackling climate change – and what we can all do to help.

Fashion is a big problem for the environment. The Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap) says the clothing industry has the “fourth largest environmental impact after housing, transport and food”. According to the World Bank, around 20 per cent of freshwater pollution comes from textile treatment and dyeing. Combine this with the habitat and biodiversity loss that comes hand in hand with intense cultivation of cotton crops, and it’s plain to see something needs to change.

The problem is made worse by our actions once these clothes have left the shops. Annually, the UK buys more clothes than any other European country but we chuck away one million tonnes, of which 300,000 tonnes go straight into landfill.

While we stuff our wardrobes with throwaway fashion, many of us are suffering from ‘nothing-to-wear’ syndrome. On average, women have £834 worth of unworn, unused fashion in their wardrobes, and men £597.The good news is that, by adjusting our habits, we can enjoy a wardrobe that doesn’t compromise on style and helps the environment.

1. Buy less: love what you have

To keep us buying more, the fashion industry divides the year into 52 ‘micro seasons’. That’s one a week. If the message is that we need new clothes every season, then it’s no wonder we can’t find anything in our chock-full wardrobes. But having less in our wardrobe can feel like having more to wear. Sort out your wardrobe; keep only what fits and feels good. Donate and recycle everything else – or sell it and recoup some of that £834!

2. Buy better: clothes built to last

If you do need to buy new, be mindful of the choices you make. You may end up spending more on an item, but it saves money and greenhouse gas emissions in the long-run. If you can, always choose preloved clothes. Often you’ll find better quality clothes in second-hand shops because better made clothes are more likely to make it to a second innings. Shop via Oxfam and you can choose by brand, size, garment and more.

3. Moral fibres: what sustainable fabrics to choose

The highest contributor to fashion’s carbon footprint is the fibre production stage. Shockingly, cotton is one of the most polluting fibres we produce. It uses a huge number of pesticides and chemicals and has a huge thirst for water. Instead, look for these options:

  • Bamboo: grows quickly without pesticides and actually improves soil quality. The fabric is soft and breathable so great for sportswear and baby clothes.
  • Hemp: also easy to grow and environmentally low-impact. It’s extremely durable and versatile – perfect for outdoor clothing and bags.
  • Organic cotton: grown without pesticides or chemicals. Companies like People Tree are also fair trade.
  • Recycled fabrics: Patagonia has been recycling plastic bottles to make polyester fleeces and outdoor gear since the ‘90s. It’s since been joined by other great companies like Lyme Terrace.
  • Upcycled fabrics: Fabric that would otherwise be wasted is repurposed and refashioned. Have a look at Beyond Retro LABEL and Good Krama for gorgeous one-offs.

4. SCAP not Scrap: check your suppliers

Wrap has launched the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) 2020. Companies that sign up commit to reducing their waste and pollution at all levels. So far 80 companies including Asos, Next and Whistles have joined. If you need to buy new, check you’re buying from SCAP signatories.

By becoming empowered, informed shoppers, we can choose sustainable, ethical fashion and be part of the solution to climate change, not the problem.

Find out more on how to live a low-carbon lifestyle at onehome.org.uk