How to be stylish without destroying the planet

The hottest trend is to not make our planet hotter.

10%

The portion of global carbon emissions the fashion industry accounts for. Despite increasing awareness of the fashion industry's contribution to the climate crisis, global consumption of apparel continues to rise.

U.N. Environment Programme

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The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirmed we likely can’t avoid a global temperature increase of at least 1.5 degrees. Extreme weather, drought, and sea level rise will worsen; how much so depends on a global commitment to ending our reliance on fossil fuels and developing renewable alternatives. But fossil fuel companies — which have deep ties to the fashion industry — are fighting those efforts.

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Oil and gas companies are banking on a continued increase in demand for plastic —including the synthetic fibers in our clothes, which are made from fossil fuels. The production of those materials alone makes up 1.35% of global emissions.

That’s more oil than all of Spain uses in a year.

When the fashion industry churns out garments produced cheaply and discarded quickly, fossil fuel companies win.

The good news? It’s possible to cultivate a unique, personal style that’s kind to the environment.

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67%

The percentage of consumers who consider sustainable materials an important factor when buying clothes.

McKinsey & Company

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While voting, protest, and finding other ways to hold powerful industries accountable for their impact on the environment is crucial, making sustainable lifestyle changes can collectively force change, too.

When it comes to fashion, that action should start with inaction: NOT buying new clothes, whenever possible.

Let’s explore the ways in which you can build a fashionable wardrobe without harming the environment, starting with ways to buy less …

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Invest in quality.

To give your clothes many lives, it helps to buy pieces that last. Investing in classic staples of higher quality rather than cheap — and cheaply made — fast fashion pieces can save you money in the long run, when those items last for many years instead of a single season.

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92 million

The amount of waste, in tons, produced each year through the fast fashion industry. Fast fashion brands continue to churn out new lines and new styles, encouraging the purchase of cheap items that don’t last.

U.N. Environment Programme

JUAN MABROMATA/AFP/Getty Images

Ultra fast fashion is the single most dangerous business model in the industry. There is no “sustainable fashion” if that business model is not fully dismantled.

Ana Fernandez/SOPA Images/Shutterstock

Be skeptical of labels like “green” and “eco-friendly.”

In 2021, the European Commission investigated brands — including fashion brands — that make “green online claims,” and found that 42% of them exaggerate sustainability efforts.

So it’s important to learn how to determine whether a product is truly green or just greenwashed.

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There are a lot of brands who are showing they care about sustainability right now. But I think very few brands are actually doing this.

Wotherspoon, who partnered with Samsung to design sustainably-sourced phone cases and watchbands launching this Earth Day, tells Mic that he’s picky when aligning himself with brands for sustainability initiatives —and consumers should be, too.

The Samsung Galaxy x Sean Wotherspoon Sustainable Accessories Collection is part of Samsung’s broader Galaxy for the Planet initiative, which includes incorporating recycled materials into all new products and diverting all waste from landfills by 2025. Wotherspoon’s Samsung phone cases are biodegradable, while the watchbands are recyclable and made from a non-toxic and non-plasticized TPU material.

Courtesy of Samsung

Consider how your values may or may not align with a brand or trend.

“I started eating vegan before I started shopping vegan,” Wotherspoon says of his journey toward a more sustainable lifestyle. “Eating vegan … opened the door to decisions related to my consumer behavior. I started shopping for non-leather products and things like that.”

Courtesy of Samsung

When you must shop new, shop local.

Even without an “eco-friendly” label, smaller, local brands are almost always more sustainable than the retail giants.

In a 2021 fashion accountability report from the nonprofit Remake, small and medium-sized brands scored four times higher than big companies. The report determined scores based on traceability, wages and wellbeing, commercial practices, raw materials, environmental justice and climate change, governance, and diversity and inclusion.

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Overall, big brands and retailers — whether luxury, high street or fast fashion — are not taking on the systemic reform needed to counter fashion’s negative impacts on people and the planet.

Do your research.

Reports like the one from Remake and third-party assessments of sustainability, like those produced by Good on You and Climate Neutral, can offer details on supply chains, materials, and tangible efforts to reduce carbon footprints — breaking down the often vague claims made by the brands themselves.

When you do go straight to the brands you love, look for information on their website that shows they’re taking measurable steps to reduce their carbon footprint and tracking those efforts.

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As the industry exists now, purchasing new clothes will almost always produce waste and carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. But when we do shop, prioritizing sustainable materials from brands with local supply chains and fair labor practices will help push the industry in right direction.

The most fashionable trend right now should be to question big brands, avoid fast fashion, and cultivate a style based on reusing and reimagining the garments that already exist in this world we’re trying to save.