We’ve all looked back at photos and thought… what was I wearing? What was once trendy quickly becomes a fashion faux pas we regret later in life. Leisure suits and layered t-shirts. Dresses and skirts were worn over jeans. And don’t forget that awkward era of bucket hats and head-to-toe denim.

Season after season trends change. And so do our clothes. On average, Americans toss out around 81 pounds of clothing every year. While you may have gotten that new sweater on a discount, we’re all ultimately paying a much higher price.

Keep reading to learn more about the fashion waste cluttering our closets and our garbage bins, as well as 14 facts about sustainable fashion that will surprise you. It’s time we make sustainable fashion the trend for every season.

Why Sustainable Fashion Matters

Fashion waste comes from a variety of issues, but one of the biggest culprits is the movement toward “fast fashion.” This term refers to clothes made cheaply and quickly to meet demands around new styles. These clothes are typically so poorly made that you’ll toss them out right along with the trend. This leads to long-lasting environmental issues.

When we focus on sustainable fashion, we’ll see benefits across the world.

Effects of Fashion Waste

  •      Microfibers from fabrics wind up in the ocean and threaten aquatic life
  •      Clothes made of synthetic fibers don’t break down — adding to our landfills
  •      Making clothes generates an increased use of toxins and pesticides
  •      The push to be trendy and on-style leads to quickly and poorly made clothing

14 Fashion Waste and Sustainability Facts

Fact 1: The apparel and footwear industries account for a combined estimate of 8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and fashion is the third highest-polluting industry in the world.

Fact 2: A 2016 McKinsey report revealed that three-fifths of all clothing items will end up in an incinerator or landfill within a year after being produced.

Fact 3: If we keep this up, by 2050 the fashion industry could use more than 26 percent of the “carbon budget” associated with a 2o C pathway (a long-term goal to limit global warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels).

Fact 4: We don’t really wear our clothes. Worldwide, clothing utilization (how often we put something on) has decreased by 36 percent compared to 15 years ago.

Fact 5: It’s estimated that less than 1 percent of the material used to produce clothing is recycled into something more. That’s about a loss of 100 billion USD worth of materials every year.

Fact 6:  By 2030, it’s expected that fashion waste will increase to a 148 million ton problem.

Fact 7: According to the Global Fashion Agenda, 26 percent of business owners surveyed believe that “low consumer willingness to pay a premium for sustainable products” was the greatest barrier for them to become more sustainable.

Fact 8: …But consumer attitudes for ethical fashion are increasingly favorable. Seventy-one percent of millennials prioritize sustainability over brand names while shopping.

Fact 9: Many brands are moving to more sustainable production methods. As of May 2018, 12.5 percent of the global fashion market has pledged to make changes by 2020.

Fact 10:  The clothing brand Patagonia was the first to make polyester fleece out of plastic bottles.

Fact 11: Cotton, a popular material in clothing, requires high levels of water and pesticides, which cause issues in developing countries.

Fact 12: About 8,000 synthetic chemicals are used in the fashion manufacturing process — yet only 16 are approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Fact 13:  According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, the fashion industry produces 20 percent of global wastewater.

Fact 14: Only 15 percent of consumers recycle their used clothing.

How You Can Make Sustainability Stylish

One of the biggest drivers of fast fashion – and its associated waste – is the consumer. After all, no one wants to be stuck wearing outdated outfits. But if you extend the life of your clothes by just nine months, you can reduce the environmental impact by as much as 30 percent. By getting creative with your closet, you can make a difference.

What You Can Do To Reduce Fashion Waste

  •      Host a Clothing Swap: Get your neighbors, coworkers, and friends to bring over clothes they’re no longer interested in wearing and do a “swap.” This helps extends the lifecycle of the clothing (and it’s fun).
  •      Shop Smart: When you do go shopping, start at consignment and thrift stores before buying new. Find ethical and sustainable brands to support new wardrobes.
  •      Tailor to Your Style: Focus less on what’s trending or what’s on discount. Take the time to figure out your own personal style and find clothes you’ll love to wear again and again.
  •      Rent, Reuse, Recycle: More and more brands are moving to clothing subscriptions so you can rent new clothes rather than purchase. This allows you to change up your style without adding to the landfill.
  •      Quality over Quantity: Downsize your wardrobe and be sure to donate or sell the items you no longer need! Having a minimalist closet can help you focus on buying less and choosing well-made and longer-lasting clothes.

Want to learn more about sustainable fashion? Listen to our Town Haul Podcast episodes with Eco-Fashion Pioneer Marci Zaroff and Brooklyn’s Zero Waste Daniel!

And if you’re looking for more information on sustainable brands, check out Fabrik’s guide on green branding.