Everyone in the fashion supply chain is responsible for its impact on the planet, from designers and manufacturers to retailers and consumers. The Care Label Project, launched by AEG, is a global initiative connecting these players and encouraging them to execute positive changes towards an ethical fashion industry.
Its primary focus is on breaking non-sustainable garment care habits, but as part of its mission, it's has partnered with Fashion Revolution to examine a garment's entire lifecycle—from design to aftercare—and understand where key parties can make improvements.
Fashion Revolution Week marks the anniversary of the tragic Rana Plaza factory collapse on April 24, 2013. The incident killed over 1,000 people and injured thousands more at a garment factory in Bangladesh. Fashion Revolution challenges people to demand greater transparency in the fashion industry and to question where clothing comes from. Its manifesto is clear cut: "We want to unite the fashion industry and ignite a revolution to radically change the way our clothes are sourced, produced and purchased so that what the world wears has been made in a safe, clean and fair way.”
But as the Care Label Project rightfully highlights, we as consumers have a big role to play after purchasing clothes too; according to WRAP the way clothing is cared for contributes 25% of its carbon footprint. As well as saving energy and water, better aftercare could extend the life of garments, decrease the demand for new clothing and reduce non-sustainable production rates. So how can you make your clothing last longer and become a more ethical consumer of fashion?
With the Care Label Project and Fashion Revolution's help, we've formulated four foolproof tips to help you on your way to building a more ethical and sustainable wardrobe: investing in quality clothing, rethinking care habits, utilizing modern washing technology, and restoring, reusing and recycling old clothes.
1. Invest in Quality Clothes
People tend to choose instant gratification over long-term satisfaction. An item of clothing from an affordable, non-sustainable high street retailer instantly gratifies the customer by appearing to save money and making them temporarily look in-the-know. Little thought is given to how long the garment will last, when it will cease to be on-trend and when the buyer will no longer wish to wear it. Trend-led, fast fashion retailers don’t want people to think about these things because they challenge their business models and would ultimately lose them money. But by being more considerate about purchases, we invest in clothing that saves money and the planet in the long-term.
Luckily, it’s no longer necessary to compromise unique style for the sake of sustainability as more and more brands begin to take a conscious approach. Ethical and sustainable manufacturing techniques could become the norm as we approach an environmental tipping point, and these labels could be on the cusp of change. Some such industry leaders contributed to the Care Label Collection encouraging sustainable behavior at every stage of a garment's life cycle — from manufacturing to washing. Buying from these transparent brands means knowing where your clothing comes from and investing in something that will last.
The key is to think more long-term, buying fewer higher quality clothes that will endure time, wear and trend shifts. Look for natural fibers such as cotton, wool and linen made from organic textiles or renewable materials. Opting for more timeless garments can help, but even when buying of-the-moment pieces, a quality investment from a sustainable brand has more chance of earning something back should you wish to get rid of it.
2. Rethink Washing Habits
The Care Label Project’s primary aim is to change the way clothing is cared for because, as mentioned, 25% of a garment's carbon footprint comes from the way it's cared for. More sustainable garment care helps clothing to last longer and, in turn, decreases environmental damage. The Care Label Project offers three crucial pieces of advice in its Modern Care Guide: wash less, wash at lower temperatures and only dry clean when essential.
Washing less and at lower temperatures reduces the energy and water used and extends a garment's lifespan by gently preserving fabrics. This is important because the longer clothing lasts, the less often it has to be replaced, and global textile consumption has more than doubled since 2000 (it’s expected to increase three times further by 2050). According to EURATEX, the textile and clothing industry has the second biggest impact on the environment, and it’s no surprise considering every kilo of textile produced uses at least one kilo of chemicals. So if we're consuming less, we're reducing the environmental impact.
Consider airing clothes out or steaming instead of washing them, and when you do wash, only wash full machine loads. Modern machines will adjust the cycle with the weight of the load and, contrary to the instructions on most care labels, you can clean garments at 20 to 30 degrees below the specified maximum temperature to save energy. Lower temperatures will help maintain the shape and color of jeans, while tumble drying outerwear reactivates protective layers and helps retain water repellency.
Dry cleaning uses damaging chemicals that negatively affect fabrics, the environment and skin. Regular modern machines can wash clothes that many people would only dry clean without using these chemicals. Silk, for example, can be washed on a gentle cycle and steamed to reduce wrinkles. This brings us onto our next tip: the need for better washing technology.
3. Better Washing Technology
Innovations in technology have been key to utilizing renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power, but they're also important when it comes to more ethical washing habits. A modern washer can save 80% more energy compared to one that is five years old and 60% simply by dropping the temperature from 40 to 30 degrees. Yet the Care Label Project told us that the majority of people aren't optimizing their garment care in this way and over a third of people have never changed their laundry habits since they were first taught them.
AEG’s modern machines automatically adjust cycles for gentler drum movements, tailored temperatures and improved drying cycles that protect fabrics, reduce textile damage and maintain textures. AEG's SensiDry technology, for example, reduces the drying temperature by almost half which reduces damage and wear, and helps maintain fabric texture. This extends a garment's lifespan and could decrease the demand for more textiles.
These machines and tailored cycles also use less water and energy. AEG's SoftWater Technology optimizes the water entering the drum to work at maximum efficiency, even at the lowest temperatures. It maintains colors and prevents fading while also keeping fabrics soft and in-shape. ÖKOMix Technology also guarantees an even washing and drying process, premixing detergents and softeners to maximize effectiveness. At the end of the day, however, everything is temporary; tastes change, colors fade and little holes become big holes. So what's next?
4. Repair. Reuse. Recycle.
At this point, it might seem logical to throw clothing in the garbage, and as a consequence, more than one million tons of textiles are thrown away every year. In reality, a garment’s lifecycle is far from over, and even when it is, the garbage isn’t the place for it.
A WRAP survey suggested that extending a garment’s life by just nine months could reduce carbon, waste and water footprints by around 20 to 30% each. One way to do this is through restoration: patching holes, installing new zippers, sewing new buttons or simply customizing. Some brands such as Blackhorse Lane Ateliers and Patagonia offer to repair damaged clothing, and the latter has video repair guides with step-by-step instructions on repairing clothing at home.
But what about when something just has to go? Perhaps it’s no longer the right size, or you’re just absolutely sick of it. Well, as the old saying goes, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Whether it’s a friend, charity shop or online bargain hunter, someone out there will take it off your hands. And should it be so beyond repair that no one could possibly want it, head to a recycling station to disposed of it and for all.