The new year is coming, and with that, comes the eternal dilemma: what should you wear for the celebrations? You may be tempted to follow fast fashion trends or splurge on luxurious evening clothes, but by doing so, you would just be adding on to pollution created by the vast fashion industry!
According to the World Economic Forum, the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of all humanity’s carbon emissions and is the second largest consumer of the global water supply. As fast fashion brands such as H&M and Zara release more collections every year, people are buying more garments and keeping them for a shorter period of time. 85% of textiles go into landfills each year, enough to fill the Sydney Opera House.
Even if you keep synthetic clothes (clothes made of polyester and acrylic) for a long time, washing them releases 500,000 tons of microfibres into the ocean each year — about 50 billion plastic bottles.
Oh, and clothing companies also contribute to 20% of industrial water pollution and 10% of carbon emissions (even more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined).
Do not fret, readers! We can welcome the new year of 2021 by starting to wear eco-fashion. Eco fashion is fashion that minimises the impact on the environment by using sustainable materials and reusing old clothes that can be worn. Here is a guide to dressing up for the holidays, while helping the planet at the same time.
Hats and Headwear
If you’re planning to complement your outfit with a snazzy hat, it’s best to buy hats that are made out of recycled materials. For example, The Real Deal Brazil produces tarp hats made from recycled tarps (or tarpaulins, a strong waterproof material to cover goods on trucks) used by trucks in Brazil. Though the hats may not look very glamorous — you can see some wear and tear on each hat — they give a sort of vintage look unique to other commercially-produced hats.
Tarp hat from The Real Deal Brazil.
If you love handicraft and DIY culture, you can make your own hats to wear. Online, there are dozens of craft blogs which provide free hat patterns — you just need to do a quick Google search. Buy supplies from crafts stores or use recyclable materials. Here are 13 hat sewing patterns and tutorials you can consult.
For most hats bought at the store, they are unable to be recycled, but rather can be reused. Rather than spending on new hats, why not give your old hats a makeover? You can add some ribbon onto a wool hat or sew a pattern onto a cap. Even if you have no use for a particular hat, don’t just throw it away. You can sell your hats on online marketplaces such as Carousell or donate them to charity. Let your children wear them for dress-up or use the materials for DIY projects.
Eco Friendly Outfits
There is a common misconception that eco-friendly clothes — or almost every eco-friendly product — can never match the “real” thing. That’s false, because eco-fashion can be just as stylish as fast fashion. Celebrities such as Emma Watson, Pharrell Williams and Michelle Obama have worn sustainable clothes on the red carpet and actively support eco-friendly fashion.
If you are shopping for new clothes to wear during the holiday season, buy clothes that are made with sustainable fabrics. Vegan materials are one example. Thanks to science, vegan leather has been invented and is now being used to create new clothes, sparing many innocent animals from the cruelty of leather factories and reducing the high levels of energy and toxic waste produced in the process. Vegan materials include pinatex, cork, seacell, mycoworks (mushroom skin) and recycled materials. Besides that, there is organic cotton, which is not grown with any artificial substances such as pesticides.
When you want to buy from a particular clothing brand, it is also important to think about the brand’s mission and ethos. Support slow fashion and fair fashion brands which produce fewer new items every year and ensure fair wages are paid to every single worker they employ. Also, consider patronising eco-friendly local brands from Singapore, especially during this economic slump. Zhai Eco Collection, Gen Woo, and Step of Grace are affordable brands for every budget. Others include Esse and Source Collections.
If you’re broke from splurging on Christmas presents, there are other options too. Buy from second-hand stores. There are many open for both buyers and sellers around the island, and often, they are treasure troves filled with items ranging from vintage classics to pre-loved designer goods. Plus, many of them are run by non-profit organisations, so by buying from them, you not only get a cheap new wardrobe, you can also do good! Examples include Salvation Army Family Thrift Stores, New2U Thrift Shop, and MINDS shop. One fashion brand has taken second-hand to a whole new level. Refash is a marketplace where buyers and sellers can find cheap pieces from top brands.
Besides that, you can repair beloved garments instead of buying new clothes. And, if you want to do something fun for your friends and family, hold a clothing swap! Organise a clothing swap to reuse unwanted clothes while strengthening bonds at the same time. Better yet, do it at The Fashion Pulpit, Singapore’s first and largest swapping platform.
When in doubt, check out this one-stop online directory of sustainable fashion for all your needs and wants.
Shoes and Footwear
Eco-friendly outfits don’t just stop there. Wear some sustainable shoes to complete your new look. Similar to eco-friendly clothes, eco-friendly footwear uses vegan materials that have a smaller impact on the environment. In New Zealand, company YY Nation launched the Legacy Footwear Collection, with shoes made of sustainable materials. It uses pre-consumer, post-consumer and plant waste to produce the shoes. Some of the materials include bamboo, algae, sugarcane, pineapple husk, recycled fishnets, plastic bottles and recycled rubber — but you wouldn’t have guessed it just from looking at the shoes!
YY Nation shoes. Taken from Optimist Daily.
Besides that, scientists have invented biodegradable flip-flops made from algae-based plastic. Many conventional flip-flops spend a long time in landfills before decomposing and when they break into tiny pieces, they can pollute the water and soil. These new flip-flops are designed to break down in soil or compost. And — as a researcher working with the flip-flops attests — they are very comfortable. Inspired by eco-friendly surfboards, scientists made flip-flop foam that can be easily digestible by microbes in the biodegrading process. The foam has many pores (or holes) for microbes to get inside and break down more of the material. The algae plastic used also has “ester groups”, or groups of atoms that microbes can break down very fast. All these factors quicken the biodegrading process.
If you need to grab a pair of shoes now, head over to a second-hand shop or clothing swap, like those mentioned in the previous sections. Or, if you want a specially-handwoven and handcrafted specimen, check out the offerings at Steps of Grace.
Going to a fancy-dress event? Picking a wedding dress with the environment in mind? Glamorous gowns are going green with sustainable materials. For example, the brand Lily & Lou uses sustainable fabrics and materials that are upcycled and recycled. It also works with local seamstresses and manufacturers conscious of business ethics. The Tangerine Road works to empower women by collaborating with charities that support women, whilst making dresses to let women shine. Wray Crafted works with artisan communities to come up with sustainable Indian-based designs. But you don’t need to burn a whole in your pocket just to look good. Rentadella and Covetella have clothing racks full of dresses you can rent. Wedding dresses made with vegan materials have also been on the rise.
Burning some unwanted calories after the holiday feasts? Invest in eco-friendly sports clothing and activewear. In Singapore, August Society makes swimwear and leggings from plastic waste such as fishnets.
Adaptive clothing for disabled people have green options too. Samantha Bullock, a disabled model and para-athlete, runs an adaptive clothing line for wheelchair users with sustainable pieces, following the slow fashion model.
Change Starts From Us
To do our part for our planet Earth, we can start from taking simple steps such as reusing old clothes and buying new ones made of sustainable materials. As we look towards sustainability in fashion and use science to create planet-saving solutions, it is even more important to remember that every product takes resources to make. These resources are non-renewable, and they can only last for a limited time, so we should reduce our consumption and buy only what we need, not what we want. The next time a big promotion comes around, why don’t accept the challenge to fight temptation and skip the sale instead?
Thee Sim Ling (she/her) is a 14-year-old writer in Singapore. She has placings in numerous writing competitions, including being the only international winner for the 2021 Inklings Book Contest, and her work has been published or is forthcoming in Stone Soup, Shameless Magazine and Skipping Stones.