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Dressing Sustainably

July 18, 2021

Written by Claire Wang

Did you know that it can take 2700 liters of water just to make a cotton T-shirt and 3781 liters of water to make a pair of jeans? This is because cotton is an extremely drought intolerant plant. Cotton also only takes up 2.5% of agricultural land but accounts for 16% of pesticides and 6.8% of herbicides used in the world. These chemicals heavily damage the environment and harm the soil. Not to mention, the earth is incapable of absorbing the number of clothes that are made and thrown away every year. It is estimated that about 99% of used clothes end up being in a landfill, where they may be burnt.

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Evidently, clothes are very capable of harming the environment. However, there are ways to dress and shop that will reduce the impact your habits have on the environment, including using organic cotton and recycled fabric, and reducing how often you buy clothes.

What is recycled fabric?

Recycled fabric is fabric made of previous scraps of cotton or other material. Thus, it can save a lot of water and energy while also avoiding the chemicals used in farming cotton. It also solves the problem of what to do with clothes when they end up in a landfill. There are two types of recycled fabric: post-consumption and pre-consumer. Post-consumption recycled fabric is made with pieces of cloth that have been made into a fabric, while pre-consumer recycled fabric is made with remains of cloth that were discarded in the making of other clothes.

To make recycled fabric, pieces of fabric are first sorted into colors. Then, each group of color is shredded into small fibers and then spun back. The quality of recycled fabric is not as good as normal fabric or cotton because the length of fibers are shortened and it is not very uniform. This means that clothes, unfortunately, cannot be recycled an infinite amount of times.


However, recycled fabric overall is still an excellent option because it reduces the amount of water and pesticide used and prevents clothes from winding up in landfills. It also does not require any dyes or animals, like sheep, to produce cloth.

To find out more about the process of recycling clothes, check out this fascinating video about a town turning waste into clothes:

What is organic cotton?

Organic cotton is cotton grown without pesticides and fertilizers. It preserves biodiversity and soil well being. No fertilizer used is beneficial for the environment because excess fertilizer in runoff can end up in the ocean and start an algal bloom, where algae grow uncontrollably due to extra nutrients.

Unlike recycled fabric, the quality is preserved; however, a huge amount of water is still used to grow organic cotton.

How can you help?

Fortunately, there are many ways to help, as everybody can control how they buy clothes! Here is a list of what can be done to improve the current situation.

  • Before buying a piece of clothing, ask if you would wear it 30 times- this helps you make sure that you will not throw it away immediately after wearing it
  • Buy clothes that work well for more than one season
  • Wear jeans for a longer time- jeans require even more water than a cotton T shirt. One pair of jeans may require up to 3781 liters of water
  • Shop in thrift stores
  • Buy high-quality clothing that will last
  • Do not shop fast fashion- clothes are thrown away more often as a result (to learn more about the impact of fast fashion and what stores do with unwanted clothing, check out this video:
  • Donate unwanted clothing
  • Learn how to repair clothing instead of throwing it away when something is broken
  • Shop for clothes from brands that use recycled or organic cotton. There are many small brands that have these options. Here is a list of some brands:

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