One Cotton T-shirt

By Alice Hutchins

It takes around 3,000 litres of water to make one cotton T-shirt. That’s as much as one person usually drinks in three years. 

The clothes industry has an incredible impact on the environment, from the chemicals and dyes that can be used to treat fabrics, to the sheer quantity that end up in landfills each year. Micro-fibers that fall from clothes in our washing machines feed in to the drainage system, and then end up contributing to the micro-plastics problem in our oceans. With the growing industry comes growing issues.  

‘Textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of clean water globally, after agriculture. Greenpeace’s recent Detox campaign has been instrumental in pressuring fashion brands to take action to remove toxic chemicals from their supply chains after it tested a number of brands’ products and confirmed the presence of hazardous chemicals’. – The Independent 

It takes five or more countries to make one cotton T-shirt, and consumes fuel to ship it from place to place. 

The fast fashion industry in countries like Britain and America can have a negative impact on countries in the Global South. Not only is it often disadvantaged countries who work hard to make our clothing for little profit, but once discarded, these clothes are then often sent to be sold back in poorer countries, which can have a detrimental effect on their locally made clothes industries. The more clothes that are bought and then disregarded in prospering countries, the worse the impact is on those countries who helped to make them.  

“We’d love to see legislation for the labels in your garment not just to say, ‘Made in’ wherever it’s from – but ‘grown in’, ‘finished in’, ‘manufactured in’, so you can understand there is a longer process.” – Amy Powney, creative director of sustainable designer brand Mother of Pearl. 

It takes a lot of work to dispose of one cotton T-shirt, which contributes to eighty tones of donated clothing per week.  

Many high-streets sell mass-produced, low quality garments which are not suitable for resale once they have been out-worn. This results in millions of clothes being thrown out, which are unable to be disposed of in an environmentally safe manner. The appeal of fast fashion is that there are constantly new styles ready to be purchased, at low prices, which makes it very tempting for people to be able to throw out old clothes and buy new. However, what we should be aiming to do is recycling old clothes, repairing those that are damaged, and re-wearing outfits as opposed to purchasing new. 

‘The British public sends the equivalent of 11,000 bales to landfill each week’ 

It takes every person to buy one less cotton T-shirt, to buy less but buy smarter and instigate change. 

 We all have that old item of clothing that sits in the back of our wardrobes and never sees the light of day. We are all tempted to have a spring clean every now and then and update our look with some retail therapy. But next time we go on a shopping spree, we should think sustainable. Less impact on the global south, less impact on the planet, and more love for your well-worn wardrobe.  

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