Have you ever thought about the carbon footprint of clothes? We probably are more concerned over price than the environmental impacts and social injustices of the textile industry. But it is time to add a lens to our clothes buying practices. 

Do we need the newest style of the week?

How long is your new shirt, new?  Until you wash it, right?  So why do we always need to buy the newest new thing that is indistinguishable from a used thing after just one washing?

What I am trying to say is that the items you can find in a consignment shop, or secondhand store, are still new to you.  Plus, buying things from the consignment shop saves tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere, and saves you money.

Buying that new shirt from a retail store has a carbon footprint along the entire process – transportation to manufacturing to distribution. You can see the stats in another article here about Fast Fashion.  The numbers are staggering. 

Manufacturing clothes uses a lot of energy, water, dyes, petroleum and toxic chemical byproducts that threaten the air, land, and waterways.  This is especially true in developing countries where most of our clothing is made. And I should add, that many are made in unsafe environments by basically slave labor.  How else can you buy a $5 t-shirt? 

Reducing your demand for new clothes will reduce all these threats to our health and environment, cradle to grave.

Donating Clothing

When we are no longer happy with that designer shirt you just had to have last year, consider taking it to a consignment or secondhand store. It will become a treasured shirt for someone else.

Reducing your demand for new clothing will reduce your negative contribution to the environment. It takes a conscious effort to break shopping habits. As with any purchase, learn to ask yourself, “Do I need this?” That one question can be a trigger that reminds you of the carbon footprint of clothes, and anything you buy.

One less piece of clothing per person in your household per year will make a huge impact. How many times have you bought something just because it was on sale, or it was cute. Did you really need it?  I am guilty.  I have a closet full of cardigans for that very reason. And no, I don’t “need” that many cardigans. 

I was raised by a mom who loved to buy clothes.  She would find something she liked and buy one in every color. I remember having outfits like that in middle school. Red plaid, yellow plaid, same skirt. Even in her final years at the assisted living facility she would order from TV. Every time I went to visit I had to clean out her closets because they were overflowing.  Many things still had tags on them. She always looked beautiful and the clothes made her feel that way.

When we cleared out the closet I would take them to the consignment shop. She had good taste so they always sold. But it did bother me. So it is hard to tell others to reduce your clothing consumption. I know how difficult it can be, especially if it is a form of entertainment. Maybe we can have some exceptions.

My granddaughter keeps a basket in her closet of clothes she no longer wears and she asks her friends to take a look when they come over to see if they want them. Since she was little she would share clothes with her friends. Clothing swaps can be a fun alternative to going to the consignment shop.

Easy Ways to reduce carbon footprint of clothes

Start small if you find this to be a painful change.

  1. Buy 10% less items over the year.
  2. Donate used clothing or take to consignment.
  3. Buy sustainably produced clothing that will last a long time.

When you donate your used clothing and household goods, you are allowing those less fortunate to afford to buy it.  A good example is donating your kids used athletic equipment and clothing.  You know how expensive those can be!

Plus, you will eliminate some of the millions of pounds of textile waste that is dumped into our landfills.

What is your clothing carbon footprint?  I came across this nice website today. Not sure how scientific it is, but it gets the point across. I ended up in the low end of the spectrum.  How about you?  What can you do to reduce your clothing carbon footprint?


How to find sustainable clothing

Here are sites that were recommended by a fellow writer I follow, K.A. Emmons.  She has spent a lot of time finding ethical and sustainable clothing. These sites will help. No affiliates here, just sharing.


Work with your local organization or church to host a coat drive, sock drive, glove drive – etc. Or maybe an Eco-Swap where everything is free. There are always people in need in your own community.

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