This is How the Lifecycle of Your T-shirt Looks Like!
As I have already mentioned in one of my previous blog posts on things you should know about sustainability, I will now get more into the topic of sustainable wear.
Clothing is something we all need in our daily lives e.g. for protection from our environment. But especially through the internet, online shopping, and Social Media, clothing developed into something we use as identification and status symbol. Seeing influencers who constantly do “fashion hauls” or “latest pickups”, especially the younger generations are feeling urged to buy more and more trendy clothing. Often, people are not clear about how all the garments they are buying are produced because you can normally only trace back the production country of your garment.
To give you a bit more clarification, I will explain to you the lifecycle of a garment based on a cotton T-shirt. Here is an interesting video to give you a short overview:
There are 5 main steps in the lifecycle:
1. Sourcing the material
Before the lifecycle of a garment can begin, cotton seeds are grown to receive the fluffy fiber which will later be processed into fabric. The major cotton producers are India, China, the USA, and Brazil.
In order to get the cotton fiber, a massive amount of water and pesticides is needed. An average T-shirt needs 2700 liters of water! Additionally, the pesticides and insecticides that are used harm the environment and the fieldworkers. When the cotton is ready to be harvested, machines carefully collect the cotton balls, separate them from the seeds, and press the cotton lint together to make them ready for transport.
2. Production process
After the raw material arrived in a spinning facility by truck or ship, high-tech machines process it through different steps into ropes of yarn called slivers. These slivers can then be used to knit them together into a piece of fabric.
The knitting process is done by huge circular knitting machines inside a mill. The outcome is not yet a white and soft cotton fabric as we have it in mind, but rather rough and gray. Therefore, the pieces of fabric are treated with heat, chemicals, and dye which can contain cancer-causing substances. This is not only dangerous for people being in contact with the fabric, but also for the whole environment as often toxic wastewaters are released into the surrounding area.
When the fabric has its intended colour and softness, it is further shipped to clothing factories mostly in Bangladesh, China, or India. Here humans are needed to cut the fabric and sew it together into a garment. The working conditions are poor and the wage is very low so that a lot of workers live under the poverty line.
As soon as the garment is ready to wear, it needs to be shipped again to high-income countries where it will be sold. All the shipping adds up to a huge amount of carbon emissions, which is mainly caused by outsourcing the production in order to keep the wages to a minimum.
Clothing production accounts for 10% of the global carbon emissions!
The high demand for clothing and our whole consumption behaviour is an additional driver to produce more and more cheap fashion.
4. Usage phase
The T-shirt can now be purchased in a retail store or ordered online e.g. from one of the leading Chinese stores jd.com or vip.com. The American companies macys.com and amazon.com also belong to the big players in the fashion e-commerce industry.
Online shopping is further adding up to the carbon emissions of the T-shirt and additionally responsible for a lot of package waste. Shockingly, if items are returned by the customer a lot of them are getting destroyed!
An estimated €7 billion worth of goods are destroyed each year in Germany alone.
If you successfully purchased a T-shirt, it will be washed several times during the usage phase which consumes a lot of energy. Furthermore, if synthetic materials such as polyester are part of the T-shirt, every time you wash it microfiber is released into our water.
Finally, as soon as the T-shirt is worn-out or no longer corresponds with the current trends, we need to get rid of it.
The easiest way is probably to throw it into the trash which is very bad from an environmental perspective as most of the clothing will end up in landfills or be burned. Another option is to donate old clothing to goodwill stores which is also not the best option. The problem here is that these stores are often cluttered with a huge amount of clothes they can’t even sell. These unsold clothes will then be shipped to developing nations and sold to an extremely low price which harms the local fashion industry.
But what else can we do?
To extend the lifecycle of your clothing you can sell it on apps like vinted.com which earns you some money and makes someone else happy. Additionally, think of people in your environment who have little money and would be thankful for some free clothes. In case an item can’t be worn anymore think of ways how you can upcycle them. Here’s an inspiration for what you can do with old denim trousers.
In case you really can’t think of anything you can do with your old T-shirt just cut it up into pieces and use it as a cleaning cloth.
With this article I didn’t intend to make you feel bad about all your past fashion purchases. I rather intend to make you reflect on your purchasing and disposal decisions in the future. Also, consider buying vintage or second-hand fashion whereby you automatically extend the lifecycle of the garment.
What to do now:
If you haven’t yet, look through your closet and pick out items you don’t wear anymore and want to sell. Then download the Vinted app for Android or IOS and make sure to check my next blog post to get an easy guide for the app!