Why We Should All Become More Conscious Consumers

It’s no secret just how detrimental our fast fashion behaviours can be. From significantly contributing to rising carbon emissions and landfill, to human rights abuses throughout the supply chain, it is evident that significant changes need to be made to the fashion industry.


Kira Barker

12/9/2021 5 min read

Key points:
  • The fashion industry is responsible for eight to ten per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

  • By 2030, research has indicated that the fashion industry is likely to consume resources equivalent to two Earths, which will only further increase as the demand for new clothing is expected to grow by 63%.

  • Educating yourself, shopping second hand, or simply buying less are some of the best ways to become a more conscious consumer.

Research from Fashion Revolution demonstrates that a growing number of consumers are deeply concerned about the social and environmental impacts of the fashion industry, and believe fashion brands should become more transparent about their supply chains and environmental footprint.

However, according to the Fashion Transparency Index whilst there is an overall trend of brands continuing to publish more about their policies, there is a distinct lack of transparency in how they implement these policies. Although it is a step in the right direction that brands are now more inclined to share their policies, by not providing detailed supplier lists, audit results or climate impact data, it is challenging for consumers and stakeholders to hold such brands to account.

Unfortunately, this creates yet another conundrum for consumers looking to start shopping more ethically, leaving many consumers with good intentions feeling overwhelmed. Where is a good place to start you may wonder? Well, we think simply educating yourself on the impacts that your consumer behaviour can have is probably your best bet.

How much environmental damage does fast fashion do, really?

The answer is simple, quite a damn lot, actually.

The fast fashion industry is growing concerningly quickly, and an increase in production is inextricably linked with an increase in its environmental damage. By 2030, research has indicated that the fashion industry is likely to consume resources equivalent to two Earths, which will only further increase as the demand for new clothing is expected to grow by 63%.

 We know that it can be easy to get overwhelmed when looking at the frightening facts and figures demonstrating just how much impact the fast fashion industry has on our environment. To keep it simple, the industry has three main environmental impacts:

  •  Water usage – According to Good On You, one of the most concerning impacts of the fashion industry is its water usage, with approximately 93 million cubic metres of water being used annually within the garment industry. This amount of water would be enough to meet the needs of five million people. On top of this, 20% of our global wastewater is a direct result of fabric dyeing and treatment.

  • Carbon emissions – The fashion industry is responsible for eight to ten per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than the aviation and maritime shipping industries combined (yes, you read that correctly). This is mostly resulted from pumping water to irrigate crops, and using harvesting machinery and oil-based pesticides. At this pace, these greenhouse emissions are expected to increase to more than 50% by 2030.

  • Contributing to landfill – Approximately three-fifths of fast fashion items produced globally end up in landfill or incinerators, merely within years of being made. This pattern of behaviour is evidently prevalent in Australia, considering nationally we discard 15 tonnes of textile waste every ten minutes.

How do our fast fashion choices impact garment workers?

According to the Fashion Transparency Index, eight years on from the devasting Rana Plaza collapse which killed and injured thousands of garment workers, not much has changed. Unfortunately, tragic and fatal factory fires and accidents, poor and exploitative working conditions, environmental degradation and pollution remain widespread throughout the global fashion supply chain.

Furthermore, the Fashion Transparency Index states that there has been a continued lack of transparency on the living wages of workers in the supply chain. Their findings indicate that less than a quarter (23%) of brands disclose their approach to achieving payment of living wages to workers in their supply chain. However, overall less than 1% of brands actually publish the number of workers being paid a living wage. However, overall less than 1% of brands actually publish the number of workers being paid a living wage (according to Investopedia a living wage is an income level that that is high enough to maintain a normal standard of living and allows individuals or families to afford adequate shelter, food, and other necessities). This alone demonstrates that the fashion industry has a serious transparency issue which needs to change.

Put simply, the lack of transparency in the fashion industry is a significant issue that ultimately costs lives. If fashion brands become more transparent about their supply chain, consumers can have access to credible information about the social impacts of the clothing they buy and can make better and more informed decisions about their consumption. Although this won’t solve the significant issues facing the fashion industry and its supply chain, it will help hold brands accountable to ensure fair and ethical production becomes a higher priority.

So, as consumers what can we do to help make a change?

One of the most effective (and at times difficult) ways to make significant change is to realise that as long as we support fast fashion brands, we are part of the problem. It’s not always an easy wake up call to face, especially once you educate yourself on the impacts our privileged choices can have on both the environment and garment workers in the industry.

We’ve collated some of our best tips to help you become a more conscious consumer.

  • Educate yourself – The easiest way to become more conscious is simply by educating yourself to help determine which brands are worth consuming from, and which brands aren’t. There are an abundance of informative documentaries, articles, and podcasts out there which are great resources to help educate yourself. At Sustainable Marketplace, we are huge fans of Good On You, whose ethical rating system will give you the run down on how brands perform in three key areas: people, the planet, and animals. You can search for your favourite brands in their Directory, or through their app. However, if you want to quit fast fashion cold turkey we believe watching The True Cost is a great place to start.

  • Consider an item’s cost per wear - Basically, the more wears you can get out of a garment, the better the investment. So although a sustainable, ethical item of clothing might be more expensive to purchase, if it keeps its shape and colour for years it will probably turn out to have a much lower cost per wear than the cheaper fast fashion tee you throw out after only three or four wears.

  • Shop second hand – If you want to avoid being part of the vicious fast fashion-cycle altogether, why not shop second hand? You can find the best hidden gems by shopping second-hand, and we absolutely love visiting our local op-shops, markets, or shopping via Depop. It’s so much better for your wallet, wardrobe, and our planet!

  • Simply buy less (and if you need to buy, buy better!) – As the saying goes, less is (truly) more and it’s undoubtedly the best way to reduce your impact. If you do need to buy new clothing, why not shop second hand, or opt for slow fashion pieces that are designed to last . Checking out the slow fashion brands on our website is a good start. The most effective way to buy less is ensuring that you are getting the most wear from items already in your wardrobe. We believe outfit repeating is ALWAYS ok!

  • Make your wardrobe last - Going hand in hand with outfit repeating: look after those gorgeous pieces in your wardrobe, and they’ll reward you by becoming your trusty go-to pieces for any occasion or event. Take the time to read (and follow!) care instructions, air and spot clean your clothing instead of throwing it in the washing machine after each wear, and learn to do your own small repairs or find a local repair shop.