If you’re serious about the environment, you should consider ditching the clothes.
Many people think nothing of buying new clothes and ditching last season’s look. We assume that by dropping our unwanted clothes off at the local recycling box, we are doing our bit for the environment. The reality is that the clothing industry is far more damaging to the environment than many people realise, and the truth is disturbing.
Much of the clothing that is recycled ends up in landfills in places like Ghana or Chile, causing an environmental problem that shows no sign of reducing. Western consumers happily buy the next new thing, discarding last season's garments into the recycling bin, happy in our delusion that we are helping the planet. Simply do an internet search on recycled clothing in Chile to get a small idea of the problem we are contributing to.
Around 65% of the clothing that we wear is polymer-based, with some 70 million barrels of oil used to make polyester fibres in our clothes.
Polyester clothing has a carbon footprint more than twice that of clothes made from cotton, but switching to cotton clothing is not without issues. The production of cotton clothing is water-intensive, taking up to 1,700 litres for a cotton t-shirt and up to 10,000 litres for a pair of jeans. That’s a glass of water a day for over 100 years, for 1 pair of jeans.
Microfibres and microplastics from clothing production and regular washing are now part of the ocean ecosystem, and we are yet to see the long term impacts that these will have on ocean life and those further up the food chain, including us.
The fashion industry contributes around 10% of human greenhouse gas emissions, so next time you look at that cheap t-shirt or item of clothing that you buy on a whim, think of the resources used to produce it.
It’s a really big problem, but what can one person do?
Buy second-hand clothes from thrift shops rather than buying new ones.
Ignore the fashion trends. If there is still plenty of wear in last season's wardrobe, keep wearing it. Wear clothes for as long as you can and don’t ditch items that have plenty of life in them.
Choose not to wear clothes at all. Ok, that is a big one and a step too far for many of us, but the reality is, that in the comfort and privacy of your own home, do you really need clothes?
Every journey begins with the first step.
One survey suggested that as many as 30% of adults in the US sleep naked, and the numbers rocket up to 65% of millennials. The Global sleepwear market was estimated to be worth some 10 Billion $US in 2019. That is a significant amount of money spent on the second most useless piece of clothing ever invented. Ditch the nightwear and you are already making a positive impact on the planet.
The most useless item of clothing ever invented, is without doubt the swimsuit, or as it is becoming known in some circles, the shame suit.
Most swimming was naked prior to 1680 for women and naked swimming for men was banned in the United Kingdom in 1860. The male swimsuit is a relatively recent development. Naked swimming was the norm for men in the US up till the 1960s with the YMCA pools having a no suits policy for the males.
Swimwear provides little if any modesty, especially when wet, and many find it uncomfortable to wear.
The global swimwear market was estimated to be worth 19 Billion $US in 2020, a crazy amount of money spent on an item of clothing that adds nothing to the swimming experience and provides only an illusion of modesty.
There is a strong gender bias in swimsuit history, with the majority share of the industry profits coming from swimwear for women. While the profits in swimwear are getting larger, one could argue that swimwear, particularly female swimwear, has spent the last 60 years becoming less and less modest.
While much of the population would not consider ditching swimwear, there are several groups around the world promoting natural swimming. For many who have tried swimming naked, the freedom of the experience is truly liberating. For those brave enough to turn their back on the swimsuit, that is another small step towards reducing your impact on the planet.
Imagine a world where people lived without body shame, with an appreciation that we are all different, and that people come in all shapes and sizes. Imagine if people were judged by their character and what they say rather than how they appear. If you want to know what this world would be like, book a visit to your local naturist club. It’s a big step for most people, but you will be surprised at how welcoming and non-judgmental everyone is, and how quickly you will forget to notice that everyone is naked. The paradox here is that while everyone is bare, nobody notices. People will be genuinely interested in you and what you have to say, rather than what you look like.
Clothing and beauty companies are making billions of dollars selling us things to address insecurities that we were taught by marketing companies and our parents. Many of the products that they are selling us harm our wellbeing and our environment, and we line up like lemmings demanding that they sell us more and more stuff.
To reduce the hold that the clothing and beauty industries impose upon us, society needs to change its fundamental attitude toward body image, body shame and body freedom.
An internet meme was doing the rounds a while back that quoted Dr Gail Dines.
“If tomorrow, women woke up and decided that they really liked their bodies, just think how many industries would go out of business.”
If we take this idea and push it a little further. Imagine if we taught our children that there was no shame in the naked human body. Just think how much we would enhance their confidence and reduce body shame and insecurities. We would help them to develop healthy and respectful ideas about people and to listen to their ideas rather than judge them by their appearance.
As a male, why can I walk down the street without a shirt on, and no one will notice, however, if my female partner decides to do the same thing, all manner of complaints and objections will be directed at her? There are the beginnings of a movement to address this inequality with the Free The Nipple movement, embracing the right of women to be topless in public without harassment, but it is an uphill battle. The overwhelming double standard of shaming women over their natural bodies is a major hurdle to overcome in terms of promoting equality.
For those of us lucky to live in a climate where clothing is not required to keep warm, choosing to ditch the clothes could be the environmentally responsible thing to do.
“But think of the children!”, comes the horrified cry from the moral majority. The reality is that most kids love running around free and swimming naked. Kids don’t care. It is only their parents that begin the body shame training conditioning them to cover up as it's “rude” or “naughty”. Body shame is a learned behaviour, and we teach our children to be ashamed and insecure of their natural bodies from an early age. Children will ask questions and have curiosity around exposed bodies, and we owe it to their healthy development to answer those questions honestly.
Yes some people would behave inappropriately, but those people are already out there in the shadows, They need to be called out for their behaviour and not allowed to hide behind the shame and guilt that we have taught our children. If children are aware and bought up to understand boundaries, predators are less likely to succeed in coercion based on secrets and shame. Shine a light and eliminate the shadows where these predators thrive. We all need to be vigilant and protect the young and vulnerable in our society, but shielding our children's eyes from the naked facts does nothing to help them stay safe, it might even help the predator.
While nudity does not sit well with everyone, and there are some climates where nudity is not comfortable, from an environmental impact point of view, there are many reasons to consider shunning some of the excesses associated with the clothing industry. It is a lifestyle choice that some have already embraced, despite the criticism of many.
There is an easy argument to ditch the clothes in favour of the environment, but social and commercial interests make that a significant challenge. There is no money to be made from embracing a natural style in today's world. The clothing, swimwear and makeup industries have too much invested in promoting body shame to convince us to buy products that we don’t need.
The social challenge is based on the fear of embarrassment rather than on any logical argument. We are more worried about what people might think of us than we are about our comfort and impact on the planet.
Changing our thinking and attitudes toward clothing could have many befits to society and the environment. We can combat body shame, reduce the gender imbalance, improve personal confidence and well-being, and do our bit for the planet without any financial cost to ourselves. It may even save you money.
While ditching the clothes completely would be a step too far for most of the population, we should consider that some people may wish to go naked as part of an ethical choice in warmer climates and that wearing nothing should be a socially acceptable option.
Thank you for reading, have a comfortable day.