Bras and Sustainability

The difficult truths about fast fashion

Fast fashion is one of the most harmful developments to have taken place in the last few decades, and one that there was absolutely no real need for. As a greater contributor to climate change than the international aviation industry and shipping combined, fast fashion and its incessant demands for cheaply manufactured and short-lived clothing is taking a huge toll on our planet’s resources. The amount of pure waste and destruction created by fast fashion is staggering when you think about the fact that:

- 3/5 fast fashion items end up in landfills

- 1.5 trillion litres of water is used by the industry annually to grow cotton in areas that are usually already extremely water deprived

- An enormous amount of greenhouse gas is emitted when clothes travel around the world several times during the manufacturing process to exploit cheap labour

- 20-35% of microplastics and 20% of chemical pollution in our oceans is caused by textile production even though most people don’t associate clothing with plastic waste

When the entire profit model is based on pumping clothes made at the lowest cost possible through the market at unparallelled rates, this is not surprising. Not to mention the sickeningly exploitative labour model that it entails, with the majority of fast fashion employees not even being paid living wage. The average pay for a garment worker sewing fast fashion shirts in Bangladesh is equivalent to 33 US cents an hour, a rate that doesn’t pay the bills even with the 60 hours of labour a week that many have to work. And the majority of these exploited labourers end up being women, as they tend to have been given less opportunity to be hired in other fields. So not only is this a crippling sustainability issue, it’s a human rights issue, and it’s a feminist issue. It is no longer something we can ignore or even take a passive stance towards. .

The most sustainable and ethical way to shop is to reuse the resources we already have by shopping second hand or ‘upcycling’ items in our own closets.The next most effective way to counter the fast fashion frenzy is to buy less frequently and more selectively, investing in longer lasting clothes and paying close attention to the sustainability and ethicality of brands.

In the case of bras and underwear, however, buying second hand may not always be the most feasible or hygienic solution. Refraining from buying new ones when they’re needed isn’t exactly the right solution either. So what can we do to become more conscious consumers when it comes to lingerie?

How can we approach bras sustainably

One of the simplest steps we bra-wearers can approach things more sustainably is by making sure all our discarded, overused or ill fitting bras are being recycled or reused in some way. Bras being thrown away that are still new or that are in good condition can be donated to charities such as ‘Small for All’, which distributes new underwear and ‘gently worn’ bras to those who do not have access to them but to whom they could make a positive difference. In some cases, these bras can provide a degree of security to women who are in vulnerable positions, as in certain contexts they are taken as a status symbol and can reduce risk of sexual assault. Other charities that work on giving new life to discarded bras include ‘Against Breast Cancer’, ‘Oxfam’, ‘Zabra’, who all take similar approaches.

For bras that are well past their prime, recycling them is a very simple step that everyone should be taking. Material from recycled bras can be converted into industrial wiping rags, and fibers for carpet padding and home insulation. As it stands, 95% of textiles can be recycled in some way or another, but only 15% of it is actually being put in recycling banks, and we can change that very easily with minimal individual effort. And it has been made so simple to do that you don’t even have to figure out whether your bras are still good enough to be reused or too far gone and ready to be recycled. Just drop them in any of the donation bins that can be found in M&S stores, Bravissimo stores, or any of the bra banks that have been specifically set up in many places by previously mentioned charities. It’s as simple as that.

Another extremely effective way to reduce our waste and be more sustainable when it comes to bras is just by knowing our size better. A 2016 survey carried out by Rigby & Peller found that approximately 33% of women who bought bras that ended up not fitting them properly threw them away almost immediately after purchase. Bras are very particular in the sense that comfort and the perfect fit are more important here than virtually all other types of clothing. That is why many women also choose to order bras in several different sizes when purchasing online, and simply keep the one that fits best while returning the rest.

But again, in terms of packaging and repackaging, as well as transporting the items unnecessarily, this is not an ideal way of going about it. Bras that fit properly and support as they should will also last much longer than one that will not fit properly and soon feel uncomfortable. That is why knowing your proper bra size through effective bra fitting services is another key part of becoming more sustainable consumers.

The last part of this puzzle, but certainly not the least, is being conscious of the steps the brands you are supporting are taking to be more sustainable.

In practice, it’s easy to ignore this part of the process when the main priority people tend to have when buying clothing is how it looks on them, how it feels to them, and how expensive it is, which takes up enough of the thought process. But in today’s world, it has become so easy to be conscious of being sustainable and ethical when the difficult, research oriented part of the work has already been done for us.

The ‘Good on You’ app is an extremely easy way to know how ethical brands are being, in relation to the planet, to the people it employs, and to animals. It ranks brands on a scale of 1 to 5 based on its transparency and steps taken to reduce harmful impact in these three areas. It’s as easy as the click of a button to vet your brand choices and know that you are playing a part in reducing harm and negative impact of things that seem out of our control. Bra brands such as Lara Intimates, which uses surplus fabrics and runs on a made to order model, or the Very Good Bra, which has become the world’s first entirely degradable zero waste bra, for example, shows us that shopping sustainably is becoming an increasingly accessible option.

Though placing the pressure on consumers to take all the responsibility for putting an end to climate change is not feasible, we do still have agency. And using this agency to take whatever steps we can, big or small, to reduce our impact is a good place to start.

Written by Carla Mcdonald Heffernan, our Brarista Blog Contributor!

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