2021 was another Corona, and knitting in front of Zoom, year. Indeed, I managed to knit two sweaters, a pair of socks and sewed two tops and a dress for myself. In addition, I again inherited clothes from family (7 items). So, in total, 13 items entered my wardrobe despite the no shopping commitment. However, I really didn’t buy any clothes at all, in essence a good no shopping year. Although, on the shoe side (that is not included in my wardrobe count), I bought two pairs of second hand boots via Sellpy. Super cheap and useful. I was very lucky that they actually fit.
In terms of items leaving the wardrobe, I wore out 6 items and gave away 7 items that I bought as young (too short skirts and the like). So a total of 13 items left the wardrobe. Subtracting items going out from items going in, this year my wardrobe went plus minus 0 items. At the end of the year I still had 528 items in the wardrobe. Over the last five years, however, I’ve reduced the wardrobe with ca -23 items. 23 items less in the wardrobe is quite a significant decrease. Still, the wardrobe feels really full.
At five years of no shopping, I am starting to miss certain things that I have worn out over the years. I would rather like to sew some replacements for these items. However, I don’t really have that much time to sew. In contrast, I knit far too many wool sweaters (who needs two new wool sweaters during a year?). It’s much easier to get time to knit since you can do it anywhere (e.g. bus and train knitting). As I have blogged about before, the climate impact of these handknitted sweaters is in fact low. So this is an indulgence I will continue to allow. I actually parted with one of my first knits, a Siri cardigan that went to my sister, just so that I can knit a new one. I love to knit the Siri cardigan.
On the mending side, I spent a total of 3 hours mending clothes last year. It seems to be the average. Maybe I only need 3 hours a year. It was only my first year of no-shopping that I spent much more time mending since mending was a new ambition at the time and I had a backlog. Of course, after five years of mending, the need for mending is much lower. I don’t even have a mending pile at home anymore. I used to have two big piles.
As for dry cleaning and shoe repair, I spent a record low sum of 1050 SEK. This is likely an effect of Corona since it’s mostly party wear that requires dry cleaning. With fewer parties – less need for dry cleaning.
So, will I continue another year? Of course I will. No clothes shopping is a habit at this point. If I can sew two or three items this year, it would be great and add some novelty. But as I have 500+ items in the wardrobe I am sure I would manage without it too.
Anyone else doing no clothes shopping or similar? Would love to hear how it’s going!
As readers of this blog might know, I knit, sew and occasionally weave and embroider. I love textile handicrafts. I think the love stems from gaining understanding of how something is made, the self-confidence you get from mastering a skill and the joy of being able to customize your wardrobe. But, as other sustainability minded makers, I have been conscious of the environmental footprint of my handicraft practices. After all, you use materials that have an environmental footprint in your handicraft practice and you sometimes tend to overproduce. You occasionally make things you do not like as much as you thought and, more frequently, you make things that you love but, truthfully, do not really need. When summarizing my slow fashion year, I have recurrently told myself that I need to limit my making. Being a slow maker is good, to produce less is a constant ambition.
Lately, I have reconsidered this bad conscious for engaging in handicrafts. A little more than a month ago I spoke on Swedish radio about the climate impact of fashion and had yet again a reason to look into the carbon footprint of fashion production. I was yet again reminded that textile fibers is only a very small part of the fashion carbon footprint. Instead, it is the (fossil) fuels in the textile and clothing production that stand for the majority of the carbon footprint (60 %). Finally, I realised that my knitting practice in fact avoids a big part of this carbon footprint . Indeed, my arm and hand muscles, doing the knitting, are very much fossil free. My hand knitting is pure renewable energy, sourced from the foods I consume. Sure in the process I emit some carbon dioxide, but I would do so anyway, whether knitting or not.
Knitters, at least the sustainably minded ones, tend to worry about the fibers, i.e. the yarn. We avoid yarn made from fossil fuels, such as nylon or acrylic yarns. We do the best we can to buy as sustainable yarn as we can find and afford. I try to only buy organic, such as Gots certified, yarn or yarn directly from the farm. Still, we worry about the environmental footprint.
As for worrying about the fibers, hand knitters mostly use wool. Wool is a side product of sheep farming in Sweden and is often burnt instead of used to make textiles, producing carbon dioxide when incinerated, which in turn negatively affects the climate. By using the wool, for example for knitting clothing, instead of incinerating we thus keep the carbon stored away in our clothes. Moreover, organic farming is more likely to have regenerative farming practices such as grazing and compost use (though of course not always!). Indeed, as I’ve blogged about, there have been successful attempts to make climate positive wool clothes. Wool, as a fiber, does not have to be bad for the climate. For knitters using cotton, there is climate beneficial cotton too.
Looking at climate calculations, textile fibre production is still only 16 % of the textile’s climate impact. See for example climate calculations for Swedish textiles by Sandin et al. (2019) in the diagram. These numbers also include climate unfriendly fibers that we avoid, such as plastic fibers from fossil fuels. This report does not, however, include wool fibers which are most commonly use by hand knitters, but cotton is included,
This diagram can still tell us something about the climate impact of textiles generally. For example that the big carbon footprint is in the fabric (14 %) and clothes production (15,6 %), which hand knitters remove by doing this part ourselves. That is to say that by hand knitting, you remove almost a third of the item’s carbon footprint. Well done knitter.
Thus if we choose climate friendly fibers, based on regenerative farming practice, hand knitters mostly need to worry about the processing of yarns (10 %) and dyeing of the yarn (23 %). This climate footprint is largely an effect of the energy mix in the factories or country of production producing the yarn and doing the dyeing. While the organic Gots certification encourages the use of renewable energy, it does not require it. Hence, the energy mix in the country of production plays a key role (33 %) for the carbon footprint. Imported organic or Gots certified yarns, thus, do not automatically have a low carbon footprint. It depends on where they are imported from and the energy mix used in the factories. Ideally, we want to avoid countries with coal and a large proportion of fossil fuels. In this context, Swedish spun yarn is likely to turn out well in any comparison, considering that we have hardly any fossil fuels in the Swedish energy mix.
Suddenly, the last sweater I knitted sounds quite environmentally friendly: knitted by hand out of undyed organic Swedish wool yarn, spun in Sweden by Stenkyrka Ullspinneri on Gotland. If I apply some of what I have learnt about regenerative farming and the climate impact of the fashion industry, my hand knitted sweater sounds even better. If the carbon stored in the fibers and the grazed lands surpass the carbon released in the production, my grey wool Gotland wool sweater might even be climate positive. Since the Swedish energy mix is almost fossil fuel free (it consists of mainly nuclear and hydropower), it could be.
To summarise, and as a little check list for us climate conscious hand knitters, we should consider choosing (1) climate friendly fibers for example from regenerative farming, (2) undyed yarn or yarn dyed using renewable energy, (3) yarn spun/processed using renewable energy. If we do so, we might in fact do the climate a service with our hand knitting practice.
Considering that Greta Thunberg, according to Vogue Scandinavia, is a knitter, I guess we should have known all along that hand knitting is good for the climate! 😉
Sandin, Gustav & Roos, Sandra & Spak, Björn & Zamani, Bahareh & Peters, Greg. (2019). Environmental assessment of Swedish clothing consumption – six garments, sustainable futures. 10.13140/RG.2.2.30502.27205.
Aquaculture, such as fish farming, is a key industry to ensure sustainable food production in the future. Foods deriving from the seas face many challenges such overfishing and water pollution. At the same time, sea food has many benefits such as low climate impact and high nutritional value.
It is quite clear today that wild fish supply is not sufficient and that aquaculture is necessary in some form in order to supply current populations with sea food. However, fish farming has been criticized for unsustainable practices through the years and the industry still struggles with some of them like sea lice, escapes and sustainable feed sources.
In the course I teach at NHH ‘Measuring sustainability’ we each year work with a real case on how to measure sustainability. Last autumn, we collaborated with Norwegian Responsible Investment association Norsif on how we can measure and evaluate the sustainability of aquaculture companies. One of the things I love about these cases is the creativity the students show when coming up with new ideas and solutions. I truly believe this kind of creativity, combined with academic thinking and facts, is one of the most important skills we can teach students.
One of the learning points from working with the aquaculture case is how important national regulation is for sustainable fish farming. One of the drastic differences is the use of antibiotics. Aquaculture uses significant amounts of antibiotics, which is a critical issue considering antibiotic resistance, but the industry also shows that it can do without it when it has to, such as in Norway.
Another key issue for sustainability, the students discovered, is future orientation of the companies and investment in research to find sustainable solutions to issues we have not yet solved. During the course, we we’re visited by the head of sustainability and risk at Cermaq, Wenche Gronbrekk, who explained how the company works to address sustainability issues. Wenche has answered a few of my questions below and also describes their investment in future solutions: iFarm.
Sabina: The Norwegian aquaculture industry has made quite some progress in terms of addressing its sustainability challenges. What are, in your opinion, some of the main achievements? Wenche: We have made great progress in lifting the industry standard the past years through collaboration – through dialogue and knowledge sharing between government, research and industry. Also, in the Global Salmon Initiative (GSI), addressing key issues such as standardization, feed ingredients and biosecurity. Vaccine development has also been key to advancing sustainability to the level we see today.
Sabina: Still, as we have learnt when working with this case, challenges remain. What’s on top of your to-do-list in terms of sustainability? Wenche: Sustainability requires continuous effort, and we work every day to be better than just complying with minimum standards. Developing new solutions that address key problems is also a priority – such as our iFarm concept. It may solve many of the key challenges today through individualized treatment of each fish, increasing animal health and welfare, optimizing feeding and any need for treatment, which may in turn reduce the environmental footprint of our activities.
Sabina: Sustainability is, according to its definition, about the long term perspective, future generations even. Still most organisations operate with a shorter time perspective in their day-to-day business. How are you able to take the long term perspective into account? Wenche: Salmon farming is largely dependent on taking a long term view – we operate in the sea and biological risks do not respect financial quarters. To have a business over time, our operations need to be sustainable in all aspects: environmentally, socially and economically.
Sabina: Many who work as sustainability officers or even head of sustainability find that change management is crucial in order to conduct their work. Is this your experience as well? Wenche: As a sustainability officer you need to work across the organization, break silos and in many ways be a change agent. Integrating sustainability in business strategy also means that many companies need to innovate their business model – and it is my experience that sustainability professionals often play a central part in this transformation.
A big thank you to Wenche and Cermaq for sharing your experiences with us and also to Norsif and Norsif member Folketrygdfondet and Tine Fossland who attended the students presentations and provided feedback on their evaluation models. We could not have done this without you!
You might, as I once did, think that you avoid the sustainability issues in fashion because you don’t shop at H&M, Gina Tricot, Dressman etc.
The short answer is no, expensive fashion is not necessarily more sustainable. Luxury production in Europe should guarantee better working conditions and less chemicals, but only a few luxury brands still produce in Europe. Those who do might only produce certain parts of the collection in Europe. And ‘Made in Italy’ can these days mean made by Chinese in Italy. Even when something is made in Europe, the fabric may be imported. Luxury brands often source their materials from outside of Europe and then we have the issues with conventional cotton and synthetic fibre etc.
There are also environmental issues with the chrome and heavy metals involved in tanning of leather. If you do want a new luxury bag, check where the leather came from, that it can be tracked to sustainable farming, and for vegetable tanning. I found that Swedish brand Palmgrens had a longstanding relationship the Italian farm the leather derived from and used vegetable tanning processes for a certain bag. Thus it’s the last bag I’ve bought, before my current year of no-shopping, and I don’t feel I compromised on design just because I focused on sustainability.
Another issue with luxury brands is that they don’t consider the environmental impact of care. Many put dry cleaning on the care instructions (as on this Ralph Lauren jacket, made in the Philippines) which isn’t environmentally friendly. And, in many cases, the items are better cared for by hand washing. I don’t know how many times the dry cleaner couldn’t remove stains and when I try at home, as a last resort, it works perfectly. Money and chemicals wasted.
The luxury conglomerates seem to lack a thorough understanding of sustainability issues. For example, when LVMH reports on biodiversity, they write about how they finance biodiversity research rather than how they take biodiversity into account in their sourcing of raw materials. Now I am all for funding research, of course, but certain issues we already know a lot about, such as pesticides and biodiversity. We can act on these today.
Similarly, it is admirable that Kering has developed the Environmental Profit and Loss account (which I often teach to students) but more important is how they handle their everyday sustainability challenges. I searched for organic on Kering’s website and only found ‘organic growth’.
Taking the opposite road, many cheap brands are not as diligent about working conditions and where things are made* but are instead rapidly increasing their share of ‘better’ or organic cotton and renewable fibre. They hardly ever prescribe dry cleaning. But then again they don’t make clothes that should last.
Thus while some brands are working on social issues and others focus on some of the environmental, few brands cover all the necessary issues. Those who do are generally those that started their business with a sustainability focus. These brands are generally slightly more expensive than fast fashion but usually much cheaper than luxury brands.
So the answer is no: price is not a good indicator of sustainability.
This week it’s four years since the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh . 2500 workers were injured and 1129 killed when the eight-storey factory collapsed. This event is commemorated with the Fashion Revolution Week each year. Customers and consumers are encouraged to ask their brands ‘who made my clothes?’. Consequently, social media is buzzing with activity and many brands have shared pictures and stories about their production, for example Serendipity Organics and many more (to see the brands and their stories follow @fash_rev on Instagram). Even conventional fashion media, such as British Vogue, report on the activity.
Many of those active during Fashion Revolution Week are also all year round Slow Fashion proponents. Karen Templer of Slow Fashion October did a thoughtful blog post defining ‘Slow Fashion’ as considering the human, environmental and monetary cost of clothing as well as taking full responsibility for what we own:
By take responsibility, I mean commit to wearing each item (whatever it is, wherever it came from) for as long as it lasts, extending the lives of things through care and mending, and re-homing anything that doesn’t work for you.
Independent pattern maker ‘In the folds‘ organised an Instagram challenge to direct attention to the time and skill it takes to make clothing. Most clothes are still made by hand and it should be valued, whether we do it ourselves or someone does it for us, she argues.
Elisalex of ‘By Hand London‘ made tutorials for Fashion Revolution Week on how to embroider and sew on patches to cover wholes, imperfections or just to make items more fun. The purpose is to make our clothing more useful so that we use what we have instead of buying new or throwing things out. The workers put a lot of effort into making clothing for us, one way to value their work is to give the clothing a long life (find my strategies for doing so here)
It seems to me that the Slow Fashion movement is here to stay. It is starting to have a presence in social media all year round. Fashion Revolution Week keeps the memory of Rana Plaza alive and educates customers and consumers about social responsibility in fashion production. The question is if the brands are changing their ways as fast as their customers are learning about the issues.
The Rana Plaza disaster shouldn’t have happened but it did. Supporting better and safer business practices is one way to commemorate the events.
What can we as individuals do? When the substances are out there (and they travel far, for example to the Arctic) we cannot stop them on our own.
However, we can support the companies that voluntarily limit their use of the legal but proven, or potentially, toxic substances.
We can also avoid items that contribute to this pollution, such as teflon, ski wax, stain and water repellent textiles. If we worry about our drinking water, a charcoal filter absorbs PFAS (charcoal filter made a difference in Kallinge ).
Last week, I heard from two sources that conscious consumerism, i.e. using your purchases to support good business practices is not enough. In this podcast, Stiv Wilson argues that we need to get political instead. Which is exactly what their organization Story of Stuff is all about. This article by blogger Alden Wicker states it a little more harshly:
“Conscious consumerism is a lie. Small steps taken by thoughtful consumers—to recycle, to eat locally, to buy a blouse made of organic cotton instead of polyester—will not change the world”.
These kinds of arguments are used in two contexts: those that want us to get involved politically instead, as in the above two cases, or those that want to give up, ‘it doesn’t matter anyway’, ‘we can’t change the system’ and so on.
Unsurprisingly, I do believe my purchases matter. I believe in political power too. I also believe I can make a difference with my research and teaching. Basically, let’s use the means that are available to us and with which we are comfortable. Some people are comfortable marching for environmental causes, others are more comfortable changing their purchasing behavior. However, like the politician that argues for public service and then doesn’t pay the tv-licence, it is desirable to try to be consistent.
How could then purchasing behavior make a difference? Will H&M or Varner notice that I am doing a no-shopping year? No, they will not. Most likely we cannot affect H&M and Varner politically either. They are private companies, not states, and they can shop around for the tax and environmental rules that suit them, if they like.
So the impact of purchasing behavior depends on who you are trying to affect and how important your purchases are to them.
My local organic food store in Bergen has only so many customers and I purchase most of my food there. They would notice if I move. The people I purchase food from at the farmers market might notice (Bergen’s farmers market on the picture above) . Based on this fact, I feel quite comfortable telling people to stop buying from the fashion giants (they will not notice) and start buying from small sustainable brands (who will notice). For small businesses, your purchase does make a difference.
At this point, the ‘elitist’ argument usually appears. The small sustainable brands are more expensive. Not everyone can afford to buy all their food at the organic food store. This is absolutely true but it is not an argument against conscious purchasing behavior generally. We who can afford the sustainable brands have a bigger environmental footprint than people with less purchasing power. It is more important that those with the biggest environmental impact and who can afford do change their behavior. Moreover, buying food directly from the farmer is not necessarily more expensive. Second hand stores are terribly cheap. Most likely, we could all save money by buying less and learning to mend.
But how do we affect the big companies that are larger than states and that we cannot affect by vote or with our individual purchases? I think maybe social movements can play a role here. These companies are at least concerned with trends among customers. How large groups of consumers behave affect their business. Now I might have prided myself in being the only one I know that is on a shopping fast. Getting active on Instagram, however, I soon discovered that there are many more like me. You could even say I am late to the trend. We are not as unique as we might like to believe. If I decide to only buy grass-fed local meat, there are many more like me, acting on similar impulses. Most likely we are already part of some social movement or trend, whether we know it or not. And, as group, how we behave does concern these companies.
So, in my opinion, our consumption does impact the world and if you choose to purchase consciously it will too. This, however, is not an excuse for politicians and companies to not do their job and instead put all responsibility on the consumer’s shoulders (as happens all to often). We have some big challenges, so we all need to do our best.
You might remember the cadmium in imported rice scandal or lead in imported rice scandal. These are examples of heavy metal contamination of imported foods. ‘We import foods from countries with too low environmental standards’, you might think. And that’s true.
But how did the heavy metals end up in the foods? How did a fifth of China’s farmland become contaminated? Countries like China and India have for quite some time been producing for our consumption. It has been attractive because of price, but it has also been done under lower environmental standards. One example is the dyeing of clothes. Another example is the production of pharmaceuticals. We know that these industries pollute the water and soils (and there are of course further industries in this category). We also know that residuals of the toxic waste may remain in what we import.
So, ironically, when these countries produce for our consumption, the resulting pollution comes back to haunt us in the foods we import.
Even more ironically, while contamination of soils in India and China is spreading, we are in Scandinavia placing buildings on uncontaminated good soils that used to be farmland. The national strategy is to rely on imports, both of foods and other kinds of manufacturing. When this is the strategy, we have an interest in the countries that we are now dependent on. It is in our interest that their farmland and water supply remains uncontaminated so that they can continue to produce for us. There is only so much farmland in the world. If our strategy is to rely on imports, then we need to be concerned with the pollution in the countries we import from. Because it is not only the local population’s food supply that is contaminated, it’s ours too.
Personally, since I’m not shopping, I’m stuck with what I have. So if I want variation, I need to wear everything in my wardrobe. I have to turn the 80 per cent that’s currently collecting dust into things more wearable. Fortunately, there are some easy strategies for doing so.
Second life sewing. Clothes beyond repair can be turned into ‘new’ things. Traditionally, we made rugs out of left over textiles. Aiayu, does so with their textile waste. But you can also make clothes. I removed the torn sleeves from a shirt and thus making it sleeveless. Using the left over fabric and another torn shirt, I made Willowtank, for example. All you need to know is how to operate a sewing machine.
Dyeing. You can simply dye a garment if you don’t like its color. This natural dyeing book is on my wish list. I’m planning to dye a boringly white dress.
Embellishment. One of my new year’s resolutions is to start embroidering. This is a great way to make some garment a little more fun. There are again lots of inspiration on the internet on how to embroider clothes, for example Elisalex of By Hand London, Tessa Perlow or these collars by Nadya Sheremet.
Styling. If truth be told, there are also items that are absolutely wearable as they are but that I still don’t wear (typically stockings with pattern). In these cases, I have to challenge myself to put on the garments that are not in the comfort zone (but that I at some point thought was a good idea). I find that the key is to figure out new combinations. What I would love is some super inspiring blog for how to wear not-so-easy-to-wear things in ones wardrobe. How to combine items we already own but rarely wear to look really stylish. However, the styling blogs and Instagram accounts I encounter typically try to get us to buy things from different brands. There’s just much more available ‘inspiration’ to buy things and so much less for taking care of what you’ve got. But it does exist and the above are some of my favorites.
Got recommendations for blogs that style what we already own or other take-care-of-your-wardrobe tricks? Please share !
A popular reaction to our overconsumption and environmental challenges is to own fewer things. For example the 100 thing challenge says that we should only own 100 personal items. There are many similar initiatives telling us to declutter and streamline our homes and wardrobes. It is a way to opt out of consumerism they say. Some even claim owning less is good for society and the environment.
Is it true though? Is owning less more sustainable?
Let’s look at the sustainability side of it i.e. the impact on people, environment and future generations.
Items going into your home. From a sustainability aspect, you want to keep new items going into your home to a minimum. Producing new items is resource intensive. The majority of items sold in stores are not produced in an environmentally friendly way. On the people side, a lot of manufacturing exploits workers by not paying a living wage.
When you reduce the number of items you own, many throw out two items and then buy a new one to replace these two. In addition, when you own fewer things (because you threw out a lot) the items get worn a lot more and need to be replaced more frequently. As a result, more new things go into your homes than if you had simply kept what you had before the challenge.
Items you get rid of. Most of these initiatives start by getting rid of a lot of stuff. Now what happens to the things you throw out? A lot of the products we buy today cannot be recycled. In large parts of Europe, they end up in a landfill where they release CO2 and other substances trying to decompose. In Sweden, textile waste is burnt . Clearly, this is a waste of resources.
What about giving it to second hand so someone else can use it? The majority of items donated to second hand are shipped abroad, often to countries with worse waste handling than Scandinavia. So unless you give it to a friend that will cherish it for life, giving things away is not a solution.
To summarise, in terms of sustainability, we should acquire as few things a possible and use the items for as long as possible. Patagonia estimates that keeping an item for nine more months in your wardrobe reduces related carbon, waste and water footprint an estimated 20 to 30 per cent. Keep it for 15 years and it is a lot more.
So if the 100 items challenge means mostly keeping what you’ve got and giving a few items to friends so they don’t have to buy new, then go ahead. On the other hand, if you, like most of us, own a lot more than 100 items that you would have to get rid of then, no, it is not very sustainable.