Our apparently insatiable appetite for clothes is stripping the environment bare and leaving many ecosystems hanging by a thread. Despite the massive environmental impact of the textiles sector, a cloak of ignorance conceals this harm from the public eye.

Can we dress cool and be green? Khaled Diab rolls up his sleeves to find out.

Together, EU citizens buy over 6 million tonnes of new clothes a year, which works out at nearly 13kg per person. The amount of clothes purchased per person grew by over 40% in the space of just 16 years (1996-2012), according to the European Environment Agency.

The Make Europe Sustainable for All (MESA) project, which is led by the EEB, is working to raise public awareness of fashion’s ugly underbelly and to promote more sustainable approaches to clothing.

Trendy thrifting

Two MESA-supported actions not only helped expose the naked truth about fast fashion but also encouraged people to change their behaviour to help redress the situation.

In France, Collectif Démarqué spearheaded a campaign, targeted at 16-25-year-olds, to show how buying second-hand clothes is both good for the planet and fashionable.

Utilising the power and reach of social media, the campaign organised an Instagram contest encouraging young people to share photos of themselves dressed in second-hand clothes and to tell the stories behind their outfits. The six winners of the thrifty fashion photography competition were announced at a special event in Paris.

The new in old-fashioned

In Poland, the Polish Zero Waste Association organised a series of workshops on second-hand fashion. The ateliers focused both on theoretical and practical considerations. One session targeting young jobseekers leaving state care facilities taught participants about the psychology of colour and helped them to assemble stylish outfits that would make the best impression at job interviews. Another, which was attended by single and stay-at-home mothers, taught them strategies to upcycle Christmas outfits for them and their children.

A workshop open to the general public not only raised awareness of the environmental costs of fast fashion, but provided a practical arena for alternatives, where participants could swap clothes, make new jewellery out of old and broken items, and learn how to mend clothing.

This autumn, MESA will launch its campaign for sustainablity and fairness in the textile and fashion industry. In addition to raising awareness about the environmental toll of the textiles sector, it will highlight ways to make fashion sustainable and sustainability fashionable. Follow the hashtag #OutofFashion to stay up to date.

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