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Why your clothes might be killing the planet - and where to source sustainable fashion

Buying fashion from big brands can mean contributing towards deforestation and climate change. Here's how to source sustainable clothing instead.

Unwanted garments are often shipped to other countries and burned. Image: The Donkey Sanctuary/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

As Christmas approaches, clothes and accessories may seem like the perfect gift for someone special in your life – but your present may be harming the planet.

A new report from Stand.earth has linked major UK fashion brands to deforestation in the Amazon through their sourcing of leather for products like shoes and handbags.

Stand.earth analysed almost 500,000 rows of customs data to identify where major UK brands were sourcing leather, finding that over 100 brands have one or more links to leather suppliers which are cutting down the Amazon.

The cattle industry is the single largest driver of deforestation in the Amazon and rainforests worldwide thanks to trees being cut down to make way for grazing the animals. 

Which brands have been linked to deforestation? 

Stand.earth’s investigation looked at where fashion brands were directly or indirectly sourcing leather from suppliers linked to deforestation in the Amazon.

Each individual connection is not absolute proof that any one brand uses deforestation leather, but the more connections a brand has to a supplier implicated in deforestation, the higher the risk that the brand is driving deforestation. 

Some of the top brands identified by stand.earth as having multiple connections to an industry propping up deforestation include: 

  1. Zara
  2. H&M
  3. River Island 
  4. Marks & Spencer 
  5. Clarks 
  6. Nike
  7. Gap
  8. Prada 
  9. Lacoste
  10. Ralph Lauren 

Researchers have created a tool where you can see the full range of brands which are linked to deforestation. 

They point out that a number of brands have made promises not to use products created with leather linked to deforestation, but researchers claim their evidence shows some companies are breaching their own policies. 

You can read the full report on fashion’s links to deforestation on stand.earth’s website.

A spokesperson for H&M said: “As part of our work in not contributing to deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, we have had a ban on leather from Brazil since 2019. Any breach of our ban is something we take very seriously, and we are in direct dialogue with all our leather suppliers to ensure that our policy is being fully implemented.”

“Due to the low transparency the whole industry is facing in the leather supply chain, the risk will remain.”

All companies listed have been contacted by The Big Issue for comment.

Is fashion damaging to the planet in other ways?

It’s not just deforestation – fast fashion harms the planet in a multitude of other ways.

It’s estimated that the fashion industry is responsible for 10 per cent of global carbon emissions, which is more than aviation and shipping combined.

In many places, chemicals used to treat or dye clothes are dumped directly into waterways, harming aquatic life and water supply.

Washing our synthetic garments at home also releases microplastics into the water supply, poisoning humans and animals alike.

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Growing materials like cotton requires huge amounts of water, putting pressure on a resource which is becoming increasingly scarce. 

The production, manufacturing and transportation of clothing demands a huge amount of energy, pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Once people tire of these clothes and throw them away, they then create a waste problem in developing countries, where most of these clothes usually end up. 


Sometimes they are burned, releasing yet more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

How can I source sustainable clothing? 

One of the best ways to reduce the damage the fashion industry is doing to the planet is simply to buy fewer clothes, wear them longer and wash them less.

You should also think about getting clothes repaired when they break, rather than replacing them with something new.

You could try borrowing clothes, experiment with new outfit combinations or organise clothes swaps with family and friends to get the most out of garments. 

Buying second-hand from charity or vintage shops is also a sustainable option, giving new life to clothes that others no longer want.

If you’re shopping for vintage clothing, you should check to make sure the store is actually recycling clothes – as many retailers use the label “vintage” in spite of the clothes being new. 

If you really want to buy new, there are plenty of retailers out there which strive for sustainability. 

The site Good on You allows people to search for brands and find out what their record is like on sustainability and labour rights, so this might be a starting point.

Online stores like the Big Issue Shop, meanwhile, supply clothing retailers which use sustainable methods of production for guilt-free shopping. 

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