The Secret Life of T-Shirts

As consumers, we are surprisingly unaware of what goes into the making of the clothes we wear on a daily basis. At Mini-Cycle, we want to give you all the necessary tools to make the right decision, which is why we chose the simplest garment, a white cotton t-shirt, to show you all that is left unsaid by big companies to make you continue to buy from them endlessly…

Indeed, “each year, over two billion t-shirts are sold worldwide”. And, as you might have read previously on our blog, customers consume more than they ever did before and, unfortunately, waste more because of rapidly shifting fashion trends. This resulted in the clothing production industry accounting for 10% of global carbon emissions.  

The t-shirt you are currently wearing is much more polluting than you might think. Its journey begins at a cotton farm, which is most likely located in India, China or the United States. About 2700L of water, 4.54 grams of pesticide and 99.7 grams of fertilizers will be needed in order to produce this t-shirt! Which explains why fabric and garment production is responsible for 70% of the total climate impact of a t-shirt.

However, it is only the beginning of the t-shirt’s journey and its carbon footprint will continue to grow. Cotton will then, most likely, be shipped to China, India and/or Bangladesh, where the major manufacturing facilities are located.

Basically, cotton is transformed into sheets of rough grey fabric, that will eventually turn soft and white (thanks to bleaching and dyes). Then, the fabric will be shipped, again, to other facilities, mainly located in China, Bangladesh and Cambodia because of cheap labor costs, which are often associated with poor working conditions, and turned into the white t-shirt that we are all accustomed to. However, it will need to travel again to reach retail stores, and ultimately its final destination – our closets at home.

You might think that the distribution phase would be the most environmentally-damaging, as the product seems to travel a lot across the world, but you would be mistaken. It is only responsible for 4% of the total climate impact of a t-shirt.

In fact, it might come as a surprise that a customer’s transportation to and from a store contributes significantly to the t-shirt’s final carbon emission, accounting for 23%. Which is why the type of transportation you use to get to a store, for example, significantly influences your environmental footprint.

It is also said that “reusing garments can reduce […] the environmental burden and energy consumption” of clothing, which is why, Mini-Cycle offers you, as an environmentally-conscious consumer, to choose and promote an online circular economy. The current life cycle of all apparel finishes at the end of its practical life. Circular economy could change that by reusing and/or recycling the product, thus closing the loop and extending the life cycle. 

Given what you have just learned, here are the 3Rs, an easy way to remember that: 

REDUCE - Clothing production industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions and fabric and garment production accounts for 70% of garment's ecological footprint. For this reason, we should consume less and buy better. 

REUSE - At Mini-Cycle, one of our goals is for each piece of clothing to be passed on 6 times. 

RECYCLE - Mini-Cycle also has the objective to repurpose the clothes that cannot be worn anymore. More to come in the next blog about how you can dispose of your unwearable clothes. 

As consumers and stewards of this planet, it is our responsibility to do the research and make informed, conscious purchase decisions that limit our impact on the environment.

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