Three things that shocked me about my “fashion footprint”

I always thought I could be doing way better in the clothing department — even though I try my best to buy sustainable clothes, I still do lots of laundry and shop online.

So when I took ThredUp’s quiz, I was SHOCKED that my footprint is so small — 63% lower than the average consumer.

threadup quiz

You can take the quiz here!

Here are three things that shocked me about my closet, and of course a few things you can do to shrink your closet’s footprint.

green queen

Shopping online is better, in most cases, than going to the store.

This was the first and most surprising thing I learned from this quiz. And how could this be??

online shopping

According to ThredUp, “shopping online has, on average, a 60% lower carbon impact than shopping in-store. Nearly 85% of in-store’s impact comes from driving there.”

The numbers here are… complex. The research paper referenced by ThredUp mentions that the online shopper’s carbon footprint is lower mostly because “emissions are linked to a parcel carrier, who uses
an optimized delivery process.”

However, the freight transportation has a bigger impact for online shoppers “since the item is packaged individually, which increases packaging weight and volume, and the linehaul distance of online warehouse is bigger than a traditional one.”

Also not surprising — “the packaging is the main component of the [online shopper’s carbon footprint.” The paper mentions that if this is cut down, the gap widens even more.

And “as expected, the carbon footprint of maintaining a retailer website generates significantly less emissions than the energy related to a physical retail store.”

I did more digging to figure out how much carbon this REALLY cuts down.

According to Ensia, “transport from the store or warehouse to home likely dominates the delivery footprint,” something known in the shipping world as “the last mile.”

What logistics folks call the “last mile” is usually the most energy-intensive stage, McKinnon and colleague Julia Edwards have pointed out, “and typically generates more CO2 emissions than all the upstream logistical activities.” 

Ensia, 5/23/2019

The article goes onto explain that a typical delivery route makes 120 deliveries on a 50 mile round, producing 50 pounds (20 kilograms) of CO2, or just over 6 ounces (170 grams) per individual delivery. If you went to the store, the average drive is 13 miles, which generates 24 more times the CO2 — “so you’d have to pick up 24 items to break even.”

In theory, this makes sense. Unless you’re a super shopper and collect 24 clothing items at a time (I don’t), according to this model, it makes more sense to buy online. However, you could argue that if you were to pick up more than 24 clothing items at one time, driving would be the more carbon-friendly option.

This model also relies on the fact that you aren’t returning your purchases and you have the body type that allows you to buy clothing online without trying it on!

I have an idea — let’s make the most out of our shopping trips when we have to go out, take public transportation if possible, and just shop less! But I digress.

Jackets, dresses and jeans take the most carbon to produce.

heavy garments

In 2019, I bought two new pairs of jeans, one dress and one jacket.

This is pretty good, considering I went to three weddings. I ended up wearing dresses I had worn to other occasions just for my wallet’s sake — I had no idea that these garments produce so much carbon.

This is because of the weight of the fabric. In order to cut carbon here, either shop second-hand for these items (of course) or buy clothes somewhere you know has a repair policy.

Take Patagonia for example. If you rip or damage something of theirs, you can ship it to them (or bring it into a store) and they will repair it and send it back. This ensures the circular economy stays in tact. So the next time you’re looking for a jacket, splurge on one that you can be sure will be repaired.

Plenty of stories have denim upcycling programs through the “Blue Jeans Go Green” program as well, including American Eagle, Madewell, J Crew, and Levis. So if you must pick out some new denim, make sure you’ve gotten some good use out of yours and bring it into a store near you.

Also, if you want to go to the extreme, you can “wash” your jeans in the freezer. Yes, you heard me correctly.

Reusing clothing is the best thing we can do for the planet.

reusing clothing

Honestly, this is a given, but the stats here are what surprised me. 85% of discarded clothes end up in the landfill!

I don’t know about you, but my mom always made our tee-shirts into rags before even THINKING about throwing any clothes out. And if clothes were still wearable, we’d share them with a sibling or donate them to a family in need.

Now, I take everything to Goodwill or sell it online. I would NEVER throw anything out that could possible go to a good home.

Take a few minutes to research shelters near you first, too, before you throw something away. There’s always local groups in town that might need your clothes, backpacks, and towels.

And of course, here are more ways you can reduce your fashion footprint right now:

Take the quiz and let me know what you got — you might surprise yourself!

Cover photo by Sarah Brown on Unsplash

3 thoughts on “Three things that shocked me about my “fashion footprint”

  1. Thanks for sharing the calculator, I also got a lower than average fashion footprint. I like to up-cycle clothes, I often buy second hand and then make alterations. Sometimes it does not quite go to plan, but then I can usually find something to do with the materials.

  2. This is so cool! I just tried it, and I was at 86% lower than average based on my clothing consumption last year, that’s awesome! I definitely thrift, make/repair, or have lots of clothing swaps with friends as a way to revive my closet. Thank you for sharing!


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