My wardrobe versus the world – the selfie style audit

FASHION | | | |

How much of a difference does buying ethical actually make? To put cold, hard numbers on her clothes’ carbon footprint, Collectively writer Vikki Knowles (that’s her below, FYI) compares her go-to articles of attire to their counterparts from an uber-ethical brand…

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If you choose that eco-conscious, oversized sweater over one that kinda looks the same from the high street – what difference does it actually make? In fact, wouldn’t it be cool to find out the amount of resources that can be saved if I were to buy sustainably-made clothes? Ethical fashion brand Reformation is doing just that, by giving you the numbers.

Beside every garment on Reformation’s website is its ‘RefScale’, a lifecycle assessment tool which shows the carbon emissions, water and material waste (a recent addition to the RefScale, accounting for fabric scraps in the manufacturing process, and packaging) used to make it. More importantly, it compares this to how many resources would usually be slurped up for a similar, conventionally made garment, so you can see the tangible difference between a sustainable clothing item and something from the high street.

“Let’s argue that a sample of my wardrobe uses up the representative industry standard amount of carbon, water and waste – I’m curious as to how much of an impact I make on the planet”

Last month, Reformation incorporated the RefScale tracker on their website, so that you can keep an eye on these resource savings. Later in the year, they’re even launching a perks program to reward people for all that environmental good they’re racking up.

But hold up – what exactly is Reformation doing differently, and what assumptions are their comparisons based on? Well, instead of conventional cotton, viscose, wool and other resource-intensive materials, Reformation sources lower-impact fabrics like Tencel and flax. They’ve swapped manufacturing in a Chinese factory without carbon offsets for manufacturing in Los Angeles, where the company’s HQ is based. Plus, they use recycled packaging, have a carbon neutral shipping program and an end-of-life recycling service. Conventional gear from most high street stores just doesn’t have these benefits.

For now, I’m curious as to how much of an impact I make on the planet. My clothes come from a bunch of sources, and are often secondhand or given to me, but let’s argue that a sample of my wardrobe uses up the representative industry standard amount of carbon, water and waste.

I’d like to think that me and Reformation are on the same style wavelength – decide for yourselves as I crunch some numbers, comparing the resources used on my own wardrobe against that of similar items from Reformation.


Cropped blouse

This cutie from Reformation saves 6lbs of carbon dioxide and 1,026 gallons of water. Good ol’ Tencel: this fabric is derived from wood, and its water usage is 10-20 times less than that of cotton. It also happens to be soft, absorbent and cool.

Reformation item impact: 1lb of carbon dioxide, 33 gallons of water.




My wardrobe item impact: 7lbs of carbon dioxide, 1,059 gallons of water.




This is an older product, so the ‘waste’ saving hasn’t been calculated (as Reformation only recently added ‘waste’ to the RefScale).


Stripey, short sleeved tee

Reformation has this to say: “It’s not a competition, but our T-shirt wins.” Okay, looks like there is a clear winner here, especially when Reformation’s tee is “bra-friendly” (whaaa?) and saves a generous 4.8lbs of carbon dioxide, 786.4 gallons of water and 1.2lbs of waste.

Reformation item impact: 5.5 lbs of carbon dioxide, 798.4 gallons of water and 2.5 pounds of waste.



My wardrobe item impact: 10.3lbs of carbon dioxide, 1,584.8 gallons of water and 3.7lbs of waste.



Oversized stripey tee

This oversized Reformation tee saves 3lbs of carbon dioxide, an enormous 1152 gallons of water and 1.2lbs of waste. That’s eco-flax for you; flax needs less water and pesticides than its cloudy cousin, and mixing in Tencel makes it even better.

Reformation item impact: 9lbs of carbon dioxide, 184 gallons of water and 1.3lbs of waste.



My wardrobe item impact: 12 lbs of carbon dioxide, 1,336 gallons of water and 2.5 pounds of waste.



Grey sweater

Wow. This Reformation sweatshirt saves 1,826 gallons of water and 10lbs of carbon dioxide compared to one of its conventional industry counterparts worn by me below (cat not included). How do Reformation do this? By repurposing vintage sweatshirts rather than making ’em from new.

Reformation item impact: 2lbs of carbon dioxide and 27 gallons of water.



My wardrobe item impact: 12lbs of carbon dioxide and 1,853 gallons of water.



(Again, this is an older product, so the waste saving hasn’t been calculated)


Cherry ‘Boyfriend Tee’

It might scream ‘lazy Sunday brunch’, but the average one of these little tees gobbles up a huge amount of resources. Trading in your current Boyfriend (Boyfriend Tee, that is) for Reformation’s effort could save you 4lbs of carbon dioxide and 809 gallons of water.

Reformation item impact: 2lbs of carbon dioxide and 42 gallons of water.



My wardrobe item impact: 6lbs of carbon dioxide, and 851 gallons of water.


(Again, this is an older product, so the waste saving hasn’t been calculated)


Patterned playsuit

Small changes all add up. You can play with more abandon in Reformation’s playsuit knowing that it saves a gallon of water, 7lbs of carbon dioxide and 1lb of waste.

Reformation item impact: 7lbs of carbon dioxide, 200 gallons of water and zero pounds of waste.



My wardrobe item impact: 14lbs of carbon dioxide, 201 gallons of water and 1lb of waste.



Basic strappy top

It might be cute and delicate, but the Tencel/linen/spandex combo in Reformation’s teeny top are a bit of a water-rescuing trio: 210.61 gallons saved, to be exact, plus 1lb of carbon dioxide and 1.2lbs of waste.

Reformation item impact: 0.49lbs of carbon dioxide, 6.72 gallons of water and 2.6lbs of waste.



My wardrobe item impact: 1.49lbs of carbon dioxide, 217.33 gallons of water and 3.8 pounds of waste.



White shirt

Reformation’s shirt is named the ‘Fuck cotton top’, and it does indeed give a rather large ‘fuck you’ to cotton. The lightweight linen is made from surplus fabric, which means this badboy saves 281 gallons of water, 34lbs of carbon dioxide and 1lb of waste.

Reformation item impact: 2lbs of carbon dioxide, 197 gallons of water and 2.6lbs of waste.



My wardrobe item impact: 36lbs of carbon dioxide, 478 gallons of water and 3.6lbs of waste.



So, totalling all that up I can save 69.8lbs of carbon dioxide, 6,134.01 gallons of water and 5.6lbs of waste by wearing the Reformation equivalents of my clothes. That’s a fair amount of damage limitation I might have invested in.

And to put those carbon emissions into context, that’s roughly equivalent to watching your 42-inch TV continuously for nearly eight days (let’s hope Netflix has a new series on). The water saving is enough to fill a small swimming pool, or – at an average rate of 50 gallons a day – that’s my water use for 122 days or about four months. As for the waste – apparently the average person in the United States throws away about 65lbs of textiles each year, so that waste saving is comparable to not throwing any clothes away for a month.

Keeping your clothes as long as possible is the best way to save on resources. But if it is time to top-up your wardrobe, it’s nice to know you can make a tangible difference through buying from sustainable brands.

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