How to build a sustainable football shirt collection

Collectors Club – In a previous blog for Earth Day 2021 we looked at the environmental impact that football shirts can have, and unfortunately it did not make for easy reading from a collectors point of view. From the creation of the shirts using raw materials, to the energy used transporting them to buyers, and finally the impact washing shirts has on plastic build-up in the ocean, football shirts are undoubtedly impacting the environment. 

In today’s Collectors Club, we wanted to look into how these impacts can be countered by collectors. So if you care about the environmental impact, but want to keep collecting football shirts, how can you build a sustainable football shirt collection?


What does a sustainable collection mean? 

Sustainability may be one of those phrases you have heard bandied around in regards to the environment, and especially when it comes to clothing and fashion. Sustainable fashion refers to clothing that is designed, manufactured and distributed in a way that is  environmentally friendly. 

These sustainable processes aim to limit the use of the Earth’s natural resources and as a result the emissions of greenhouse gasses. These steps all help to reduce the carbon footprint – essentially the negative impact a shirt has on the environment, measured in CO2 and methane emissions – of each product. 

Therefore a sustainable collection would be one made up of football shirts which follow these sustainable practices, where steps have been taken in their design, manufacturing and distribution to limit harmful emissions. 

What makes a football shirt sustainable? 

Unfortunately, very few football shirts on the market right now can truly claim to be entirely, or even partially sustainable. But, that does mean that your sustainable football shirt collection will be pretty niche. 

Because the impact of manufacturing is so detrimental to the environment, finding alternative or recycled materials to create shirts from is a popular route for clubs and brands. 

Forest Green made headlines earlier this year for releasing a new shirt made partly from coffee beans, which drastically reduced the amount of polyester used in the shirt. Elsewhere, Real Betis are leading the charge in Spain, with similar carbon neutral goals.

On a brand-wide scale, adidas’ Parley collection – which creates clothing and footwear from up-cycled marine plastic – was incorporated into the third shirts of Real Madrid, Juventus and Manchester United in the 2018/19 season, and several adidas clubs also wore one-off versions of their home shirt made from Parley up-cycled plastics in 2016. 

A word of warning here, however. Be prepared to pay more for these sustainable items, with alternative materials almost always being more expensive than using the cheap, but environmentally damaging, polyester commonly found in shirts. For example, Forest Green’s 2019/20 bamboo-based jersey had “about a 10-15% difference in terms of higher production cost”. 

Where can I find sustainable shirts?

You can start by doing some research and finding out which clubs and brands are actually focusing on these issues in regards to football shirt manufacturing, which will lead you to the likes of Forest Green and Real Betis’ work. 

But this production process is only the start of a shirt’s life-long impact on the environment. The logistical impact of sending and shipping shirts across the world is huge, so when looking to build out your collection, try to stay as local as possible.

For example, swap an eBay deal with your connection in the Netherlands for a trip to the local charity shop. In light of the import taxes post-Brexit, this option could be as much about money-saving as being environmentally friendly. 

Is there anything else I can do to be a more sustainable collector?

Quite bluntly, the simplest solution to being sustainable would be to buy fewer football shirts. The reason so many shirts are produced by the big brands each year is due to the fact that they know that someone out there will buy it. So if we take away some of that demand, then supply, and as a result carbon emissions, should fall. 

Admittedly, there is some hypocrisy in us (FSC) telling you to buy less while we have most likely tweeted several times today encouraging you to buy both MODERN CLASSICS and VINTAGE SHIRTS. And for many, decreasing their turnover of shirts might simply not be possible because it is something that brings them so many good things, from the thrill of getting that confirmation email, to the joy that comes from being part of a community, and that is okay. 

Instead, you can take small steps discussed above, like buying sustainably or shopping locally. And once you have your shirts you can limit their environmental impact by washing them less regularly and not tumble drying them – although we would highly recommend you pretty much never do that anyway. Then, if you ever want to get rid of a shirt for any reason, don’t throw it away, just take it down to a local charity shop and help start someone else’s sustainable collection.

Matt Leslie

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