Over recent years many issues within the fashion industry have come to light regarding its workplace culture. Amongst some significant sustainability issues, such as the exploitation of labour, the fashion industry can also be characterised by its disproportionate environmental footprint. From the moment of manufacturing to the process of purchasing and discarding items, the fashion industry contributes to 10 percent of global carbon emissions, and creates 20 percent of global waste water. This is higher than the emissions of all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
Since the 1980’s and particularly in recent years, there has been an increase in fast fashion markets. With access to online shopping, purchasing garments has become more convenient than ever, and platforms such as social media have further encouraged a culture of disposability. Consequently, fashion brands have begun to favour cheap, quick and disposable clothing to cater to the consumers’ needs. However, in order to do so, the span of time from designing to retail has had to decrease. In addition to the modern linear system of production, where the end point of the product is waste, the fast fashion process has brought immense damage to the environment and our future.
In shortening the process of manufacturing, materials which are less costly, quicker to resource and faster to process, are selected. Polyester, Nylon and Spandex use 342 Million barrels of oil per year to produce and this is not any investment either – during our daily wear of these garments, putting one synthetic item into the washing machine releases 2,000 plastic microfibers. This is too miniscule to be filtered, causing it to be released into the ocean and to the food chain. Likewise, Viscose is also harmful. While 33% of this comes from ancient or threatened forests which in turn endangers the ecosystem and its habitats, 70% of the wood deforested is also wasted. Although cotton is a much more sustainable option compared to these fabrics, the making of this contributes heavily to water shortage: to make one cotton shirt, it takes 2,700 litres of water. The equivalent to what one person on average drinks in 2.5 years.
Since the popularity of fast fashion, what used to be four seasons of fashion turnover in the industry has become 52. This means new apparel every week. While this kind of turnover has caused the industry to require releasing new items constantly, it has also encouraged the buyers to shorten the lifespan of each item and purchase more.
Where does it go?
3/5 garments bought are thrown away within 12 months. Every second, a garbage truck filled with textiles is incinerated or sent to landfill. This way, while many donations to charity shops and clothes taken to recycling locations seem to avoid this linear pathway, 85% of donated clothes end up in landfill. While some fashion brands offer the campaign of recycling old garments into new apparels, much of this incentive is not realistic and therefore often unsuccessful.
What should I do?
Behind this veil of beauty and trend is the immense damage to the environment and in turn, our future. Here are some solutions:
- Only purchase items that are necessary.
- Invest in items of good quality, from brands where the product is re-traceable.
- Before purchasing new garments, look for second hand options. These can be found in charity stores and vintage thrift shops. There are some companies which offer clothing rental services.
- Check the fabrics when purchasing the garment to avoid synthetic materials.
- Refrain from shopping online.
- Mend items and upcycle fabric rather than disposing them.
- Pass your items along to people without the use of shipping and offer unwanted clothing to donation centres. This way, you can trace where your clothes are going to and make sure that they are not going to landfill
Huffington post – https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/heidy-rehman/shocking-environmental-fast-fashion_b_8009850.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZWNvc2lhLm9yZy8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAALqQZePpmzz4gCh39ehmc6QZ8hZIq6v_EdAtQg8RbP2KhDm9I4F2NuLEF_GFGPWWjHZZH2t8Xyfp4R6m4xeM4mNada0BJzK12fkt3INsqgRLeiUqp4twI0d_p3FmAyyyU1jI-y2ugtIFwdY_7KNMDuLjL-QvWBEMdA6zUx_3CF2N
UN – https://www.unece.org/info/media/presscurrent-press-h/forestry-and-timber/2018/un-alliance-aims-to-put-fashion-on-path-to-sustainability/doc.html
Independent – https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/environment-costs-fast-fashion-pollution-waste-sustainability-a8139386.html
BBC Newsnight – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSErk0NfDlk
WilderUtopia – https://www.wilderutopia.com/ecojustice-radio/the-steep-environmental-and-social-costs-of-the-fashion-industry/
Medium.com – https://medium.com/datadriveninvestor/how-fast-fashion-is-suffocating-our-wardrobes-and-our-planet-737c93b7d94a