Did you know that fashion is not just about beautiful clothes and exciting fashion weeks? There is a much less known side of the industry where many people and our planet is fighting the negative impacts of fast fashion. Read below to know more about the truth behind:
Many people would be surprised to hear that fashion after oil is the second most polluting industry but it is. Our society is getting more and more conscious about sustainability and the environmental impact of our modern life, but usually people do not think fashion and clothes can have the same harmful effect as plastic bottles and flying. However the truth is that big brands manufacturing overseas, using cheap materials and labour have a huge impact on our environment. We should break down the causes to understand what is going on actually:
It starts with the materials
What are our clothes made of? The most used fibre in clothing production is polyester but you will also see cotton, viscose, wool or silk. Either made of natural fibre as cotton or synthetic as polyester these materials have negative effects. Growing cotton for example requires a drastic amount of water, an estimated 700 gallons for one single T-shirt, and chemicals like pesticides during the cultivation. Man-made fibres like commonly used polyester are actually derived from oil, through a chemical reaction. More than hundred million barrels of oil are used every year to make these synthetic fibres, and however their water usage is less their energy consumption and greenhouse gas emission during production is extremely high and polluting. These practices are also responsible for 10% of total worldwide carbon emissions, which is more than all emissions caused by flights. According to experts this number can grow to 26% in the next 30 years if there will be significant changes.
The made in tag is not what you think
After fabrics are made often, traveling to four, five different countries to be spun, woven, dyed and finished they end up at a factory where clothes production actually begins. However the reality is far from what comes to most people’s mind, producing clothes in big quantities for the high street is very different. It is not like when we imagine women sitting in comfortable ateliers with enough equipment and having safe conditions and sewing beautiful clothes.
Many big fashion brands manufacture in developing countries like Bangladesh, Vietnam as labour is very cheap there and there are no strict regulations controlling production. Factories are in very bad condition, people have no safe working conditions and they are paid incredibly low wages. During the production process chemicals, toxic dyes are commonly used and then the leftover water goes and pollutes our rivers and seas.
What most people do not consider when shopping:
Polluting our environment does not end when clothes are made and sold in the shops. Sadly as synthetic fibres are found in 60% of clothes they are releasing microplastics when we are washing them. Statistics say that each year our oceans are polluted with microfibers released from clothes equivalent to 50 billion plastic bottles and 20% of worldwide water pollution is the result of clothes production. While the industry harms our oceans heavily they are at the same time the second biggest water consumer, the Aral sea for example already dried up due to the amount used for cotton farming in Uzbekistan.
When people no longer need a cheap piece of clothing they go to the landfill, and are burnt. Estimated that 85% of all textiles produced end up there which is shocking. While these numbers are nowadays public, fashion brands and consumers are not trying to slow down, moreover everyone is producing and consuming more than ever before. All clothing production has nearly doubled, in the last 20 years brands are creating twice as many collections as before, while the lifetime of our clothes are half as long as it was.
What will the future look like?
There is no doubt that the industry should take responsibility for their way of operation, but consumers also need to demand a change. Innovative materials and production methods with lower environmental impact should be and hopefully will be the norm in a few years.
by Szilvia Turi