This may come as a shocker for some or common belief to others, but did you know that Fashion is one of the most resource-exhausting industries in the world, both in terms of natural and human resources?

Fast fashion is all about speed and keeping costs low, so that new collections can be introduced as frequently as possible on the high street. This cause-and-effect relationship results in a damaging and abusive chain that directly affects the environment and millions of people. Yes, in a very bad way.

On the environment

On average, a Global citizen consumes 11.4 kg of apparel annually. This produces 442kg CO2 emissions per capita. About the same amount emitted while driving a car 1,500 miles. Not only that, according to a recent report, the industry is well on its way towards tripling its global production by 2050 by 160 million tons of clothing.

Water pollution in the fashion industry

On water pollution

Pollution is one of the main consequences of this cycle as vast amounts of water are needed throughout the entire production process – from processing raw materials to manufacturing and dying textiles. Add to that the half a million ton of microfibers that end up in the world’s waterways, harming local marine life.

The 2018 Climate Works Report showed that in 2015 the global fashion industry consumed 79 billion cubic meters of water, which is more than what is used for electricity production, and poses a real threat of water shortage in countries that grow cotton.

Let’s take a regular pair of jeans for example. It takes around 1,800 gallons of water to produce one pair of jeans. And that’s just to grow the cotton used to make it. In the colouring process, Synthetic dyes are used, which is highly toxic to factory workers and pollutes waterways.

As well as water pollution, the worldwide-spread nature of the fashion industry mean that apparel can be designed in one country, produced in another and sold in various other countries. This process emits huge amounts of CO2 as it requires constant transportation and energy use.

On waste

Americans throw away around 40 kilos of clothing per person every year. But only about 1% of clothing is ever recycled. The rest is burned, dumped into landfills or shipped off to developing countries to be sold in bulk- consequentially destroying the local industry. Even when you donate them to charity, it turns out only 10% of those clothes end up being sold. The rest will have the same depressing fate.

Impact of fashion

On People

“Brands, retailers and consumers have all become fantastically adept at divorcing fashion from the very fact that it is been made by an army of living, breathing, human beings with resources which are depleting the environment” – Lucy Firth, The True Cost

The global nature of the fast fashion industry allows for retailers to choose where to manufacture. With low cost in mind (always), the choice is usually poor developing countries, where there is little regulation and factories end up competing with one another – a factor that drives the price of production even lower, yet increases the labor volume for workers, who are often conditioned to work under inhumane and dangerous conditions for just as inhumane wages.

For instance, cotton farmers in countries like India are made to spray their fields with pesticide in order to protect their crops – but who is protecting the farmers? Some of the chemicals used are banned in the West, yet these farmers have unprotected, direct contact with them on a daily basis.

The impat of fashion

Cotton vs Organic cotton

Conventional cotton crops are the world’s largest consumers of pesticide.

They make up 24% of all insecticides and 11% of all pesticides worldwide, negatively impacting soil and water.

Organic cotton, on the other hand, is grown without the use of such chemicals. In fact, in order to gain organic status, organic cotton is grown from non-generically modified seeds.

Farmers use more natural methods such as compost, crop rotation, cover crops and they weed by hand or machine. This results in better soil quality, enhanced biodiversity and is much less harmful to the environment as a whole.

03 juni 2021 — Abigail Bakker