There’s no getting around it: our thirst for inexpensive, trendy clothing is killing the planet and its people. It may seem like $10 for a t-shirt is no big deal, but the “fast fashion” model of cheaply made pieces produced in staggering volumes has no place in a sustainable world.
- The fashion industry produces 20 percent of global wastewater and 10 percent of carbon emissions, globally.
- A full garbage truck’s worth of clothing is sent to landfills or burned every second.
- Approximately half of all fast fashion produced is discarded in less than one year.
- It takes 2,700 litres of water to produce a single cotton t-shirt. That’s enough water for a person to drink for 2.5 years.
- 98 million tonnes of non-renewable resources (fossil fuels) are used to make clothing every year, including 200,000 tonnes of pesticides and 8 million tonnes of fertilizers.
What’s even worse is that in the last 15 years, clothing production has doubled—and the numbers are only expected to multiply over the next decades. We can’t let this happen—there’s simply no space in our carbon budgets or water supply for this volume of cheap clothes that don’t benefit anyone.
And then there’s the human cost: the people who work in modern-day slavery. These workers, typically women and children, are treated and paid unfairly, and often work in hazardous conditions. We can all remember the heartbreaking Rana Plaza garment factory collapse of 2013. I’ll be discussing that in more detail later.
Greenwashing strikes again
What about the big players in the industry that are bragging about their new sustainability schemes? Don’t be fooled. A number-crunching Guardian article showed that H&M can produce more clothing in 48 hours than it can recycle in 12 years with its textile recycling program. Many large fashion companies claim sustainability; however, they continue to pump out clothing at such a rate. There’s nothing sustainable about that rate of production.
What are the solutions?
- Buying far less overall
- Secondhand shopping
- Choosing ethical, slow fashion brands
- Repairing rather than replace: learn how to mend or take things to a pro
- Buying for quality and longevity
- Watch “The True Cost” documentary
- Follow ethical fashion writers/bloggers such as @ajabarber, @notbuyingnew, @elim_chu, @little_kotos_closet, @dominiquedrakeford, @secondhand.steph, @marielle.elizabeth, @sheflourished_ , @celinecelines, and more
- Keep following this series!
Selected references and further reading
- Ellen MacArthur Foundation, A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future, (2017, http://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/publications). https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/assets/downloads/publications/A-New-Textiles-Economy_Full-Report.pdf
- United Nations. (2018). Putting the brakes on fast fashion. https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/putting-brakes-fast-fashion
- World Resources Institute. (2019). By the Numbers: The Economic, Social and Environmental Impacts of “Fast Fashion”. https://www.wri.org/blog/2019/01/numbers-economic-social-and-environmental-impacts-fast-fashion
- WWF. (2013). The Impact of a Cotton T-shirt. https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/the-impact-of-a-cotton-t-shirt