This week marks the end of this season’s #FashionWeek, where every year designer icons gather first in New York, Milan, London, and now Paris to showcase new collections to the public. Fashion is one of the biggest industries in the world. It accounts for 2% of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employs billions of people worldwide.
However, having good fashion sometimes makes a bad impact. From water pollution and waste, to immense greenhouse gas emissions, and slave-labor-like environments, the negative effects of the fashion industry are significant.
As the second largest industrial polluter, it is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions. Global greenhouse gas from textile production tops the charts at an estimated 2.8 billion tons annually, which is more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
Dying batik fabric in Phrae, Thailand Source: Anirut Rassameesritrakool/Pond5
Large amounts of water are required to make garments through the buffering, softening, dyeing, and rinsing processes. In fact, it takes 2,700 liters to make one cotton T-shirt, which is around the same amount one person drinks in 2.5 years.
Even worse, the leftover water becomes saturated with toxic chemicals. In developing countries, where most production takes place, environmental laws are scarce and these toxic chemicals are usually dumped into waterways, contaminating the water supply, leaching into the soil, and damaging agricultural processes.
In addition polyester, a type of plastic fiber, is the most common fabric used in the industry. It also has a detrimental impact on our waterways: when garments made out of polyester are washed in a washing machine, millions of particles invisible to the naked eye are shed. Wastewater treatment plants are not equipped to filter them out so with every wash, more and more polyester pieces are filling our ocean. Unfortunately, these particles are usually eaten by small organisms who are then consumed by larger species, allowing the toxins to accumulate up the food chain, eventually to fish and shellfish eaten by humans.
Workers in the Fong Yean Factory of Phnom Penh, Cambodia sew which supplies Coles. Oxfam Australia
Many fashion factory workers work eleven hours a day, six days a week, are paid minimally, all while being exposed to noxious chemicals. According to Oxfam Australia report more than 80% of these workers are women, they are predominantly young, and often from poor rural backgrounds. Working conditions are terrible and buildings aren’t always safe. In 2013, a factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing more than 1,100 people and injuring another 2,500. Most of the victims were female garment workers.
Another unintended consequence of the fashion industry is the increasing level of textile waste.
Cheaply priced clothing is cheaply made. These garments end up in the trash after short period. The True Cost, a documentary examining the fashion industry, states that the average American tosses 82 pounds of clothing waste per year, meaning that the United States throws out 11 million tons. Today we purchase 400% more clothing than we did 20 years ago. It is easy to forget that these garments are likely not biodegradable, meaning that they will sit in landfills for hundreds of years.
Want to look good and do good by making the right fashion choices? Here is what you can do as a consumer:
- Buy less
- Don’t throw old clothes in the trash. If they’re clean donate them. Recycle, fix, or repurpose others
- Choose quality over quantity
- Start a clothing swamp. Exchange clothes you’re tired of with friends and family.
- Buy second hand
- Pressure companies to make good decisions and have a transparent supply chain
Want more information? Read The Ellen MacArthur Foundation report A new textiles economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future.
#EarthsCall #FastFashion #FashionWeek