I’d like to believe that my family and I are fairly sustainable and eco-friendly: we buy our groceries locally, have solar panels, use a hybrid car, are all vegetarian, (I like cheese too much to become vegan), and most importantly, I try to buy my clothing from sustainable sources. I know it seems like the last point wouldn’t be that impactful as that is something I definitely thought too before learning about fast fashion – the mass production of cheap, disposable clothing.
I remember hearing about fast fashion first near the beginning of 2020, and like with most negative news in the world, or news that is environment related, it was a hot topic for a couple weeks before dying down. At the time, I acknowledged that fast fashion was a thing, adjusted the way I shopped by reducing my spending at certain stores, did a bit of research about places that were more sustainable, and then promptly threw the issue to the back of my mind. I’m sure that many others did something similar, especially with COVID proving to be a bit more concerning to the world in comparison to where we should be buying our clothes from.
However, after persevering through a seemingly endless lockdown by developing a fairly worrisome online shopping addiction, I decided that I wanted to optimistically prepare for the upcoming summer in a more sustainable manner. Through this little mission of mine I ended up learning that the fashion industry is a lot more damaging to the environment than I had ever expected.
The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world and its damage to the environment will only continue to grow as the industry grows.
22,000 litres of toxic waste is dumped into rivers by tanneries in Bangladesh every day. This wastewater can contain lead, mercury, arsenic and other toxic substances that are incredibly harmful to aquatic life and those consuming the river water.
The fashion industry is also a massive consumer of water and it can take 20,000 litres of water to produce just 1kg of cotton.
Every time we wash a synthetic garment 700,000 individual microfibers are released into the oceans.
The equivalent of 1 garbage truck of textiles is wasted every second and the most common type of clothing, synthetic clothing, can take 200 years to decompose.
Fast fashion has caused a massive increase in the amount of greenhouse gasses produced by the fashion industry as 400% more carbon emissions are produced if you wear a garment 5 times instead of 50.
This industry causes soil degradation through pasteurisation, deforestation and the use of chemicals, and this will lead to a 30% decrease in food production in the next 20-50 years if nothing changes.
What is listed above barely scratches the surface of the damage caused to the environment and what seems the most concerning to me is that there seems to be no changes with large fashion retailers in order to mitigate these impacts. On the contrary, large retailers have been using this buzz about the negative impact on the environment as a useful marketing tactic, creating clothing lines that have been ‘greenwashed’ in order to manipulate consumers into believing they are more sustainable than they are in reality. An example of this is H&M. With the ‘Conscious’ collection and photos of models taken amongst greenery, they had managed to successfully greenwash their campaign in order to distance itself from its role in damaging the environment and to maximise profit.
As a mere shopping addict, there isn’t much I can actually do to save the environment from the fashion industry, but what I can do is direct my money to stores that are more sustainable and are actually trying to make a difference and raise more awareness about how destructive the fashion industry is in actuality. We have seen other major industries implement change in order to be more sustainable, for example supermarkets no longer use single use plastic bags, so for now we can only try to minimise our personal impact and maximise awareness of this issue. I would definitely suggest checking out Sustain Your Style, a platform that goes in depth on the environmental and social impacts of the fashion industry, provides a great catalogue of sustainable brands to shop at as well as meaningful initiatives you can get involved in.
I’ll end this blogpost with a list of simple things you can do to minimise your fashion environmental impact:
1. Buy less – “The most environmentally sustainable jacket is the one that’s already in your closet…” — Patagonia’s Chief Product Officer Lisa Williams
2. Buy clothes from sustainable brands
3. Buy better quality clothes
4. Try to reuse, resell or donate old clothes
5. Buy second hand clothes, swap or rent clothing
6. Try to wash your clothes sustainably, (wash with full loads, with a green detergent, and use cold water)
Stay sustainable and safe during this pandemic!