Written by Anoushka Marak | Illustration: Jing Lu
I’ve always had an interest in fashion and a passion for wearing stylish outfits. Even when my closet was stuffed up with clothes, I always felt like I had nothing to wear and so I bought often and brands like H&M and Zara were life-savers!!! Their clothes could make me look like a top-notch fashionista and that too at affordable prices. Honestly, I did not run a transparency/ sustainability check on the brands that I adored. It was not until four years ago that I understood the importance of having a sustainable lifestyle. Then I became familiar with the term ‘fast fashion’ and most of the brands that I shopped from came under the ‘fast fashion’ list. And SHOPPING FOR CLOTHES THAT ARE MORE AFFORDABLE CAN COME AT AN ENVIRONMENTAL COST.
WHAT IS FAST FASHION?
“Fast fashion can be defined as cheap trendy clothing that samples idea from the catwalk or celebrity culture and turns them into garments in high street stores at breakneck speed to meet consumer demand….It forms a key part of the toxic system of overproduction and consumption that has made fashion one of the world’s largest polluters”, says Solene Rautier. It refers to a term with which something in the fashion industry goes from being ‘In’ and ‘Out’ of fashion. We are surrounded by fast fashion and for a lot of people, it is the only accessible way of buying clothes. It is important to understand that the concept of ‘choice’ is a privilege. Some people who indulge in fast fashion might not have the access to thrift stores or aren’t in the socio-economic position to buy sustainable clothing. However, this widely available way of consuming garments comes with an impact that is in no shape or form small.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF FAST FASHION
Consumers are nudged by the fashion industry to buy clothes much more than they need. That is how the fast fashion industry has created a problem and simultaneously created a solution to that problem. The clothing industry is among the five biggest polluters in the world and is responsible for producing 10% of all humanity’s carbon emissions and also is the second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply. How shocking it is to know that it takes about 2700 litres of water to produce one cotton t-shirt! Here are some of the ways in which fast fashion is killing the planet.
TEXTILE WASTE- The constant need to ‘stay in fashion’ is one of the biggest reasons why the fashion industry is one of the most wasteful industries. With time, clothing production has hiked up and we can roughly say that it has doubled since 2000. Fashion companies went from releasing two collections per year to five in 2011. Brands like Zara and H&M release around 16-24 collections per year and most of these clothes end up in the landfill. With each second that passes by, a truck worth of textiles is piled into a landfill. Around 85% of all textiles are thrown away. By 2030, more than 134 million tons of textiles are expected to be discarded in a year. This speed of producing new clothes and discarding them is unhealthy for the planet. Clothes dumped on landfills take decades to degrade while they are emitting greenhouse gases. They could be reused or recycled but only 12% of them is recycled or donated. To save the planet from all this textile waste, we all need to be more responsible and fast fashion needs to slow down!
FASHION AND WATER- The fast fashion industry also has an enormous impact on the world’s water supply. As of now only 3% of the world’s water is freshwater and two-thirds of it is inaccessible in ice and glaciers, so that leaves only 1% of the world’s water being drinkable and accessible and the fashion industry is polluting it. fast fashion factories have no wastewater management, hence untreated toxic wastewater is dumped directly into the rivers which are bad for the environment and of course human and animal health. How scary it is to know that every time we wash our synthetic garments (polyester, nylon, etc.), about 1900 individual micro-fibers are released into the oceans. Another major source of water pollution is the use of fertilizers for cotton production.
To add to the damage, the fashion industry uses a huge quantity of fresh water for dyeing and finishing the process of all of our clothes. Cotton is the single most used material for clothing and it needs A LOT of water to grow. Up to 20,000 litres of water are required to produce just 1kg of cotton. This creates tremendous pressure on a resource that is already scarce.
GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS- The global fashion industry generates a lot of greenhouse gases due to the energy used during its production, manufacture and transportation of the millions of garments purchased each year. Synthetic materials used in our clothes are often just made from plastics aka crude oil aka THE MOST UNSUSTAINABLE POLLUTING INDUSTRY ON THE PLANET. In 2015, polyester produced for clothing emitted 282 billion kg of CO2 which is nearly three times more than that for cotton; and in the same year, more than 330 million barrels of oil were used to make synthetic textiles. Countries like Bangladesh, India, China, where most of the garments are manufactured, are essentially powered by coal which is the dirtiest type of energy in terms of carbon emissions.
We need to understand the idea of something being ‘untrendy’ or ‘out of fashion’ is completely constructed. It is an artificial idea that is only there to make you feel inadequate in what you already have. We need to stop over consuming!!! I know learning all these facts can get overwhelming but we need to understand that our closets have turned into monsters that are harming the planet.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
Here are some tips on how to break your fast fashion habits:
Think long term and buy more durable clothes. Get more wear out of all the clothes in your closet. Extending the life of your clothes can make a big difference. The next time you buy something ask yourself if you’re going to wear it more than 30 times. If not, don’t buy it! Also, we need to stop buying clothes for each specific occasion and stop shaming people for repeating clothes.
Upcycle your clothes. There are a range of ideas that you can get from Pinterest and YouTube to upcycle your clothes for something else.
Shop second-hand clothing. Buying secondhand is great for the planet and your wallet. By thrifting your threads, you are playing the role of a climate warrior. You can also sell or swap or donate used clothing to charity shops or thrift stores.
Get savvy with your shopping. If you are buying new clothes, see what stores have made commitments to combat fast fashion. Do your own research to make sure that the company is sustainable and transparent.
And last but not the least, BUY LESS! I can’t stress this enough but we all need to hear this today: YOU DON’T NEED TO BUY IT JUST BECAUSE IT IS ON SALE.
After all, fashion doesn’t always have to be about looking good, it is about doing good too!