Fast fashion. You may have heard the term before and it probably wasn’t in the most positive connotation. As our desire for fashion that can keep up with ever-changing trends has grown over the past few decades, fashion companies have adopted a model that prioritizes quantity over quality. The clothing and textile industry has evolved into a beast that is polluting our planet and becoming increasingly toxic for its workers. It’s more important now than ever to understand how your fashion decisions may be affecting the planet and what you can do about it. Let’s breakdown the basics of why you should ditch fast fashion and start incorporating a more sustainable approach to your shopping sprees. 

Excessive Water Consumption and Pollution

As part of your morning routine, you might make sure to turn off the faucet while you brush your teeth or cut down your shower time in an effort to conserve water, but you’re likely not aware of how much water was used to make the outfit your throw on! The average t-shirt uses between 400-600 gallons of water to produce and the average pair of jeans uses 1800 gallons of water. This is largely due to the amount of garments made with cotton, a thirsty crop that takes around 2,401 gallons of water to produce just one pound of cotton. Think about the amount of clothes in your closet alone and how much water probably went into their production- now think about the amount of clothes produced worldwide! To put it in an ethical perspective, consider the fact that 1.5 trillion tonnes of water are used annually by the fast fashion industry and there are currently 750 million people around the globe that don’t have access to clean drinking water. 

Not only is the fast fashion industry using excessive amounts of water, it’s increasingly polluting the little water that’s left. While it may seem like the solution to less water consumption is to move from cotton to different materials, such as synthetics, the answer isn’t quite so simple. As we’ve talked about previously here at Zoe Elle, synthetic materials release plastic microfibers during your laundry load that eventually make their way into the ocean, further contributing to our growing ocean plastic pollution problem. Fast fashion has found other ways to pollute the ocean as well, such as through irresponsible regulation of wastewater. 20% of industrial water pollution around the world comes from textile treatments and dying processes and 90% of wastewater in developing countries of production is dumped into rivers without treatment. Fast fashion companies often take advantage of the fact that developing countries are more lax with their environmental regulations and outsource to place like China and India, where the cycle of pollution only grows stronger. 

A Major Contributing Source of Climate Change

Textile production (the process of actually making the materials used in the production of garments) is the world’s second largest polluting industry, right behind oil production. The industry produces around 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions annually, more than international flights and shipping combined. It’s estimated that 5% of manmade global greenhouse gas emissions are due to the textile industry alone. This isn’t even taking into account the actual production of fast fashion. Fashion is accountable for 10% of global carbon emissions, a number that’s projected to increase by 60% by 2030. If the industry is allowed to continue without stricter regulations, it could account for a quarter of the world’s carbon budget by 2050.

Textile Waste 

You probably don’t think twice about throwing out last season’s trends or making sure you have enough options that you never have to repeat an outfit in an Instagram post. Our fashion consumption is at an all-time high, with the average consumer in 2015 owning 60% more clothing items than the average consumer in 2000. What’s worse, our clothing’s life is lasting half as long as it did 15 years ago, with the average garment only being worn 7 times before being thrown out. This is doing serious damage to our planet that has to deal with the aftermath of such huge amounts of textile waste. 60% of all clothing that is produced ends up in a landfill or incinerator within a year after production. With our closets and demands growing, the toll such textile waste is taking on our environment doesn’t show any signs of slowing down soon.

Ethical and Moral Issues

Recent press coverage has shone a light on the unethical practices of many fast fashion companies in order to keep up with fast-paced trends. Most garment workers in countries like China and India work an average of 14-16 hours a day and make a 1/5 of the living wage needed to sustain a comfortable lifestyle. In addition to unsafe working conditions, gender-based violence within garment factories is not uncommon. 80% of all clothing factory workers are women and with the majority of the managers and factory owners being men, abuse can run rampant. Controversy ensued over fast fashion companies H&M and Gap when reporting broke of the inequality many female factory workers faced on a daily basis. Child labor is often also utilized by fast fashion companies as a means of cheap labor that is easy to manipulate. 170 million children globally are estimated to be in labor, with the majority working in garment production. With little legal regulations, such labor is allowed to continue without repercussions.

What You Can Do

Shopping sustainably doesn’t have to be complicated. Keep it simple by remembering the four R’s of fashion.

  1. Re-use/repair what you already own- learn simple fixes like how to sew on a button instead of throwing out a whole garment or get crafty by up-cycling an old pair of jeans into shorts.
  2. Recycle- donate and shop at your local Goodwill or thrift stores.
  3. Rent occasional wear items- sites like Style Lend or Rent the Runway are great resources to cut back on textile waste.
  4. Research- do a quick Google search on a brand before purchasing and make sure they’re upholding sustainable and ethical practices.

Incorporate these practices into your everyday life for a happier closet and a happier planet!