As trends come and go, so do the clothes that support them. Roughly forty years ago, textile manufacturing focused on the durability and quality of clothing rather than the quantity and production time. Fast fashion is a highly profitable industry based solely on replicating and producing contemporary clothing and mass-producing these styles at an extremely low cost. The demand of high fashion has increased significantly with the progression of technology and inexpensive labor sources available globally. As the trends shift, the production of clothing increases as fast fashion companies create clothes according to the popularity and accessibility of new styles. This has an adverse effect on the environment as the rapid production of clothes in factories contributes greatly to our carbon footprint and the pollution of ocean waters.
Do you know the process and resources it takes to produce your favorite piece of clothing? Fashion production constitutes 10% of the world’s carbon emissions and is responsible for the depletion of water sources and the polluting of rivers and streams, according to the World Economic Forum. To manufacture one cotton tee shirt companies use approximately 700 gallons of water while it takes about 2,000 gallons of water to produce just a pair of jeans! This is due to the fact that both the jeans and the shirt are made from cotton, which is a plant that requires large quantities of water. As the demand for more clothing increases, as well as the need for cheap items, due to the rapidly changing styles, the environment is being critically affected.
Companies such as Zara and H&M, which cater to a younger demographic, have increased their number of collections produced annually in order to keep up with and entice a more progressive and evolving audience. As a result, much of this clothing is discarded more frequently than in prior years. To put this in perspective, the amount of unwanted clothing is the equivalent to one garbage truck-full of clothes being dumped or burned in a landfill every second.
The process of washing clothes releases 500,000 tons of microfibers into the ocean annually, which is the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles. With the demand for cheaper fashion, there is a greater use of non-biodegradable fibers such as polyester, which has two to three times more carbon emissions than cotton fiber. Microplastics are estimated to be 31% of plastic pollution in the ocean. Producing colored clothing with the use of dyes is the world’s second largest polluter of water, as the leftover water that is dumped into rivers and streams equates to the amount of water used to fill 2 million Olympic-sized swimming pools each year.
Not all fashion brands contribute to the deprivation of the environment. In fact, a large number of companies are emerging with more sustainable initiatives to help reduce textile pollution, such as implementing more organic ways of growing cotton. The United Nations has launched the Alliance for Sustainable Fashion with the objectives of promoting active collaboration from its members, knowledge sharing, strengthening synergies, and a focus on outreach and advocacy. Some fashion brands that are using environmentally responsible tactics, as well as offering affordable and contemporary clothing, include Pact, Boody, Ecovibe, MadeWell, and Able. These socially and environmentally conscious brands prioritize the use of organic and sustainable materials such as recycled cotton, organic bamboo, and hemp, which typically last longer than synthetic fibers. If these brands don’t fit your style, there are many alternatives that include buying vintage or second-hand clothing from sites such as Poshmark, Ebay, Etsy, and Depop.
Even some of the largest fast fashion brands have devised ways to reduce their carbon footprint. For instance, H&M has created the Global Change Award through their non-profit H&M Foundation, which invests in startups that aim to make the fashion industry more sustainable. This trend is also being seen in companies such as Ann Taylor and Eileen Fisher. The brands that choose not to recognize these growing issues will eventually suffer the financial consequences of their environmental irresponsibility.
If you are wondering what you can do to help make a difference, a great way to start is to make sure you are doing research on the brands you purchase from and to educate yourself further on the harmful effects of textile manufacturing. An important thing to bear in mind is that even though the majority of the responsibility lies with the brands producing these items and making the profits, at the expense of our planet, we still have a responsibility as consumers.
The World Economic Forum: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/01/fashion-industry-carbon-unsustainable-environment-pollution/
UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion: https://unfashionalliance.org/
Responsible fashion brands: https://www.thegoodtrade.com/features/affordable-ethical-fashion-brands
Victoria Palumbo is a high school junior at American Heritage School in Plantation, FL.