At the last UN Climate Action Summit, all eyes were on the world’s leaders as they tried to set up ambitious targets to slow climate change. The issue, one of the most profound that humanity is facing, is mostly discussed in relation to politics, business, and plans for the future.
But we – almost – never consider the harm that the fashion industry is doing to our planet. It is indeed a highly polluting sector that consumes of resources at a frightening rate: everything we wear has an embedded environmental cost in terms of energy, water, land and chemicals used.
And yet, we know so little about it.
According to the report Fixing fashion: clothing consumption and sustainability, published by the UK Parliament on the 19th of February 2019, the fashion industry produces an estimated 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 per year – more than international flights and maritime shipping combined. Whit a global, annual carbon footprint of 3.3 billion tonnes in fashion is the second most polluting business after oil.
For example, that cotton t-shirt that you recently bought took about 2700 litres of water and 10 kilos of CO2 to produce. Not to mention packaging and transport. The same goes for your favourite pair of jeans, your jacket, your skirt and your shoes. This is because cotton is one of the thirstiest fibre. According to WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme), a charity set up to promote sustainable waste management, cotton production accounts for 69% of the water footprint of fibre production for textiles. So basically clothes drain our planet.
The same fate befalls our land: by 2030 the fashion industry is projected to use an extra 115 million hectares for the production of fibres, causing deforestation and biodiversity loss.
So, even though clothes are quite often ignored as part of the problem, never mentioned in politician’s plans, those numbers prove how much they affect the Earth and its ecosystem.
This is where lies a huge impact of the fashion industry, in the raw material. That is why, there’s now a need to reconnect with clothes and the fact that they’re made with materials, and these materials come from somewhere.
However, the problem does not end there. The energy used in manufacturing, transporting, packaging and selling a garment contributes to the devastating effect of fashion on the environment. So does whatever happens to that garment during its lifetime and at the end of it.
As stated in the report A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning fashion’s future, by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, every second the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles ends up in a landfill or burned. That is because 83% of consumers buy clothes they never wear. Therefore an estimated $500 billion is lost per year due to clothes that are barely worn and rarely recycled.
And here it is, the biggest elephant in the room: overproduction.
We are also to blame for this: people increasingly see clothes as disposable things that you buy, wear once and then chuck away. The fashion industry has encouraged us to believe that to be stylish, we must be in constant pursuit of the new, that we must discard barely worn clothing in favour of the latest style.
Fast fashion’s underlying model is not sustainable. If we keep on producing cheap stuff and pushing more and more to the consumer, this will ultimately destroy our planet.