Style | How is your style affecting the Planet? and how you can minimise the impact.
Over the past few years we’ve seen a distinct shift from asking the question “is climate change really happening?” To seeing the impact of the environmental damage first hand. It’s quite easy to see and understand the impact of certain areas of modern life which are causing harm to the environment- frequent air travel, our consumption of disposable plastics, but some may be less obvious, take the fashion industry for example.
The way we consume clothing as a society has changed drastically in this millennium. A growth in the number of fashion outlets and brands has seen a rise in demand for clothing, with competitors using less than ethical means to slash their prices to fight off their competition. Fast fashion and high street brands have seen a surge in popularity as online shopping has risen and brands that were producing an average of two collections per year in 2000, were producing an average of 5 by 2011, with some brands like Zara producing up to 24 collections per year. This has totally changed our perception of fashion and the way we view the industry as a whole.
Why is our over consumption an issue?
Initially it may seem like a positive to have more places to choose from and lower prices when it comes to our clothes shopping, right? In actual fact this rapid consumption of clothing has led to the fashion industry being responsible for producing 10% of all global carbon emissions and leading it to be the world’s second largest consumer of our water supply; and the environmental damage is only increasing as the industry grows.
People are buying clothes at a more rapid rate than ever before but are keeping these items for half as long, meaning that 85% of all textiles end up in the dump each year. In the western world the average family throws away 30kg of clothing each year, with only 15% being recycled or donated and the rest of that ending up in landfill.
And its not just our consumption rates which are the issue. Many of these garments are now made using synthetic fibres such as Polyester, which in production releases two to three times more carbon emissions than cotton and doesn’t break down in the ocean. As Polyester is a type of plastic it is non-biodegradable and can take up to 200 years to decompose, meaning our thrown out garments will still be sat in a landfill long after we are gone. What's more around 30 million barrels of oil are used per year to produce the Polyester fibres for our clothing.
The fashion industry also generates a huge amount of greenhouse gas due to the energy that is used in production and transportation of the millions of garments that are made each year. A high volume of the clothes readily available on the market are made in countries like China, India or Bangladesh, all of which are countries that are mostly powered by coal; in terms of carbon emissions, this is the dirtiest type of energy for our planet.
The water consumption of the industry is also a major issue. It takes, on average around 700 gallons of water to create just one cotton shirt, as cotton is a highly water intensive plant. Textile dyeing is also the world’s second largest polluter of water (after oil) as the untreated and toxic wastewater is dumped directly into rivers and ditches which will eventually make its way into the sea. This leftover wastewater contains chemicals such as arsenic, mercury and lead and is extremely harmful to aquatic life, as well as damaging to the health of the people who live on the riverbanks where the water is dumped. Fertilisers used in the production of cotton also majorly pollute the water, amassing to the fashion industry being responsible for 20% of the world’s water pollution.
What can we do to minimise the impact?
To truly make a change, we need to change the way we view fashion as a society, and this change starts with you. You may not think that you alone could make a difference on such a global scale, but if everyone thought that way, there is no chance of any change coming around. Sustainability advocate Anna Lappe said that “Every time you spend a dollar, you cast a vote for the world you want to live in'' which I think perfectly surmises the way in which we can make a change. Every time that you make the choice to buy from a sustainable and ethical brand over a fast fashion brand you are creating a demand, you’re also creating an incentive for that brand to keep working the way they are working and an incentive for other existing brands to work this way too. The more people who make these choices, the larger the demand for change will be and the more impact we can have on the industry as a whole and the environmental damage it is doing. I’ve definitely made it one of my New Year's resolutions to change the way I consume clothing and to fully research where my garments are coming from to help lead a more sustainable lifestyle.