We all need to wear clothes, so the massive reductions on fashion in the sales are certainly tempting. But how much will end up in the charity shop bag after January?
Arguably no consumer goods industry benefits from our throwaway culture more than fast fashion. That’s why buying carefully, and only what we need, can be a powerful act of environmentalism.
Here are nine compelling reasons to buy better and less – and make do and mend more.
1. Fashion is the world’s second-largest polluter after the oil industry
Production of fabric is a huge carbon emitter, releasing the equivalent of 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere – more than international flights and shipping combined. (I know right?!)
2. People buy 80 billion garments around the world every year
Fast fashion is getting faster: US shoppers buy five times more clothing than they did in 1980, around 80 billion pieces according to Dana Thomas’s new book Fashionopolis. That’s on average 68 items per person per year. In the UK, we buy more clothes than any other country in Europe.
3. A rubbish truck of clothes is burned or landfilled every. single. second.
Every single second, 2,625 kilograms of clothing becomes waste that needs dealing with in some way. This is enough to fill the Empire State building one and a half times every day, and Sydney harbour every year.
4. Nearly 70 million barrels of oil are used each year to make the world’s polyester
Polyester is essentially fabric that’s made from plastic fibres. It is now the most commonly used fibre in our clothing. As plastic is made from petroleum, it requires seriously enormous quantities of oil.
5. Polyester takes more than 200 years to decompose
Fast fashion is produced and consumed quickly – but hangs around in our environment for two centuries. So polyester is the source of serious plastic pollution especially considering the enormous amounts of fashion dumped or burned.
6. Polyester microfibres are released every time polyester clothes are washed
Tiny bits of polyester that shed from our clothes account for 85% of all human-made debris found on shorelines around the world. In 2017, Greenpeace even found microplastics in the waters of the Antarctic.
7. It takes around 10–20,000 litres of water to produce a kilo of cotton
While cotton is biodegradable and not polluting to wash, it is one thirsty plant – using 10–20,000 litres of water, depending on where it’s grown. Producing a kilo of cotton, enough to create a t-shirt and jeans, sucks up as much water as one person drinks in 13 years, according to Oxfam.
8. Fabric production is responsible for 20% of all industrial water pollution annually
Textile production generally requires chemicals which need to be diluted through washing, and eventually disposed of – making water pollution another huge issue. Look out for standards like “Oeko-Tex” that provide reassurance that health- and environment-harming compounds haven’t been used in the production of certified fabrics.
9. Growing cotton uses 18% of pesticide 25% of total insecticide worldwide
According to the seminal fast fashion documentary from 2015, The True Cost, over 90% of cotton is genetically modified (GM) – and because of this, can be sprayed with chemicals that kill insects and other pests. This means huge amounts of insects – a vital part of many ecosystems, including those that enable food production – are destroyed to feed our fashion frenzy.
The True Cost also contains shocking statistics of the high numbers of cotton farmer suicides in India – partly from being forced into debt from buying GM cotton seeds.
There’s no doubt that navigating the – increasingly plastic-filled – waters of fast fashion to buy sustainably and ethically is tricky. But as the world wakes up to the climate emergency, smarter choices are ripe for the making.
Buying far less, spending a bit more on better quality garments, and supporting ethical brands are just a few ways to become a sustainability trendsetter.
Fast fashion will be a tough habit for our society to kick – not least because of low prices in seasonal sales. But smart buying can not only save money in the long run – it can also help save the planet.
This blog was first published in November 2019 and has been updated.