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Fast fashion: the industry destroying the environment

3rd December 213 mins
By Toucan

Fast fashion: the industry destroying the environment

This is going to hurt, but it needs to be said: fashion is a disaster in terms of its environmental impacts. As a nation, our fast fashion addiction is putting increasing amounts of pressure on our planet, and it’s only getting worse. 

When was the last time you repeated an outfit? Do you pay attention to where your clothes are made? Do you keep an item of clothing until you’ve outgrown it, or do you buy a new outfit every time you need one? These questions may feel exhausting, but they are what we need to ask ourselves to shop more sustainably. 

But what is fast fashion? We have seen fashion trends change more and more quickly, putting pressure on clothing manufacturers to produce more and at lower prices. 

At its heart, the fast fashion business model relies on consumers endlessly buying more clothes. Brands tempt consumers by offering ultra-cheap garments or promoting sales frequently (you know, all those notifications that pop up on your phone if you have the retailer’s app). 

The Problem

It isn’t hard to understand that the endless creation of new clothes comes with a heavy environmental price. Around 300,000 tonnes of used clothes are burned or buried in landfill each year. What makes it even worse is that a lot of this incinerated clothing has never even been sold or worn! Retailers and manufacturers dispose of this unsold stock in this way as it is viewed as the most cost-effective way possible. 

Sustainable fashion designer Stella McCartney has previously spoken out about the waste within the fashion industry – pointing out that only 1% of the material used to produce clothing is recycled into new clothing, meaning the other 99% is waste! 

Research published in the journal Nature Reviews Earth & Environment looked at the environmental cost of the fast fashion industry and how it needs to change to deal with its associated problems. The report calculated that the fashion industry produces 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions every year, and it is estimated to use 1.5 trillion litres of water annually. 

Other environmental concerns that have arisen include chemical waste and microplastics. You may not have realised that clothes contain plastic but, the rise of fast fashion has been heavily dependent on synthetic fibres like polyester, nylon, and elastane, which are made from fossil fuels. They are cheap to produce, which allows brands to keep prices low, but with a high environmental price tag. 

We must consider how climate change will affect future generations.

The Solution

The fashion industry needs to change fundamentally to mitigate the environmental impact of fast fashion. Several measures can be implemented to help this, such as renting clothes, better recycling processes, and innovative use of offcuts. 

As a consumer, we also need to get involved in fighting fast fashion. Without us making a change, these efforts are in vain. Fortunately, ethical and environmentally-sustainable fashion has never been more on-trend, and here’s just a few ways you can quit fast fashion: 

  1. Shop from sustainable and ethical fashion brands – pay attention to where you shop. Sustainable brands will pay attention to every step of their supply chain. 

  2. Buy less often and buy high quality – to fight fast fashion, be picky about what you wear. Retailers have convinced us we need to have the newest styles in our wardrobes, but they are usually made from cheap materials, causing us to buy more. 

  3. Donate or sell gently used clothes – Give your clothes a second chance at life; from donation centres to shelters and second-hand apps, there are countless ways to redistribute the clothes you no longer need. 

  4. Repair what you wear – If your clothes have small holes in them, why not try sewing them up, you might get a bit more use out of the item. 

  5. Recycle textiles and garments – Some retailers recognise the impact on the environment and are taking steps to reduce carbon footprints too. H&M is an example of a brand that offers consumers the opportunity to recycle their unwanted textiles.  

Lack of access to decent, affordable clothing is not the problem here. The problem is the sheer waste, overconsumption of resources, and poor quality as well as our society treating clothes as disposable. Learning and understanding the true impact – environmental and social – of our online fashion buying habits may help us think again

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