When we think about pollution; naturally we think of oil spills, coal plants or sewage infested waters. We don’t think about that what we are wearing may be part of the problem. The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world, after oil production. Fast fashion is the production of cheap clothes that you are most likely to purchase from leading chain stores such as Glasson’s, Cotton On etc. The damage caused by the unsustainable production of cheap clothing effects our natural world quite dramatically without us noticing.
The fabric industry is a huge producer of green house gases. The fashion industry’s negative contribution towards climate change often goes unnoticed. The earth is so badly affected by climate change that “if all emissions were to stop tomorrow, the climate will keep changing for centuries.” (Nicholas Mirzoeff, “How to See the World”, Pg213) An environment blog, O ECOTEXTILES writes about how much energy it takes to produce material. It took “1,074 billion kWh of electricity” and “between 6 – 9 trillion litres of water” to produce “60 billion kilograms” of fabric in 2008 globally. We as humans keep changing the world to benefit ourselves financially and to make life easier but I don’t think we notice the “increasingly powerful effects” (Mirzoeff Pg213) that we are implementing on ourselves. I feel as though it may almost be too late when effective change will occur. From O ECOTEXTILES’ blog it shows how natural fibres make a smaller footprint whereas synthetic fibres make a noticeably larger carbon footprint. If you were to shop in a chain brand store in New Zealand, you’ll notice the large amounts of polyester, nylon and even acrylic which is used to colour a lot of garments. Those
three fibres are some of the most unsustainable fibres used in fabric whilst also being one of the most sold in fast fashion stores today. In the image on the left, designer Ryan Kirk set a great example by using banana leaf fibres to create the fabric for his designer garments. This just shows that “any natural fibre beats any synthetic” (O ECOTEXTILES) proving how important it is we take into consideration how we are effecting climate change with the non-natural fabrics we choose to wear.
Fast fashion also produces a lot of carbon from globalisation which means “your shirt likely travelled halfway around the world in a container ship fuelled by the dirtiest of fossil fuels.” (Glynis Sweeny) Also, these countries which they are transported from, produce a massive carbon footprint just from making these polluting materials. It isn’t just the anthropomorphic climate change affecting our earth, pollution is effecting animals, nature and humans especially in the countries that clothing is being produced in. Sadly, the typical ‘MADE IN CHINA’ label in most of our clothing means a lot more. Thousands of people are being affected by the fast fashion industry whether its slave-wages or unsafe living conditions. Mirzoeff wrote “750,000 people a year die from pollution-caused illness in China” (Pg238) If garments made in third world countries had ‘750,000+ PEOPLE DIED BECAUSE OF YOUR SWEATER’ on the labels would we really be buying it? Many people are not educated to the history of their trendy, new clothing or possibly it is the “globalisation that most prefer to ignore.” (Mirzoeff Pg245) Globalisation is a popular choice for many top designers just because it’s cheaper to produce. It’s a top pick for many chain stores because they sell the cheap materials for such a cheap price making it easier for the consumer to afford therefore contributing to the unsustainable cycle that we live in today.
As well as creating a massive carbon footprint, fast fashion pollutes fresh water during the construction process. Cotton which is a massively used fibre and “is in nearly 40 percent of our clothing” (Sweeny) requires a lot of water. In the image on the left, Red
Flag Design, an upcycling company produces recycled bags from boat sails. This is a perfect example of how fast fashion can be eliminated. China grows the most cotton in the world which means that as well as using heaps of fresh water, dyes and chemicals pollute fresh water after being used to dye the material. In Indonesia, the river Citarum has become “nothing more than a open sewer” (Sweeny) due to fabric manufacturers dumping toxic waste into the fresh water killing marine life and according to Green Peace it’s “highly caustic, will burn human skin coming into direct contact.” Cotton is a highly sold essential in fast fashion retailers and I guarantee we are all guilty of owning a cotton shirt from a cheap store. If you explore the background of how it is processed, made and ends up on a rack in a New Zealand store you’ll see how disappointing it is “that we have naturalised it.” (Mirzoeff 228) As well as cotton being unsafe to the people who live in the production countries, cotton is still full of pesticides and chemicals the first time you put it on. In fabric production so many chemicals can be used on cotton from the growing stage all the way through to the bleaching of the final fabric which ends up being “at least 10% synthetic chemicals, many of which have been proven to cause harm to humans.” (O ECOTEXTILES) You may keep asking yourself; why are people choosing to be consumers of this industry? Not enough people are educated proving that we need more people to be better informed in order to save our planet.
Fast fashion effects the planet because most clothing ends up in a landfill rather than being reused. Multiple designers and organisations all over the world have promoted the recycling of clothing. Even the song “Thriftshop” by Macklemore released back in 2012 seemed to spark a trend within the younger audience to shop second hand through his song: “I call that getting tricked by a business / That shirt’s hella dough / And having the same one as six other people in this club is a hella don’t”. Even though “we have naturalised” (Mirzoeff 228) the destruction of our planet, some activists are wo
rking hard to stop the waste. Every year in my home town, the Oversew Fashion Awards promotes the upcycling of old clothes into new and innovative designs. From entering every year, it personally gives me the satisfaction of being sustainable when making clothes. In the image on the right my entry from last year is pictured. I recycled a number of garments from a second hand store into an original jacket and knitted dress. The show promotes sustainability to the public further growing the competition every year.
Fast fashion is a massive issue globally and effects not only humanity, but the environment, especially the climate; “we still can’t see it, literally and metaphorically.” (Mirzoeff Pg213) Habits can change by purchasing long lasting clothes made locally therefore reducing waste and a carbon footprint. Clothing does not need to be brand new, recycling clothes is massively important for the earth, whether you get creative and upcycle it, or just wear it as is. In order to facilicate change, fast fashion needs to become unappealing to consumers by voicing how badly globally our clothes are affecting our planet.
List of Citations:
- Mirzoeff, Nicholas. “How to See the World.” UK: Pelican Books, 2015.
- Sweeny, Glynis. “It’s the Second Dirtiest Thing in the World—And You’re Wearing It.” Alternet, 13 August 2015, http://www.alternet.org/environment/its-second-dirtiest-thing-world-and-youre-wearing-it
- Patty, Leigh Anne. “Climate change and the textile industry.” O Ecotextiles, WordPress, 15 August 2014, https://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/tag/organic-cotton/
- Ryan Kirk, 2014-2015, http://theswatchbook.offsetwarehouse.com/2015/09/25/ryan-kirk-became-sustainable-fashion-designer/
- Annabelle Jerling. “Every Girl has a Silver Lining.” 2016 Oversew Fashion Awards. Photography by Masanori Udagawa.
- Stuart Sproule and Barnaby Killam, Red Flag Design. 2010, https://hypebeast.com/2010/5/red-flag-design-bags-accessories
- Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Feat. Wanz. “Thriftshop.” The Heist, 2012, Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QK8mJJJvaes