Over the past few years, phrases like “fast fashion”, “sustainability”, and “slow fashion” have become buzzwords within the fashion industry. There is no denying that the fashion industry has a significant climate change problem. The rise of fast fashion, fuelled by social media trends, has skyrocketed the industry’s carbon footprint. Every day, we’re visibly seeing the impact of fast fashion on the world around us. You just need to look at the damage that microplastics in the apparel causes to the ocean to see that. Nevertheless, there is a solution to this problem by shifting from fast fashion to its slower, more eco-friendly alternative.
The Fashion Industry + Climate Change
The fashion industry impacts virtually every aspect of the environment, from the ocean to forests and natural resources. It would be impossible to go through every part of the industry and its supply chains to identify how they contribute to climate change, but there’s a few stark statistics and headline facts that you should know.
10% of the world’s carbon emissions are produced by the fashion industry, with this expected to rise to 26% within the next 30 years if no preventive measures are implemented. The industry is the world’s second-largest consumer of water, causing 20% of industrial water pollution. While 750 million people don’t have access to safe drinking water, the industry uses 1.5 trillion litres every year.
Roughly 2,000 different chemicals are used to treat textiles during the garment making process. The Environmental Protection Agency has approved only 16 of these frequently used chemicals. The impact of these chemicals is most evident in China, where 80% of groundwater from major river basins is considered “unsuitable” for human use.
If you want to see an example of the damage being caused by the fashion industry, look at the Aral Sea. It used to be one of the largest lakes in the world, but 50 years of cotton farming nearby has reduced it to a desert.
These are just a few examples of how fast fashion is impacting the world around us. The next time you walk along the beach, take a look at the proof of the consequences of fast fashion. Yet, all hope is not lost.
Sustainable Fashion-An Alternative or Need?
Fast fashion is a “global problem” that requires a fundamental change to mitigate or reverse the environmental damage caused. The answer to the problem is simple – it’s turning the industry on its head and adopting “slow fashion”.
Like any revolution, it’s the young people that are leading the way. 60% of millennials have said that they are trying to shop more sustainably. Between January 2019 and December 2020, a 250% increase in the number of google searches for sustainable fashion shows an increase in customer demand for more ethical and environmentally friendly fashion options.
Shifting to sustainable fashion doesn’t mean the industry has to close its doors or become less exciting. It’s all about evolution and innovation. The fundamental focus of slow fashion is the idea of elevated basics. Your clothes still look trendy and up to date without you having to jump on every momentary trend. It takes the approach that clothing is an investment rather than a folly.
Sustainable and slow fashion promotes “quality over quantity”. Instead of releasing more than twenty collections a year, like some high street brands are guilty of, sustainable fashion takes a long-term approach.
Encouraging the industry to take a breath and slow down could help tackle waste within the industry. Every year, an estimated 85% of textiles end up in landfills worldwide, with one garbage truck of clothing being brought to the landfill every second. This waste means that nearly $500 billion worth of clothing is either under-utilised or not recycled every year.
One of the most evident changes with slow fashion is that it focuses on sustainable fabrics. You’ll often see brands putting on their innovation hats and coming up with new and exciting fabrics, repurposing and recycling waste materials to create new textiles. Even older fabrics have been given a sustainability makeover. The Better Cotton Initiative has been set up to create a holistic approach towards creating sustainable cotton production.
Brands that fall into the ‘sustainable’ fashion category are focusing on using new and repurposed materials. Cork has become a popular alternative to leather as it ages the same way and is durable, tear-resistant, and waterproof. Although cork comes from trees, the bark rebuilds itself every nine years, meaning it doesn’t lead to disforestation.
Organic bamboo is another popular choice, as bamboo is one of the fastest-growing planets and renews itself quicker than other natural materials. The beauty of organic bamboo is that it’s virtually carbon-neutral, as it consumes more CO2 than the supply chain uses.
Recycled polyester shows another side of the sustainable fashion industry. Recycled polyester (known as rPET) is made using everything from clothing fibres to plastic bottles and traditional polyester waste. It uses 30-50% less energy and only 10% of the water consumption of conventional polyester. Recycled polyester is an example of what the slow fashion industry is striving for. This innovative fabric cuts down on waste in landfills, with the material being recycled multiple times, giving it one of the most extended lifespans of any textile.
Sustainable fashion also promotes a chemical-free approach, using natural dyes wherever possible and sticking to FDA approved products throughout the supply chain.
Another way that we’re seeing the sustainable fashion industry helping the environment by encouraging consumers to wear their clothing multiple times and responsibly dispose of their garments when they’re finished. Several brands offer a recycling policy, where you can bring in bags of old clothing for a discount, while others have programmes where you can bring your outerwear back to the brand to be repaired as it ages.
Sustainable fashion is the future of the industry. To succeed, brands and consumers need to work together to offset the environmental damage caused by fast fashion. Making the swift to slow fashion doesn’t mean you have to enjoy the industry any less. We’d say slow fashion is even more exciting and innovative.