Did you know that greenhouse gas emissions from textile production account for more than those of all international flights and maritime shipping combined?
Yes, you heard it right: the fashion industry accounts for 10 per cent of global carbon emissions and, if nothing changes, we will be looking at a number as high as 26 per cent by year 2050. Which means that in 30 years textile production will emit a fourth of all carbon. Furthermore, the textile industry uses staggering amounts of water both for fabric production and dying, and most of the garments contribute to ocean plastic pollution.
Are you wondering how one industry can have such a destructive impact on our living planet?
Most of the clothing today is made out of polyester and other synthetic materials. Take a look at what you are wearing, at what’s in your closet. More likely than not, your clothes are made, entirely or in part, out of polyester. Synthetic materials have become very popular in the last century and today they are the cheapest but also the most polluting material as they are produced from fossil fuels. Therefore, when it comes to environmental-friendliness, they are the worst material you can pick, both for its carbon-intensive production and because it takes more than two centuries to decompose. That means, by the time your great-great-great grandchildren will be born, your polyester t-shirt will be still around.
Another alarming concern of synthetic fibers is their role in plastic pollution. Not only will your garment stay around for two hundred years, but every time you wash it when you do your laundry, little, almost invisible particles break free from the fabric and end up in the waste water. Not even the filtering systems are able to catch those plastic particles, also called micro plastic. These then end up in rivers that spill into the oceans, affecting the marine animals that you are so happy to put on your plates, closing the loop.
You might think: ‘I’ll buy cotton then’, but that is almost as evil. Although it is a natural, compostable fiber, it is a highly water-intensive crop. To produce one t-shirt, one needs 2,700 liters of water. To put it into perspective, that is how much you drink in two and a half years.
In short, the majority of clothing production is destroying our planet.
The amount of resources put into production is a big part of the problem, but an even bigger issue is the amount of clothing consumed by the average person in Western countries. In the past 20 years alone, consumer demand has increased by 60 per cent. As a society, we are addicted to fast fashion, where brands like H&M and Zara launch a new clothing line every week, 52 times a year! Worsening quality at ever cheaper prices have allowed a higher and faster profit turnover for multinational brands, who sell you clothes that barely last a season, thus creating continuous demand.
Luckily, in the past few years, awareness has been on the rise and consumers have started to become more conscious about their consumption patterns, so big companies had to follow.
H&M introduced a ‘conscious line’, which account for less than 1% of what they produce, stating that they are trying to move in the right direction to a more sustainable future. But in my opinion, this is only a marketing strategy, also known as greenwashing, that many other brands are adopting. By shifting the focus on something positive, it allows them to run business as usual in the background.
We cannot talk about fashion without also mentioning social justice: many times, we forget that on the other end, there are real people who are exploited by the industry, spending 12 hours a day (or more!) 365 days a year in a likely unregulated garment factory, producing clothes that privileged people like you and me wear a couple of times and then throw away.
So, what can you do?
The first and most impactful action is to not buy new clothes. By not creating demand, you can stop fueling the fashion industry with your money. Remember that with every coin you cast a vote. Not buying new clothes doesn’t mean not buying clothes at all though! You can still dress fashionably and make people turn their heads by shopping pre-loved garments at second hand stores. Or even better, start sharing your clothes. I always used to share my wardrobe with my friends in high school and I was ecstatic when I found that there is an app that enables you to do the exact same thing. The Nu Wardrobe just launched in London and allows you to borrow clothes from other users, and it is the right place to find the perfect dress for that special occasion. By sharing clothes and buying at second hand stores, not only are you saving money but you are contributing to saving the planet!
Furthermore, start to adopt a slow fashion mentality. If you really need to buy something new, although this can very well be applied when buying pre-loved, focus on the quality rather than the quantity and buy something that sparks joy, as Marie Kondo says. Spending a little more money will allow you to save more in the long run since the garments will be more resistant to time and through washes. Always look for eco friendly fibers like bamboo (rayon), hemp, linen, tencel which are better for our skin anyways because they are made out of natural fibers, letting your body breathe.
Finally, inform yourself and raise awareness, wherever you can. Just like we all need food, we all need clothes to cover ourselves, so everyone should do their part. You can start by watching the documentary “The True Cost”, read articles and share your findings on social media (yes, even if you have a small following!). Join a group of activists or even better, create your own. Speak up and do not support the fashion industry with your hard-earned money. Start sharing your clothes and stop buying new. And if you want to bring real change to your life, pledge not to buy new clothing or textiles for 52 weeks.