Is your fast fashion habit ruining the planet for future generations?

We’re taking a slightly different route with our blog this month, as we talk about fast fashion and its impact on the environment, animals and consumer behaviour. Even we were shocked when we did our research – we’d love to hear your thoughts when you’ve read this!

Some parts of modern life are widely known to cause environmental harm - flying overseas, using disposable plastic items and even driving to and from work. However, when it comes to our clothes, the impacts are less obvious.

As people worldwide buy more clothes, the growing market for cheap items and new styles is taking its toll on the environment. On average, people bought 60% more garments in 2014 than they did in 2000. This statistic may come as a shock to you - fashion production makes up 10% of humanity's carbon emissions, dries up water sources and pollutes rivers and streams. What's more, 85% of all textiles go to the dump each year. A key contributor to these worrying facts is fast fashion.

What is fast fashion?

Fast fashion is cheap, trendy clothing that samples ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture and turns them into garments in high street stores at speed to meet consumer demand. The idea is to get the newest styles on the market as soon as possible, so shoppers can buy them while they’re at their most popular. Unfortunately, they are then often discarded just a few wears later.

What are the characteristics of a fast fashion brand?

  • Thousands of styles, which touch on all the latest trends.
  • Extremely short turnaround time between when a trend or garment is seen on the catwalk and when it hits the shelves.
  • Offshore manufacturing where labour is the cheapest, with the use of workers on low wages without adequate rights or safety.
  • Limited quantity of a particular garment. With new stock arriving in store every few days, shoppers know if they don’t buy anything they like they’ll probably miss their chance.
  • Cheap, low quality materials, where clothes degrade after just a few wears and get thrown away.

What’s the impact of fast fashion?

Fast fashion’s impact on the planet is huge. The pressure to reduce costs and speed up production time means that environmental corners are more likely to be cut. Its negative impact includes its use of cheap, toxic textile dyes - making the fashion industry the second largest polluter of clean water globally after agriculture.

Cheap textiles also increase fast fashion’s impact. Polyester is one of the most popular fabrics. It is derived from fossil fuels, contributes to global warming and can shed microfibres that add to the increasing levels of plastic in our oceans when it’s put through the wash.

The speed at which clothes are produced also means that more clothes are disposed of, creating a huge amount of textile waste. In Australia alone, more than 500 million kilos of unwanted clothing ends up in landfill every year which is up to a staggering 85% of all textiles. That’s enough to annually fill the whole of Sydney harbour.

Fast fashion’s impact on animals

Sadly, animals are also impacted by fast fashion, by the toxic dyes that are released in waterways and the microfibres that are often ingested by ocean life. When animal products such as leather and fur are used, animal welfare is put at risk. Numerous scandals reveal that real fur, including cat and dog fur, is often being passed off as faux fur to unknowing shoppers.

How can you help?

There are things we can ALL do to flip the impacts of the fast fashion trend. These are our top three!

  • Buy less and wear more
  • Read the label
  • Vote with your feet

As the Fixing Fashion report says: “The most sustainable garment is the one we already own.” Extending the active life of 50% of UK clothing by nine months would save: 8% carbon, 10% water, 4% waste per metric ton of clothing, according to WRAP’s Valuing Our Clothes report.

Petroleum based synthetic fibres like polyester require less water and land than cotton, but they emit more greenhouse gases per kilogram. But bio-based synthetic polymers made from renewable crops like corn and sugarcane release up to 60% less carbon emissions, partly due to the crops creating carbon sinks”. Labels should show whether clothes are made using recycled polyester (rPET).

Some brands are more sustainable than others, so choose where you buy your clothes. In the UK, some sustainable and vintage brands offer lifetime repair services. Fifty-nine major retailers including IKEA and GAP have vowed to increase their use of recycled polyester by a minimum of 25% by 2020.

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