Fast fashion's impact on the environment — and the antidote
How much did your outfit cost? I’d estimate my leggings and sweatshirt (I work from home, don’t judge me) at about $75. That’s what I paid out of pocket, but what’s the cost to the environment?
Here are some cold, hard facts:
The equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is burned or dumped in a landfill every second of every day.¹
It takes approximately 2,000 gallons of water to make your favorite pair of jeans.²
The fashion industry produces 10 percent of all global carbon emissions—that’s more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.³
I could go on and, let me tell you, the statistics don’t get any less terrifying.
While a lot of this damage has occurred over time (textile dye polluting wastewater and our laundry cycles releasing half a million tonnes of microfibres into the ocean every year⁴ aren’t new), the effects have grown exponentially in the last two decades. Clothing production has doubled since the year 2000 and the average consumer (that’s you and me) is spending about 60% more per year on their wardrobe.⁵
Enter fast fashion.
Best known as inexpensive clothing that is produced rapidly in response to trends (think H&M, Zara, Forever 21), fast fashion retailers are taxing the environment even further by releasing as many as twenty-four collections per year. The average brand offers 5 collections per year (which has already increased from 2 in 2000).⁶
In total, up to 85% of textiles are sent to landfills each year — that’s 21 billion tons.⁷
So, what’s the solution?
Many retailers are taking steps in the right direction. Brands like Everlaneand Alternative Appareland promoting slow, transparent, sustainable fashion. Cleaner factories, cleaner processes, and clothing meant to last.
Perhaps most interestingly, though, is fashion on demand. Still a relatively new business model, it turns fast fashion on its ear. Creating pieces on demand allows companies to offer a more sustainable, small-batch production cycle with much less material waste. Not only that, it offers the consumer more choice. Rather than relying on the brand to predict what they’ll want, the customer gets to choose designs, shapes, and more. Companies like Inner Art World and Zozo are leaders in this sector.
There’s clearly no quick fix for such a global problem, but if we as consumers make better choices, and demand more from manufacturers and retailers, it can help. It already has. So, before you throw down $5 on that flimsy T-shirt that will develop a hole in the seam the first time you wear it (and you know it will), consider the impact that purchase will have beyond your wallet.
What steps do you take to reduce negative environmental impact while staying on-trend?