Fashion Is Failing Our Planet - The Years Project

Fashion Is Failing Our Planet

By Ivana Rahaman

Clothing is integral to our everyday routines. We wake up, change our clothes, go to the gym, change our clothes, come home, change into different clothes again. We’re probably not thinking twice about putting on clothes, so we certainly aren’t thinking twice before buying them. In this new era of fast fashion and consumerism, it is becoming increasingly easier to purchase more, while paying less. I fully admit to falling into this trap myself, spending my time on fast fashion sites and ordering clothes that cost me no more than $15 a piece.

Around a year ago, I noticed my shopping habits changed drastically. Whereas I used to go to the mall around twice a year, I found myself ordering new clothes every few months. Not only was I shopping more often, I was buying more items of clothing at once due to their affordability. It took me a while to realize how unsustainable this was, but after months of getting new packages shipped to my front door, and having to replace clothes constantly because they would be ruined after a few wears, I knew I had to break up with fast fashion. When I looked further into its environmental impacts, it was more severe than I could have imagined. 

Here are some fashion fast facts: 

  • The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions, and by 2050, it is estimated to take up a quarter of the world’s carbon budget. 
  • In 2015, greenhouse gas emissions from textile production amounted to 1.2 billion tons of CO2, which is more than what international flights and maritime shipping emit combined.
  • 85% of all textiles are thrown out every year, rather than being reused. 
  • Majority of garment workers in developing countries work 14-16 hour days and are being paid less than $3 hourly. 
  • Making one pair of jeans requires around 2,000 gallons of water and produces the same amount of greenhouse gases as a car driving 69 miles. 

These are just a few of the many points that demonstrate how harmful one industry can be to the people and the planet. The modern day fashion industry runs on a non-renewable system that includes extracting a large amount of resources to produce clothes that are only meant to be worn for a short period of time. The textile industry relies on 98 million tons of non-renewable resources per year and only about 1% of materials used to make clothing is actually recycled into new items. Many of today’s companies are focused on quantity, and not concerned about quality. This tactic is working. The average consumer purchased 60% more garments in 2014 than they did in 2000. If this trend continues, clothing sales are expected to reach 160 million tons in 2050 – that’s triple today’s amount. 

While it seems like this increase would be even more devastating to the environment, there is hope for a changed industry. Major companies are realizing their contribution to the environmental crisis puts their brands at risk. Pulse the Fashion Industry reports that by 2030, brands will see a major decline in earnings that could lead to a profit reduction of nearly $52 billion. Consumer and corporate awareness is increasing as consumers demand change. Incidents like the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh put major brands, including Zara and Primark in the hot seat. The collapse of the unstable and improperly maintained building killed over 1,000 garment workers, who were forced to work in dangerous conditions. Stories like this are shocking but this is the reality of today’s growing fast fashion industry. 

Many brands are coming to understand their environmental and social responsibility and are finding new and creative ways to create sustainable clothes. The Spanish company ECOALF uses algae and recycled plastic to make shoes. Patagonia also uses recycled plastic to create polyester for their jackets. Mainstream companies like Levi’s, Guess, and H&M have all adopted sustainability initiatives. We are also seeing luxury fashion brands pushing for sustainability. Stella McCartney, a brand popular among numerous celebrities, heavily embraces sustainability. They use re-engineered cashmere, recycled nylon and polyester, and source plant based materials like viscose from sustainably managed forests. They also focus on social sustainability by ensuring workers are treated fairly and paid proper wages. These alternatives are a step in the right direction towards a more sustainable industry, but there is always room for improvement. 

While fashion brands do have a major responsibility regarding how they affect our planet, we, as consumers, also have a responsibility to be more aware of how and where we shop. Fast fashion’s allure is tempting and easy to get caught in, but we need to be aware of what these brands can do to our environment. As the consumers, our actions hold a lot of power, and by demanding change we can create a more environmentally and socially sustainable fashion industry.