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I love fashion. I love collecting wonderful clothing and playing with the different combinations of color, pattern and style. I buy expensive, one of a kind art garments, and I enjoy shopping for “great bargains” and copping a fabulous deal at a sale. I also have worked in public education for the last 13 years, and my t-shirt collection is sizeable. Every year, we are given or are encouraged to buy t-shirts to support our school and the different organizations that our students participate in. I have a dedicated closet in my home for my t-shirts. Every couple of years, I HAVE to purge that closet because it gets more and more crammed full of these disposable garments. Look at how much water and how many different chemicals are required to produce 1 kg. of cotton for 1 pair of jeans or 1 t-shirt! I am shocked.
I admit that I am only now finding out about the problems with the massive waste of the general fashion industry. Where have I been?!? I have heard about the term “fast fashion”, and thought I understood it as speeding up the global trends from the design to market cycle of fashion. I also have been aware for the last several years of companies that produce their garments using cheap labor and force their workers to work in substandard conditions. And, of course, this fast cycle also feeds into the fuel of our consumer economy! Fashions change in order to create a sense of desire to “be in style” and demand that we support the designers, stores and catalogues that are constantly cycling new and sale merchandise through their promotions. Buy more, buy more! It’s our patriotic duty! Where do you fall on this continuum of consuming, collecting and disposing? I am probably in the center somewhere.
This online article from The University of Queensland in Australia reveals some depressing facts.
The fashion industry is one of the biggest in the world, accounting for 2% of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Unfortunately, it’s also now one of the biggest polluters in the world—second only to oil. The reason? Fast fashion.
The term ‘fast fashion’ refers to cheaply produced and priced garments that copy the latest catwalk styles and get pumped quickly through stores in order to maximise on current trends. It’s a relatively recent phenomenon, but its rapid expansion over a short time—fast fashion retailers grew by 9.7% between 2010 and 2015—is deeply concerning from a sustainability perspective.
Globally, we now consume about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year—400% more than we were consuming just two decades ago. Paradoxically, the more we love buying clothes, the more we seem to love either not wearing them or disposing of them—the average UK shopper only wears 70 per cent of what’s in their wardrobe and throws out 70 kilograms of textile waste annually.
The environmental impact of this behaviour is significant: the clothing and textile industry is depleting non-renewable resources, emitting huge quantities of greenhouses gases and using massive quantities of energy, chemicals and water. The synthetic fibres often favoured by fast fashion brands, such as polyester, nylon and acrylic, are basically a kind of plastic made from petroleum, which means they could take up to a thousand years to biodegrade.
This is all very sobering to me as a new year begins. Here’s another article about how one garbage truck of textiles is being thrown away every SECOND! A few years ago I showed my students a video called “The Story of Stuff”. This video very succinctly outlines how our consumer economy was created, how it’s perpetuated, and how it is ultimately unsustainable.
It’s overwhelming to be confronted with so many environmental issues. The problems seem so big, it’s difficult to understand that there are steps individuals can take to begin making change. Sharing these issues with friends and family can begin to create a groundswell. Even though our country’s current administration is not prioritizing environmental sustainability, we each have the power to affect change.
Consider this post to be a wake up call for some of us (like myself), a reminder to those who are aware, but not continuing to take action, and a testament to those already actively involved in these issues that one more call to action is going out to the readers of this post. We can all make a difference. Start small, be consistent, build your confidence and take action to help protect our planet.