It has been claimed that the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry after oil. This may seem surprising, at least it did to me at first. However, when you take a closer look into the production and life-cycle of textiles, it soon becomes clear why this industry is so detrimental to the environment.
The factories which manufacture our high-street fashion, the majority of them being located in the Global South, produce high levels of pollution. The Citarum River in Indonesia, which has been named the world’s most polluted river, is home to over 2,000 textile factories. Due to the lack of regulations, large volumes of toxic waste are dumped into the river daily (280 tonnes per day to be exact), rendering it an unsafe source of water. The river is not only relied upon by the ecosystems surrounding it, but it is also a source for the local people to cook, clean and fish from. Whilst fashion is often praised as an expression of cultural identity, there is a certain irony in the fact that the industry contributes to the destruction of these cultures in the process.
The fuel for these polluting factories derives from our fast-rate consumption habits in the Global North. “We have been programmed to constantly consume at a rate which the environment can’t keep up with.” Every single year there are 100 billion new garments made from new fibres – most of which are likely to end up in landfills after only a few years. The fast-fashion industry now sports 52 new clothing collections every year, compared to the classic spring, summer, autumn and winter collections in the past. We are manufacturing clothes at an intense volume and frequency – something that we definitely don’t need. The majority of people doesn’t realise the social and environmental consequences of this mass consumption.
So, what are our options then? How do we attempt to rectify this problem? Many have been advocating for consumers to take their money to charity and vintage shops instead – we already have countless amazing clothes on this planet, so there is no need to produce more. London especially, has such a wide array of places that it is hard to choose from. If you want to find some high-end pieces, visit charity shops in more affluent areas where you are more likely to find bargain pieces. Clothes swaps are another way to change up your wardrobe – have a look at your family’s wardrobes to see if you could swap something with them!
“Although as consumers in the Global North we don’t directly see the effects of our fast-rate consumption habits, we cannot ignore the reality of the fast-fashion industry.” Hopefully, you now have an insight into why fast-fashion has such disastrous effects on the environment. So, the next time you think about buying a new item of clothing, why don’t you visit a charity or vintage shop first, or ask family and friends to see what clothes they have to offer. We all need to play our part by consuming consciously for the future of our environment – it’s worth a shot, isn’t it?
The documentary ‘Fashion’s dirty secrets’ and ‘The True Costs’ are two very impactful pieces – definitely give them a watch if you are interested in deepening your understanding on this issue.