Over the last few centuries, our perspective on fashion has dramatically changed. The fashion industry today looks nothing like it did in the past. It encourages consumers to view clothing as disposable, while the new fast fashion model is rapidly emerging. But how does this affect the environment?
First of all, the fast-fashion production model is a streamlined system involving rapid design production, distribution, and marketing. It is responsible for more than its share of environmental degradation. In other words, fast fashion is the inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass marketer retailers in response to the latest trends. This industry has an enormous environmental footprint for both production and disposal which heavily impacts the environment. Although clothing is recyclable, the amount of clothing produced has far outstripped our capacity to recycle it.
The environmental challenges facing the fashion industry are just as immense. Fashion is the second biggest polluter of clean water on the planet. One of the most dangerous aspects of manufacturing clothing is the chemicals. Garment production and unregulated factories have resulted in toxic chemicals that create vibrant colours and fabric finishes. It is estimated that only 4% of textiles are currently recycled and a lot of materials like polyester can take 200 years to decompose.
The use of pesticides and fertilisers during the farming of materials like cotton, along with the dyeing and bleaching of textiles, results in harmful wastewaters filled with chemicals being released into the environment. Throughout the dyeing process, a tremendous amount of freshwater is used and wasted. Oftentimes these chemicals end up right back into the freshwater systems. Not only are these mass-produced methods of fashion manufacturing causing the land, soil, and water to be destroyed, it is also killing the people who live there. In this context, these chemicals, toxins and dyes are dunked into streams and rivers, polluting the water and soil of nearby areas, with huge consequences for animals, nature and human health.
In particular, the fashion industry uses large amounts of water, totaling 79 billion cubic metres. Most of the global fashion water use is related to cotton cultivation and liquid textile production processes. At the same time, fabrics produce the most greenhouse gases per unit of material used. In addition, the textile industry uses over 15,000 different chemicals in the manufacturing process, starting with the production of fibres. In the environment, chemicals dissolve in the soil, causing a reduction in soil biodiversity and fertility, disrupting biological processes and destroying microorganisms, plants and insects.
In terms of synthetic fabrics, such as polyester, rayon, silk, viscose, modal and other fabrics with copper and acrylic fibres, the use of water is reduced, but greenhouse gas emissions are increased. Typically, the production of textiles releases 1.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year.
The best way to combat the fast fashion phenomenon is to discourage these fashion brands from overproducing. The fast fashion industry relies on the consumer’s cooperation to buy their products without thinking twice about its impact. Viewing clothes as an investment rather than replaceable is key to stopping this harmful trend. Some effective ways are: