It's Not Just About Clothing, but a Disposable Society-- Part 2
Updated: Feb 28, 2021
Welcome to the second post of our three-part blog series on the fashion industry! To read our previous article, click here.
As talked about in Part 1 of our fast fashion blog post series, the fast fashion industry’s impact on the earth is undeniable. Let's continue to dive into the environmental impacts of the fashion industry.
When looking at just the denim industry alone, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) found that it takes approximately 3,781 liters (roughly 999 gallons) of water to produce a single pair of jeans. While that seems staggering enough, multiply that outrageous number by the 6 billion pairs of jeans produced annually and that’s how much water is sunk into the denim pant industry alone. This sub-industry is not only responsible for using a large portion of the 4% of freshwater used by the fashion industry as a whole, but also for polluting around 70% of Asia’s bodies of water. A large portion of the jeans themselves are manufactured in Asia.
Aside from the incomprehensible impact of fashion on the world’s water supply, many might also be surprised to find that the fast fashion industry contributes majorly to plastic pollution as well. Although your favorite pair of leggings don’t feel like it, Spandex (the main fiber used to construct them) is a plastic commonly used in stretchy items of clothing. Besides Spandex, other synthetic fibers like polyester, nylon, and acrylic, are plastics as well. It takes approximately 1000 years for plastic of any kind to fully decompose.
It takes approximately 1000 years for plastic of any kind to fully decompose.
This is especially staggering when it comes to the fashion industry because polyester only first became fabric used for commercial purposes in 1941. Spandex, nylon, and acrylic fabric were also all invented around the same time period, within 20 years of one another. These figures mean that every single item of clothing constructed with polyester, Spandex, nylon, or acrylic fibers still exists in some form on this Earth. The worst part is that a majority of garments contain these materials, and more similarly composed items are being produced as you’re reading this. After we become tired of our synthetic fiber clothing, it sits in our landfills before being burned and releasing harmful greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, furthering the already devastating course of the climate crisis. Even while we still own them and are washing those items regularly, with each wash, thousands of microplastics are shed from the clothes and enter our waterways, harming the wildlife, atmosphere, our food, and our lungs. National Geographic recently found that the average human consumes around 74,000 microplastics annually, between the food we eat and the air we breathe. We are literally breathing in the ghosts of our old clothes and exploiting the planet’s resources, all in the name of fashion.
We are literally breathing in the ghosts of our old clothes and exploiting the planet’s resources, all in the name of fashion.
This exploitation also extends to the laborers who actually sew our clothing. The average garment worker in Cambodia makes a meager $0.85 hourly wage. This starvation wage is even worse in India and Bangladesh, where the average laborer earns $0.58 per hour and $0.33 per hour, respectively. Oftentimes, those workers have no other job options that help satisfy their main priority of feeding, clothing, and housing their families.
The impacts of climate change feel staggering enough to us, yet are amplified in the nations that mass-manufacture clothing. Workers come home to their local ecosystems demolished as a result of the average factory’s environmentally unfriendly manufacturing practices. Additionally, rarely do they receive any work benefits, such as health insurance, nor are they treated fairly in the factory setting. In fact, a staggering amount of women have bravely spoken up about the physical, mental, and even sexual harassment they’ve experienced when working in these factories.
Although the Human Rights Watch has published a list of demands to bridge the gap between workers and their employers, there is more than reform that needs to take place in order to create a safe, healthy environment in the workplace.
It becomes easy to feel helpless after reading of the plight of the garment workers and the exploitation of the planet as a result of the fashion industry. However, we cannot let despair lead us astray from the main issue and solution at hand because, yes, there are plenty of lifestyle changes you can make to help. The best way to effectively combat this issue is to stop buying new clothes! Ditch that $10 Forever 21 t-shirt you were thinking of buying (which will probably become faded and out-of-style within a month) for the super cool vintage t-shirt at your local thrift store (once it is safe for us to shop in person again, of course!). As consumers purchase new clothes from fast fashion brands, the brands continue the status quo of their ethics towards garment employees. Next time, instead of shopping for brand-new retail clothes, we challenge you to check out your local thrift store or consignment shop.
Feeling apprehensive about donning someone else's old attire? Simply learn how to mend and upcycle your old clothes! There are plenty of amazing tutorials online on this topic. Not only can you upcycle the item you buy secondhand, but you can also refresh an old shirt you might have never worn. If you still want to buy new clothes occasionally, check out the thousands of sustainable clothing stores online. Over the past few years, many comprehensive lists of sustainable brands have been published as the public has become more aware of the detrimental effects of mainstream fashion. Although some brands are a bit pricier than a typical Forever 21, it is important to note the unmatched quality of these clothes as often they are handmade by talented fashion designers. Keeping this in mind, I’ve learned to take care of my clothes, making sure to wash and store them properly, among other precautions. The moral of the story here is to treat your clothes (and companies, for that matter!) like keepsakes rather than disposable commodities. Reflect: what's one way you can help fight the environmental disasters that come along with fast fashion? Keep reading to see my work against fast fashion!