Fashion May Be Pretty, But How Bad Is The Industry Affecting Our Planet?
When we talk about pollution and toxic waste, we often think about coal power plants or open air burning of crop residues. Be that as it may, have you ever wondered about how the shirts you’re wearing can influence the health of our planet?
While yes, the world of fashion may be pretty and all of that jazz, but the truth is, it involves a long and varied supply chains of production, raw material, textile manufacture, clothing construction, shipping, retail, use and ultimately, disposal of the garment. Many of these are achieved with toxic chemicals and increasing levels of textile waste.
As a result, it will create a gruesome impact on our planet. Not fetch at all.
We dispose our clothes quite often
For some people, shopping has become a way of life, a self-reward system, and for shopaholics like me, an addiction. I mean, who’s to blame right? The magazines, shopping centres and internet ads have made us believe that we need to buy new set of garments as the season changes, with a lot of people being scared of being a “clothes repeater”, a term coined by the media and cool girls in popular Hollywood movies.
It’s hard for us to keep wearing the same clothes for a long period of time, as we become pressured with so many new options in retail stores. Consequently, we tend to dispose our old garments to make room for the new ones in our wardrobe. Plus, the poor quality of the clothes which cause them to fall apart after several washes doesn’t help either.
That explains why some retail outlets can offer awesome deals so regularly, and even though we know that we can’t expect much from the quality, we just can’t help to buy them since they are selling at such low prices. I’ll go ahead and admit that I’m one of those who are guilty of doing so.
What is fast fashion?
Basically, it is a fabrication cycle which churns out massive amounts of cheap clothes that can change weekly — focusing on speed and low costs in order to deliver frequent new collections inspired by catwalk looks or celebrity styles. Countless of new collections will be produced each year, making us feel constantly out of date and encouraged to keep buying more.
However, little did everyone know, fast fashion is particularly bad for the environment, as the constraint to reduce cost and time means that environmental corners are more likely to be cut.
Textile waste is an unintended consequence of fast fashion
Pollutants that play a role in this issue include the pesticides used in cotton farming, the toxic dyes used in manufacturing and the great amount of waste from discarded fabrics, as well as the extravagant amount of natural resources used in extraction, farming, harvesting, processing, manufacturing and shipping.
While cotton, especially organic cotton, might seem like a smart choice, it can still take more than 5,000 gallons of water to manufacture just a T-shirt and a pair of jeans. Most cotton grown worldwide is genetically modified to be resistant to the bollworm pest, thereby improving yield and reducing pesticide use.
This can lead to problems further down the line, such as the emergence of “superweeds” which are resistant to standard pesticides. They often need to be treated with more toxic pesticides that are harmful to livestock and humans. In fact, a US-based cotton farmer has died from a brain tumour, while the children of Indian cotton farmers’ have ensued serious birth defects.
Made from petrochemicals, polyester and nylon are the most popular fabric used for fashion. But when these garments are washed in domestic washing machines, they shed microfibres that add to the increasing levels of plastic in our oceans.
These microfibres can easily pass through sewage and wastewater treatment plants, and into our waterways, but because they do not biodegrade, they represent a serious threat to the aquatic life. Small creatures such as plankton eat the microfibres, which will then make their way up the food chain to fish and shellfish eaten by humans. Yikes.
How you can play a role to help
Fashion is so entangled in so many other industries, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything to change it. As a consumer, you can opt for organic fibers and natural fibers that do not require chemicals to be produced, with low water consumption such as linen and recycled fibers.
Alternatively, you could refrain yourself from buying so many clothes or at least buy better quality ones. And before you throw away old garments, perhaps, it’s a good idea for you to mend, repurpose or recycle, if there’s no way for you to fix the clothes anymore.
For some extra $$$, simply sell your unwanted old clothing on pre-loved hubs such as Carousell or pop-up bazaars, because you know what they say — one woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure. For real though, think about all the effort needed to create these outfits. It’ll be such a waste if you throw them away when they are still in good condition. Some people may actually see your old clothes as the most beautiful thing they’ve ever laid eyes upon.
Besides that, you could also get rid of them by taking part in charity and donate the clothes to those in need, or hand them over to your friends and siblings. As a matter of fact, brands such as H&M, Monki and Levi’s have an ongoing campaign whereby you can donate your unwanted garments to these stores and in return, they will give vouchers for you to spend on your next purchase.