The real cost of the fashion industry’s impact on the environment can no longer be ignored. As the dark reality of climate change threatens our planet’s future, it falls not just on the manufacturers producing fast fashion, but the people buying it, to change.
When was the last time you looked at the fabric composition of a garment before buying it? Have you thrown out clothing after only wearing it once – or never at all? The fashion industry is the second most polluting in the world, with textile waste overloading landfill, and toxic chemicals threatening the environment. And just as it pollutes, the industry depletes vital resources of water and oil.
There’s no denying that the situation is a bad one, and we need to start reacting to this crisis, fast.
Dr Jennifer Whitty, senior lecturer of fashion design at Massey University and director of social enterprise Space Between, says the connection between the fashion industry and pollution cannot be understated. The most common fashion fibre, polyester, comes from the same fossil fuels our petrol comes from, and, brace yourself, it takes 200 years to break down. If that makes your tummy feel rather nervous then how about the fact that plastic microfibres shed from our synthetic clothing into water supplies account for 85 per cent of the human-made material found on ocean shores? It’s not bad, it’s dire. These don’t just threaten marine wildlife, they also end up in our food supply.
So why do we live in a society where buying and throwing away fashion is acceptable? A 2017 study by Australian organisation YouGov revealed that three in 10 Australians threw away clothing after just one wear, and four in 10 admitted to throwing unwanted clothing in the rubbish. So why are we behaving like this? Usually, because the clothing no longer fits and we’re in desperate need to make space in our wardrobe to accommodate our out-of-control spending habits. Between 2000 and 2014, the number of garments purchased by the average person increased by 60 per cent, and 38 per cent of millennials said they bought more than half of their entire wardrobe in the last year.
We’re constantly slammed from every angle with new styles and trends, beckoning us to add to our already-stuffed wardrobes. If we care about reducing the impact of the fashion industry on the environment, an industry-consumer shift to sustainable production methods and user processes is essential. So how do we get to a place where the majority of fashion available is sustainable or, as Dr Margo Barton, professor of fashion at the Otago Polytechnic and iD fashion creative director and chair, calls it, “fashion that hasn’t, and won’t, hurt people or the planet”?
First and foremost, the industry must change. Major fashion brands need to lead the transition to a more environmentally friendly way of manufacturing that departs from the fast-fashion concept. There are plenty of ways to do this, including using organic cottons and linens, recycled plastic fibres, plant-based dyes and recyclable packaging. For example, local brand Kowtow only uses Fairtrade-certified cotton, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) approved inks and dyes, sustainably-sourced trims and 100 per cent recyclable packaging.
Founder and creative director Gosia Piatek says the decision to create a sustainable, ethical fashion brand was a no-brainer. “I wanted to do something where people were getting rewarded fairly for what they do,” she explains. “The more I got into it, I realised that ethics and sustainability go hand in hand.”
The responsibility of reducing waste is therefore on both the manufacturer and the consumer. Find out about the role of big businesses in this crisis and what they should be doing to play there part by clicking here. To find out more about what you as a consumer can do, click here.