Fashion industry is known as one of the world’s largest polluters. Since late 90s, “fast fashion” has dominated, generating a huge amount of greenhouse gas with a devastating effect on the environment. The average consumer in 2019 owned 70% more clothing compared to 2000. The price of such unreasonable consumption is garbage, pollution and sweatshops.
Clothing is made from various materials, often a mix of fabrics. Cotton is found in 40% of all clothing, while synthetic fibers, such as polyester and nylon, are found in 72% of clothing. At the same time, both materials are criticized because of their negative impact on the environment and on Water in particular.
Growing cotton requires the use of a huge amount of water. One of the most devastating environmental disasters created by humans has also been triggered by cotton cultivation. In 1960, in order to support cotton plantations in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, the course of two rivers flowing into the Aral Sea was changed. This has led to the fact that there is almost no trace left of the Aral Sea today.
Polyester and nylon are split in washing machines, which leads to the accumulation of microplastics in water systems. Scientists say microplastics are now paving the way to our food chain. This is a problem, the consequences of which we do not know yet.
What is Fast Fashion?
Shopping for clothing was once considered an event. Consumers would save up to buy clothing at certain times of the year. But that changed in the late 1990s, as shopping became a form of entertainment and demand for clothing increased. That’s when fast fashion emergerd, the cheaper, trendier clothing that allowed consumers to feel as though they were wearing the same clothing that was on the runway at fashion shows.
Fast fashion is made possible by innovations in the supply chain management (SCM) among fashion retailers. Its goal is to produce quickly articles of clothing that are cost-efficient. These clothes respond to fast-shifting consumer demands. The assumption is that consumers want high fashion at a low price.
Fast fashion follows the concept of category management, linking the manufacturer with the consumer in a mutually beneficial relationship. The speed at which fast fashion happens requires this kind of collaboration, as the need to refine and accelerate supply chain processes is paramount.
THE EFFECTS OF FAST-FASHION
What does it means for the Environment?
Some parts of modern life are, at this point, widely known to cause environmental harm – flying overseas, using disposable plastic items, and even driving to and from work, for example. But when it comes to our clothes, the impacts are less obvious. As consumers worldwide buy more clothes, the growing market for cheap items and new styles is taking a toll on the environment.
CARBON EMISSIONS & TEXTILE PRODUCTION
Fashion production makes up 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions, dries up water sources, and pollutes rivers and streams. That’s more emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. (Source)
If the fashion sector continues on its current trajectory, that share of the carbon budget could jump to 26% by 2050, according to a 2017 report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
Global demand for natural and man-made textile fibres is set to expand by 84% between 2010 and 2030; according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, textiles production is responsible for 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually, more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
WASHING CLOTHES & MICROPLASTICS
Washing clothes, meanwhile, releases 500,000 tons of microfibers into the ocean each year — the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles. What’s more, 85% of all textiles go to the dump each year. And washing some types of clothes sends thousands of bits of plastic into the ocean. Overall, microplastics are estimated to compose up to 31% of plastic pollution in the ocean. Microplastic pollution accounts for nearly a third of all ocean plastics.
Many of those fibers are polyester, a plastic found in an estimated 60% of garments. Producing polyester releases two to three times more carbon emissions than cotton, and polyester does not break down in the ocean. A 2017 report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimated that 35% of all microplastics — very small pieces of plastic that never biodegrade — in the ocean came from the laundering of synthetic textiles like polyester.
Many textile mills also dump chemicals into rivers. The dumping of pesticides, used mainly for dyeing fabrics, has made large parts of the largest rivers, such as the Citarum River in Indonesia and the Pearl River in China, unsuitable for living and fishing and for the life of river fauna. Rivers are one of the main sources of drinking water and irrigation, and a direct source of food.
The incredible scale of the fashion industry and the huge number of fabrics produced for clothing every year is what makes fast fashion so destructive.
Nowadays, the оnline influencer marketing has massively ramped up overconsumption. Most of the posts are made by people likely to wear the clothes once, just to get that post. There’s definitely a trend of wearing one-off pieces for social media.
An answer to these issues is Virtual clothing. Entertaining, yet ecological: it is cheaper, appears faster, exists in a more limited amount and does not harm the environment. We see digital clothing as one of the many solutions that fashion industry needs to bring forward.
We do not pretend that digital fashion will be a magic wand solving all environmental issues, but we are sure that it can be a way for mitigating the impact of fast fashion globalization, based on the idea that anyone can creatively participate in the normalization of our planet eco system.
Focus on Fashion
A growing number of innovators have changed how they see what consumers are really after – access to fashion, not necessarily ownership of clothes. An emerging wave of companies are offering clothing as a service – from YCloset to Mud Jeans, Rent the Runway, HurrCollective and, for children, Vigga. Such business models have the potential to drive up the quality of products to ensure longevity, and to make shopping easy while providing a channel for take-back, reuse or recycling.
Function not Form
From lab-grown leather to sustainable cellulose-based materials, impressive innovations are challenging traditional assumptions about how high-performance materials are produced. Lenzing has developed a sustainable cellulose-based textile, Tencel, that promises quality, performance and sustainability. Modern Meadow is taking fashion into the laboratory, creating “biofabricated” materials, with the first bio-engineered leather launched last year. This is only the very tip of the iceberg, as for the innovations that can be explored to reimagine the production of materials.
Create a Recovery Economy
Today, less than 1% of the material used to produce clothing is recycled into new clothing, and only 13% of the total material input is in some way recycled after clothing use. Economic incentives to encourage clothing recycling are weak, and technological innovation is lacking. A few digital platforms for clothing take-back are emerging to incentivize consumers, but a strong government push will be required to rebalance what is currently a broken market system as for recovery and recycling.
Safe and Circular
Circular economy only provides a positive contribution if we are circulating goods, not “bads”. Ensuring that materials are produced in a way that avoids the use and recirculation of toxic chemicals and by-products is essential. ZDHC, a multistakeholder organisation working for the zero discharge of hazardous chemicals in the textiles industry, is leading the way with a focus on advancing the removal of hazardous chemicals from supply chains with far-reaching impacts globally.
Young people are playing a critical role in calling for a more sustainable fashion sector – with more than 30 World Economic Forum Global Shaper hubs leading a Shaping Fashion initiative through ground-up collective action. While the burden of impact should not fall to consumers to solve, their engagement in both calling for a more sustainable future and participating in a circular economy for fashion is critical to change the system.
THE BEST WAY TO CHANGE THE PARADIGMA IS A CIRCULAR FASHION ECONOMY
A new way to design, make, and use things within the planetary boundaries
Shifting the system involves everyone and everything: businesses, governments, and individuals; our cities, our products, and our jobs.
WE HAVE TO and we can reinvent everything JUST WITH THESE 3 STEPS:
- designing out waste and pollution,
- keeping products and materials in use,
- regenerating natural systems
With our Digital Couture Collection, we want to drive the attention of society on the side effects of fast fashion and to encourage people and fashion brands to express creativity without the need of physical consumption.
DISCOVER THE PROJECT
- UN Alliance For Sustainable Fashion addresses damage of ‘fast fashion’
- What’s wrong with the fashion industry?
- 5 Ways Fashion Affects The Environment – And What You Can Do About It
- These facts show how unsustainable the fashion industry is
- 5 ways the fashion industry can be made more sustainable
- Tons of water used in cotton production
- Fast Fashion: Its Detrimental Effect on the Environment
- 5 Organizations who are in the Fight Against Fast Fashion