Take a guess.
Do you know fast fashion?
Fast fashion is a contemporary term used by fashion retailers to express that designs move from catwalk quickly to capture current fashion trends. Fast fashion clothing collections are based on the most recent fashion trends presented at Fashion Week in both the spring and the autumn of every year.
You can buy a hybrid car. You can use cloth bags at the grocery store. Hell, you can even put solar panels on your roof. But if you’re buying fast fashion, you’re still destroying the planet.
In fact, it doesn’t even necessarily have to be fast fashion. If you’re buying clothes from anywhere and only wearing them for a single season, you guessed it: You’re also destroying the planet.
According to a 2013 report, the global apparel industry produced 150 billion garments in 2010, enough to provide 20 new articles of clothing for every person on the planet. And it’s only gotten worse since then. Today, the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry on earth. And the primary culprit is fast fashion—well, that and the culture of throwaway clothing that it has inspired.
The major issue is right now is that we don’t keep our clothes. And the amount of clothing production needed to meet our new level of demand creates a wealth of both environmental and human rights issues. For most people, to be able buy a new wardrobe every year, clothes need to be cheap. And that’s where the problems start.
First there’s the U.S. apparel manufacturing industry, which has shed 800,000 jobs in the last few decades due to the demand for low-cost labor. And those jobs will likely never come back, regardless of what our next president says. Then there are the criminally low wages paid to those in the countries where apparel manufacturing has gone. As Fast Company points out, though the apparel industry is the largest employer of women globally, less than 2 percent of those women actually earn a living wage.
Next there’s the issue of electricity use. A lot of power is needed to produce 150 billion-plus articles of clothing each year, and most of the countries where those garments are produced use coal power. This helps to explain why the apparel industry is responsible for 10 percent of all carbon emissions globally. Clothing production is also extremely land- and water-intensive, made all the worse by the fact that the apparel industry is one of the worst offenders when it comes to introducing toxic chemicals into the worldwide water supply.
Also, in order to sustain fast fashion demand, natural fibers have largely been substituted for synthetic ones, i.e. plastics, i.e. fabrics made from oil. According to the article in Fast Company, oil-based polyester has now replaced cotton as the number one fiber in our clothing. And then, just to add to this ongoing environmental clusterfuck, there’s the issue of shipping, which both consumes non-renewable energy sources (oil) and adds more pollution into the environment.
And while brands like H&M try to soothe our consciences by launching celebrity-hyped recycling campaigns, the simple fact is that such moves will do little to help the clean up the planet. After all, you’re probably going to buy new clothes to replace the ones you just recycled.
And that’s the problem.