How is the world handling fast fashion?

Over consumption has become a huge problem for our society, with impacts stretching far and wide. Each year, we purchase 80 billion pieces of clothing which has shown a 400% upsurge in the last two decades. Creating these garments takes a lot of work and resources. For example, the amount of water required to produce the 80 billion pieces mentioned above would fill 32 million Olympic-sized swimming pools. This just highlights how out of hand our shopping habits have become, and it’s an issue that needs addressed immediately.

There’s much more to the issue than water use. The dangers of fast fashion is something that transcends through many different areas and we need to understand that the consequences of our consumption isn’t just impacting the environment, but vulnerable communities across the world too.

But what does fast fashion actually mean, and why do we keep hearing about it? Fast fashion is inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends. Although you may be unfamiliar with the full extent of the ideology surrounding fast-fashion, you’re most likely buying into it without the harmful intent because you’ve been taught no better. 

Understanding the materials

Remember the time when brands would release a new range each season? This is something that we’re now seeing on a monthly or weekly basis – in some cases, new clothing can land on the shop floor every day. With more items of clothing to choose from, more materials are being used – but to what costs?

Cotton accounts for just under half of the total fibre used in our clothes. Research has also suggested that 90% of it is genetically modified and uses a large amount of both water and chemicals, which is undoubtedly having an impact on our land and health. As well as this, cotton is responsible for 18% of worldwide pesticide use and 25% of total insecticide use. Is it worth it? Well, experiments have suggested that it can take 15,000 litres of water to grow the cotton to make a pair of jeans.  The cotton production scene has badly affected Kazakhstan for example, as in the 1960s, the country was home to the Aral Sea which covered 68,000 sq km and was one of the biggest inland seas in the world – home to aquatic life and a core attraction to tourists. Today, the water has disappeared and it is simply dry land. One of the rivers that once fed into the Aral Sea diverts into cotton production farms and is heavily absorbed. Again, is it worth it?

Leather is another material that can have dangerous consequences. So much so, studies have shown that leather tannery workers are at greater risk for cancer by between 20-50%, and the harmful chemicals involved are known to pollute natural water sources which is having a devastating impact on nearby communities. 

This is a problem that goes beyond the shop floor. In recent months, ocean pollution has become a significant topic discussed by the media – with a specific focus on plastic. But, did you know, that the washing of polyester sheds microfibres and they do not biodegrade, so they’re adding to the levels of plastic and therefore impacting marine life.

Environment corners are being cut, there’s no denying that. But is there a fix? Or a way that we can ease pressure on the problem? There is a solution to this issue, but it requires a joint effort from all parties: the consumer, the brands, and the authorities who are in a position to put legislation in place to reduce the catastrophic implications. 

Fair trade clothing is something that you should be considering, as purchases will be helping vulnerable communities across the globe. As well as this, upcycling old clothes that are still in good condition but no longer suit your style could be an option! We can’t forget second hand clothing from charity stores either… there’s so much on offer that can help solve the international crisis of fast fashion.

Fashion is a way that most of us express ourselves. But when it equals devastating impacts on the environment, then it’s time to question whether it’s actually worth it – and more than likely, it’s not. With scientists predicting that we 25 years left to fight climate change, which side will you take?


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