The environmental impact of fast fashion
Over the last few decades we’ve seen an international expansion of fast fashion retailers. As disposable incomes increase, so does our desire and ability to purchase more items of clothing. The more we consume, the cheaper it becomes for fast fashion retailers to produce, making high street fashion even less expensive and in turn encouraging us to consume even more. It’s a vicious cycle, for the people involved in production, those living in towns surrounding the big factories and for the environment.
We’re aware that our colourful clothes weren’t always those colours, textile producers have been dying clothing on an industrial scale since the 1970s. Dyes used to be natural, coming from clay, plants and other organic material but now the majority of dyes used in textile production are chemical based. Many of these chemicals produce waste which is toxic and ends up being disposed of in rivers near factories.
In a study done by Greenpeace of rivers in two industrial zones in China, they found that it’s incredibly difficult to trace which of the factories were the culprits of this water pollution. What’s needed to solve this problem is for brands to either properly investigate the manufacturers they work with or strictly ensure that they are not using any chemical dyes which produce toxic waste.
The two most popular fabrics used in garment production are cotton and polyester. Polyester is a man made material that is essentially a type of plastic. It became popular in the 1970s as a miracle fibre that can be worn for 68 days straight without ironing, and still look presentable,”. Polyester is cheap to produce, and if you’re big on fashion you’ll know that it’s printed on most clothing labels, especially on the high street. What we now know about polyester garments is that when they’re washed in domestic washing machines, they shed microfibres that are passed out into the sewers and eventually end up in our oceans. These microfibres are a large contributor to the growing issue of plastic being found in our oceans. These fibres are small enough to be eaten by small creatures such as plankton, eventually making their way up the food chain to fish, shellfish and to us humans.
If our synthetic clothes don’t get recycled, they end up in landfill where it takes 1000s of years for them to decompose, alongside plastic straws and bottles.
Cotton is a naturally occuring fibre, but requires a huge amount of pesticides and water to grow (typically 10,000 litres to 1kg of cotton). The plants are typically grown in countries where water is a scarce resource, therefore damaging the country’s ecosystem and negatively affecting the people who live there.
To reduce the amount of pesticides needed to prevent crop failure and increase the amount of cotton yielded from each plant, scientists have developed a way to genetically modify the plants. But this can also lead to the emergence of “superweeds” which are resistant to standard pesticides. The plants then need to be treated with more toxic pesticides that are harmful to livestock and humans. The overall use of organic cotton is said to be around 1% of the world’s total cotton crop.
How can we help prevent further damage to farmers, their communities, land and resources?
Our ethos is all about swapping fast fashion for slow fashion; ethical, eco and lasting. We’re surrounded by ever changing shop windows and clothes from high street shops getting cheaper and cheaper, so we inevitably all have items deep in our wardrobes that we’ve forgotten about, or once loved and not worn for a while. Next time you’re stuck for something to wear, try shopping within your wardrobe instead of looking to buy something new. The more we wear the items we already have, the better.
There will come a time where we’ll crave some new-ness. We’ve been subconsciously force fed seasons, trends and styles that change every few months so it’s only normal we should feel the need to keep up. When branching outside of your own wardrobe, try borrowing or switching something with a friend, hitting up a charity shop or, if you’re going to buy something new, make sure you absolutely adore it.
There are brands out there making a huge effort to produce sustainably. Fabrics such as hemp, flax and nettle prove a great deal more sustainable than cotton; requiring less land and water. For example, hemp requires roughly a quarter of the amount of water and half the amount of land to grow.
At culthread, the warmth within our coats is provided by a vegan alternative to down made from 100% recycled plastic bottles. Brands such as adidas parley make shoes out of recycled ocean plastic, and Wolven Threads make activewear out of plastic bottles that end up in landfill.
When disposing of clothing, there are charities that will recycle your once loved pieces for you, such as Traid and the Salvation Army (UK based). There are also fabric recycling bins around London where you can drop off anything from sheets and curtains to socks. Locate your nearest one here.