From the pesticides to fertilizers, chemicals to high energy input, to the non-biodegradable synthetic materials and large consumption of water, fast fashion has a massive detrimental impact on the environment and our health too.
Here are a few examples and why we need to adapt to slow fashion now and stop fast fashion:
The consequences of fast fashion
Increased carbon footprint
The widespread use of synthetic fibers and specifically polyester has the biggest impact on the environment. Polyester emits up to three times carbon dioxide than other fibers such as cotton. It can also take hundreds of years to degrade yet more than 50 percent of clothes are made from this material. Due to increased consumption in the form of fast fashion, there has been a 157 percent increase in the amount of polyester used in clothing since the year 2000 to date. Such number should encourage us to choose sustainable fashion brands that produce clothes from natural fibers instead.
Water consumption and pollution
Approximately 2 billion pairs of jeans are produced each year and a pair takes up to 7,000 liters of water to produce. It takes up to 2,700 liters of water to make a single shirt. Over 1.5 million tonnes of hazardous chemicals, which permanently impact the environment, are used in the production of these clothing. Chemicals such as azo dyes, NPEs, and toxic perfluorinated substances are carcinogenic to animals and humans. In total, up to 20 percent of global water pollution can be attributed to the clothing industry.
Dumping, landfills, waste
The rate at which we are consuming and discarding clothes is contributing to mass waste not only in our own landfills but also in developing countries. First, 6 percent of textiles produced each year are floor waste and this ends in landfills in the developing countries where our clothes are made. While 80 percent of the clothes discarded by consumers in major cities could be reused, these typically end up in landfills too. In the US alone, clothing landfills occupy more than 125 million cubic yards each year and the worst part is that most of these clothes are made from non-biodegradable materials.
Unfair labour practices
Who made our clothes? This is question more and more people are asking as they seek to adopt an eco-lifestyle. Still, the continuing fast-fashion frenzy has seen large corporations and retailers engage in unfair labour practices in an effort to keep production costs low and to increase the rate of production too.
Today, women comprise over 80 percent of textile workers globally many of whom work many hours overtime for little pay.
Child labour also helps to fuel the fast fashion frenzy with workers under the age of 18 constituting 60 percent of those who labour in the global fashion industry. A lack of regulation exposes millions of workers to hazardous work conditions where workers are prone to death.
Clothes are typically sprayed with formaldehyde to prevent mildewing and wrinkling during shipping. Extensive exposure to this chemical i.e. through overconsumption of clothing items can cause severe allergic reactions. Clothes made from synthetic materials are produced using toxic chemicals. Textile workers are the most exposed to these chemicals and they are increasingly prone to all sorts of health problems. An accumulation of these toxins over a period of time can predispose one to terminal ailments such as cancer.
The clothing choices we make don’t just affect us personally. They also have global implications on the environment and the livelihoods of millions of people in developing economies. If we all choose a slow fashion way of life by reducing our consumption, we can alleviate these detrimental impacts.