Fast-Fashion vs. sustainable fashion
With the so called “fast-fashion”, shopping for clothes has become more affordable, including people with smaller wallets. And let’s be honest: for many people, being fashionable and changing their outfit every day, even every few hours, can be a lot of fun.
But there is a gigantic downside to our sweet, fashionable spot: the environmental cost, as the fast-fashion industry is a significant contributor to environmental pollution worldwide, particularly in the areas of water consumption and -pollution such as overall waste generation.
Does this mean that you have to give up your favourite vice? Not necessarily.
But it is clear that—if we are to blame the biggest culprits of our environmental problems—we also need an urgent change of paradigm in the fashion industry.
First, let’s take a look at the numbers:
- Many of the fibres used in fast fashion are polyester, a plastic found in an estimated 60% of the garments. Producing polyester not only releases two to three times more carbon emissions than cotton, but as well does not break down in the ocean. (Source, Source). Furthermore, some “mixed textiles” are impossible to recycle. They are dumped or burned, and the consequences of both procedures are far from being ecologically responsible.
- Washing those clothes releases 500,000 tons of microfibres into the ocean each year — the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles. (Source)
- Textile dyeing is the world’s second-largest polluter of water, since the water leftover from the dyeing process is more often than not dumped into ditches, streams, or rivers. (Source). This dyeing activity utilizes enough water to fill 2 million Olympic-sized swimming pools each year.
- The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions. (Source). That’s more emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
- Not to forget the toxic pesticides that are used on the Container ships as they take months to arrive at their final destination, explaining the nauseous smell of some garments and inciting us to wash them several times before first usage to avoid allergies and skin irritations.
All in all, the fashion industry is responsible for 20% of all industrial water pollution worldwide (Source).
- Waste of water
Is cotton a better alternative to polyester (plastic)? Not really: It takes about 12,000 litres of water to produce one cotton shirt (3000) and a pair of jeans (9000). That’s enough water for one person to drink at least 2 litres of water per day for 15 years. Cotton is, indeed, a highly water-intensive plant and organic cotton hardly makes a difference.
Some 93 billion cubic metres of water – enough to meet the needs of five million people – are used by the fashion industry annually, contributing significantly to water scarcity in some regions. Source
Consequence: The fashion industry is hence the second-largest consumer of water worldwide. (Source).
- Waste of the end-product itself:
- On average, people bought 60% more garments in 2014 than they did in 2000, but 85% of all textiles go to the dump each year. 85%! People only kept the clothes for half as long. (Source).
- In Europe, fashion companies went from an average offering of two collections per year in 2000 to five in 2011. Some brands offer even more. Zara puts out 24 collections per year, while H&M offers between 12 and 16. (Source)
Result: Every second, the equivalent of one rubbish truck full of clothes is burned or dumped in a landfill (Source).
- Social impact
Let’s also face the social and ethical issues.
The fashion industry is the 4th biggest employer in the world (Source). However, there is a massive downside here as well : extremely low wages, exploitation of the workers, without forgetting that they are the most exposed to the toxins used in the production leading to a low life expectancy and illness that they financially cannot deal with. Let’s never forget the Rana Plaza Accident in Bangladesh in 2013, killing at least 1.132 workers in the fashion industry. Bangladesh seems quite far away, but we know the labels that are producing there, just to mention H&M, Primark, Zara, Gap … So, before thinking that you are dealing with a Scandinavian, Spanish … label, considering that this is “local enough”, we should—maybe—think again….
The Environmental and Societal Footprint of Fast Fashion is a complete disaster.
We are told that efforts are being made to reduce the environmental impact of the fashion industry through sustainable practices and increased use of recycled materials, but there still is a lot of work to be done to address the issue.
Buying fewer, but high-quality items and focus on second-hand clothing for the fun-generating variability
Honestly, I am the perfect fashion victim. I plead guilty. I did especially wrong during my carefree, nonchalant years starting with adolescence, and this passion was then fuelled by a well-paid job over three decades.
But one day, I hit the brake. Full stop.
Don’t get me wrong: I do not buy less and those who do not know me, probably don’t see a difference. I still fully embrace my feeble for good quality and variation, such as a penchant for a slightly out-of-the-box, original, sometimes edgy outfit that is rarely in line with the mainstream dress code. Let’s say, I found myself a style and I do not care for whatever new collection is just being promoted. I sometimes must laugh, thinking of the frowns of my colleagues when I still worked in the financial sector. I definitely was their bird of paradise sometimes, and—of course—not everybody liked it.
Today, I look the same, but I buy differently: I still purchase nice, original and high-quality items—sometimes new, indeed, but more often than not second-hand—and I let them rotate! For a maximum of variability at a reasonable price.
I strictly believe that, by choosing to purchase pre-owned high-quality clothing, we can contribute to a reduction of the demand for always new, fast-fashion clothes and decrease the amount of pollution and misery generated by the fast-fashion industry. The fact, that fast-fashion is pretty worthless is proven by the fact that most of it is dumped after a very short time, sometimes even without having been worn. The increase in quantity and rhythm is directly linked to the loss of quality, and this reality is quite logical! If you buy vintage, you, more often than not, buy better quality!
This conviction made me take my courage in both hands by quitting a long term, well-paid job where I had every reason to feel safe and opened a second-hand concept store in a modern little town in the southern part of Luxembourg: Dudelange.
And ALBUM-Think Twice it is more than just a second-hand store. People who know me best, know me as the person that is always doing the extra mile. People must enjoy their stay at my place, whether they are buying, bringing or just wanting to spend some quality time at my place, have good conversations with nice people. The store provides a coffee/tea corner, a slow-food section, the possibility to work, read and meet and to support local newcomers by presenting their creations.
Buying second-hand, or as I prefer to say “preloved” fashion and design, especially when it is high-end, gives even the people with “thinner wallets” the possibility to feel chic, original, and worthy.
Believe it or not: high-quality clothing just makes us feel different.
It does neither have to be new, nor expensive!
This is why I plead for a reduction of VAT to 3%, a fiscal impact that, in Luxembourg, still amounts to 17%—thus making no difference between the fiscal impact of second-hand compared to fast fashion. Although second-hand industry is not producing anything, it is just offering an exchange and recycling-service-platform providing the possibility to reduce waste at all production levels. The private sector has offered the courage; politics now need to follow with the next logical step.
The timing for this decision is perfect, as it appears that society is entering a period that will be marked by increased environmental responsibility at all, even the absurdest, levels. I cannot see a reasonable argument that pleads against a change of fiscal law at this point, do you?
A political decision is needed, and we need it fast!
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This article has been inspired by an article you can read on “Business insider” and adapted to personal and local considerations. You can read the complete Business Insider Article here.