Simply put, we are killing the planet. And one of the big contributors to this is the fashion industry. It is the third biggest pollutant on the planet and it continues to rip through our natural resources on a daily basis. We have the solution right under our noses, yet we still do nothing. We, as consumers, need to become more aware of the impact this industry is having. Our money is single-handedly funding our planet’s demise and the majority of us have no idea how.
The life cycle of fashion
The life cycle of your typical fashion garment is probably a bit of a mystery to most – other than when it is in your possession, you probably haven’t given it much thought, right? You may not have thought about how it got to the shelf and what happens to it after you no longer need it. It is actually a far bigger process than you could imagine. And every step is detrimental to our planet.
The life cycle of a cotton shirt
Let’s say our fashion item is made entirely out of cotton. It’s a natural resource, which means it can be grown sustainably. But instead, many popular brands have decided that profit was more important. After a simple search, I found that most of our cotton is exploiting our land and our workers. Did you know that the average cotton shirt that you can buy on the high street takes 1,819 litres of water to make, which doesn’t include the actual manufacturing process?! That’s between 18 and 22 bathtubs worth of water, just to grow the cotton required for one shirt. However, cotton is one of our most sustainable resources to use for clothes and other materials are even more damaging to the environment.
The next stage in our cycle is transporting the raw material to where it will be made into usable thread. They then sew, dye and wash the material to make the garment. This stage in the process makes up 28% of the carbon emissions for our cotton shirt, but it is one of the simplest to change. The waste in this stage is also very alarming. Wastewater is pumped into streams and river and it is completely contaminated with dye and micro-plastics. This means that these rivers become completely uninhabitable for any wildlife. As well as this, the contaminated water can then run into seas and oceans, further polluting the habitat and killing the species that once called it their home.
What can change?
Our factories are primarily running on fossil fuels and using machinery that is inefficient because it is the cheapest option. However, with a huge global market to work with, the industry can afford to spend a little extra money. A simple switch to sustainable energy could revolutionise the industry and reduce overall global carbon emissions by 10%. This means that there would be a 10% fall in toxic particulates in our atmosphere.
The other issue of wastewater is an even easier problem to solve. We could just…stop…doing it? The world has already found efficient and effective ways of treating and reusing wastewater, so there’s not really any excuse to be channelling this wastewater into essential habitats. If factories installed nearby water treatment plants, they could easily treat and reuse the water, without having a terrible effect on the wildlife.
Local business could change the world
The UK imports the majority of its fashion, which is contributing to a huge carbon footprint. Most of our imports come from India, China and other eastern countries, so the transport that gets them here heavily pollutes the planet. Oh, and I forgot to mention, we do this because we can exploit the workers without any major repercussions. When did money become more important than people’s lives?
So, if these companies brought their manufacturing a little closer to home, we could cut the transport pollution by over a half. Oh, and we can also put an end to exploitation of workers too.
However, I know that this is a very optimistic view. These companies are set in their way and are unlikely to change because of one article. So, how can we actually have an impact?
What can you do?
Only support companies who are sustainable or are committed to change. That is the most important thing you could do. It would show the industry that we understand the process and that we no longer want to support it. Hold them accountable for the damage they are doing. Now, I know that researching what companies are ethical can be intimidating, so let me give you a head start.
There are many specialised UK stores which can be a little more expensive than you’re used to. But if you can afford this, it is a great way to support local businesses and also save the planet while doing so. If you don’t want to break the bank, there are stores like H&M, who have introduced a sustainable range and have committed to making all of their garments sustainable in the future.
If you don’t like high-street fashion, try charity shops! The UK’s streets are littered with these shops and they are a great way to reduce waste and also find something unique and exciting that nobody has seen before! They also have the added benefit of donating the proceeds to their charity, so not only are you helping the planet, you’re also helping the people.
Say no to fashion
The simplest way you could say no to this madness is to simply…well…say no. You could try cutting down on the amount of clothes you buy in a year. Did you know that the average piece of clothing only has a life of just over two years? And that the average person in the UK buys 4.1 items of clothing per month? That’s a lot of waste. So why don’t you forgo that new top, leave that pair of jeans on the shelf and walk right out of the shop that is killing the planet without repercussions.
Whichever path you choose, just remember, you have the power. Without consumers like you, these corrupt companies will have to change or they will suffer the consequences. You have the power to change the world, so change it.