Fashion + Our Oceans

The Second Largest Industry causing ocean pollution

How does fast fashion affect the ocean?

Fast fashion is a term used to describe a highly profitable business model based on replicating catwalk trends and high-fashion designs and then mass-producing them at low cost. The fashion industry accounts for 10% of global pollution including ocean pollution.

“The fashion industry, the second-largest industrial polluter after aviation, must improve the long-term sustainability of its supply chain.”

Kirsi Niinimäki – Aalto University Professor, Finland

Every year half a million tones of plastic microfibres are dumped into the ocean, the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles. This affects the ocean as microfibres are bits, less than five mm in length. They are frequently found in fast fashion along with acrylic and polyester, they cannot be extracted from the water and they are spread throughout the food chain.

According to the UN, the average consumer buys 60% more pieces of clothing than 15 years ago, and each item is only kept for half as long, resorting in the fashion industry having such an affect on global pollution.

Ocean.org state that researchers investigated and found that when different materials are washed once it allows for up to 700,000 fibres to come off your clothes and potentially travel to the ocean.

Does fast fashion have to die for change to happen to reduce global pollution?

As fashion produces more than 92 million tonnes of waste and consumes 1.5 trillion tonnes of water per year, Professor Niinimäki suggested: “Slow fashion is the future.”

To put this into perspective, to make just one pair of denim jeans, 10,000 litres of water is required. This is only to grow the one kilo of cotton needed for the pair of jeans. To put it in perspective, it would take one person up to ten years to drink this amount of water.

With fast fashion, the consumer is encouraged to buy as often as possible adhering to new trends frequently. This allows companies to produce clothes in large batches, which is cheaper for them. However, if these items don’t sell it creates more waste and as brands constantly encourage their customers to keep up with the new trends means that old clothes can end up in landfills.

Younger shoppers in particular are concerned about their effect on the environment. As they are the primary target for most fashion companies regarding fast fashion, this means that these companies are more inclined to want to change their business models so they don’t lose their key demographic.

What is the fashion industry doing to make a change to stop ocean pollution?

The UN reports that the Alliance of Sustainable Fashion is improving collaboration among UN agencies by analysing their efforts in making fashion sustainable, identifying solutions, and gaps in their actions, and presenting these findings to governments to trigger policies.

Progress is being made. However, is it making substantial change? Fashion designers and international companies want to promote sustainability. UN Climate Change, in cooperation with the Italian Ministry of Environment and other partners, regularly host the “Green Fashion Week”, which is an alternative fashion show, which suggests how brands are and can continue to create a less destructive business model and veer away from fast fashion.

However, H&M Chief Executive Karl-Johan Persson dislikes movements that push back against consumerism. In 2019, he told Bloomberg that choosing to decrease someone’s environmental footprint by buying less or by refraining from carbon-emitting activities would have “Terrible social consequences.”

The fashion industry along with the consumers all need to make a change to stop fast fashion from polluting the earth and its oceans. The convenience of fast fashion comes at a cost for both parties and some might argue the saying, “Buy cheap, buy twice” isn’t a lasting business model for change that needs to happen.

Fast fashion’s convenience has a cost and as consumers we need to develop a mindset of intentionality towards our purchases. Along with buying, there are more ways to make more sustainable decisions. These include washing your clothes less and avoiding using the tumble dryer as the Energy Saving Trust has shown that laundering accounts for 60-80% of a garment’s total environmental impact.

Another way to be more sustainable is to never throw your clothes away., which may seem easy for some but as Vivienne Westwood said “Buy less, choose well, make it last.” Try to shop choices that you absolutely love and ones you know you’ll keep forever.


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