Considering fashion has a larger environmental impact than aviation and shipping combined, it’s amazing that we’re not talking about it more.
Especially since there are so many issues including water waste, contamination of water, shipping and how long it can take for clothing to decompose.
Maybe we’re more ready to give up a few of our holidays or make an effort to buy local than we are to pass on a new pair of jeans. There’s much talk about the importance of cutting carbon emissions across the world. Even those most previously sceptical about climate change are now beginning to accept that drastic action is needed. Every day there is some debate regarding how quickly we can move over to electric cars, what we can do to rewild the earth or whether we could go meat-free. Many believe we should be putting big sanctions on companies with big carbon footprints and yet, the issue of fast fashion is rarely mentioned in the mainstream media.
Admittedly, those in the industry know of the issues and it’s a hot topic for the eco-conscious. Still, the damage done by fabric production and fabric waste does not get discussed enough to reach more passive consumers.
So what are the facts?
Fast Fashion Water Waste And Pollution
It’s very difficult to know exactly how much clothing impacts the environment because the production process is so involved and dependent on a number of choices along the chain. However, we know that water waste is a major factor. In fact, it’s estimated by the UN that a single pair of jeans may require up to 10,000 litres of water to produce. That’s one person’s average drinking water for a period of 10 years.
This wastewater often contains harmful substances, including fabric dyes, as a result of production and these inevitably end up in our rivers and oceans. Due to the effect that this has on aquatic life, there’s a real risk that these substances are reaching our food chain.
Fast Fashion And Plastic
We don’t often associate plastic with clothing, except perhaps for those fantastic jelly shoes we might have worn as children in the summer holidays. However, plastic has a big role to play in clothing production. With relatively few items of clothing now being made without the use of manmade fibres, we are producing clothing that is far more harmful to our environment.
Not only is manmade fibre usually far less biodegradable, but when does enter landfill it’s highly likely that these microfibres make their way into the water supply. In fact, recent studies revealed that even washing these materials is shedding microfibres into our ocean. So, when we talk about plastic in our oceans, it’s not only plastic bottles and bags we have to worry about. It is all those unseen fibres that are detrimental to marine life and, as a result, our own health.
In addition, clothing is usually individually wrapped in plastic bags during transportation.
Fast Fashion And Transportation
There’s a lot of debate about the environmental cost of importing clothing. However, this isn’t a straightforward issue. Generally speaking, it’s cheaper to produce abroad. Currently, most goods are shipped which accounts for approximately 3-4% of human-caused carbon emissions, which is relatively low actually. Yet, there are estimates that this number could increase to 17% by 2050, which is a dramatic rise in a short time span.
However, many businesses that produce clothing abroad are doing so in an ethical way. Pri Pri clothing, for example, works with a charity and social enterprise in India which supports underprivileged women. Empowering these women by teaching them essential skills that enable them to live independent lives is core to our values and global social responsibility too.
Often more sustainable materials can be sourced internationally without having too big of an impact on the cost of the items produced. This is helping to make sustainable fashion more affordable which is pivotal in moving consumers over to ethical clothing.
Therefore, overall, experts are agreed that ethical clothing shipped abroad still carries a far lesser carbon footprint than fast fashion produced locally using non-ethical means.
How long does it take for clothing to decompose?
Different materials decompose at different rates. The general rule is that manmade fibres take longer. Organic cotton can take an average of 5 months, whereas polyester can take anything between 20 and 200 years to decompose. Linen is one of the fastest at just 2 weeks. However, it’s expensive to produce as it’s labour intensive.
Eco-conscious fashion is challenging to get right because the production process for clothing is so complicated. However, in terms of how long it takes for clothing to decompose, natural materials are better. Organic preferably, if you can afford and source it.
The biggest and the most effective change we can make though is to buy less. A lot less. Yet, the fashion industry has spent the past few decades attempting to lower the cost of clothing for us to allow us more choice. So turning the trend won’t be easy.
Pri Pri sustainable children’s clothing and other ethical clothing companies are certainly filling a need for the eco-conscious consumer. Offering zero-waste, upcycling, organic and preloved items that help to keep the climate crisis at bay.
Unfortunately, the larger world of fashion retail is making a considerable stiletto-heeled carbon footprint, and it’s not making the headlines nearly enough. The truth is, fast-moving fashion actively encourages fast turnaround and sees our landfills accumulating a level of clothing waste that is unsustainable.
Pri Pri, and other eco-friendly retailers, are proving that it’s possible to operate sustainably in the fashion world. It’s time for the big brands to follow the sustainable suit, to stop hiding behind oversized sunglasses and declare biodegradable the new black.