When you think of environmentally harmful industries you may not think of the fashion industry as the second-largest polluter, but nevertheless, the fashion industry comes in right behind the oil industry. That’s right, the production of clothing is nearly as harmful as oil pollution. The reason for this? The answer is simple. It all comes down to fast fashion. Fast fashion is a term used to describe the rapid production of inexpensive clothing by mass-market retailers to appeal to the latest trends. Ringleaders of the fast fashion industry like H&M, Zara, Old Navy, and Forever 21, provide consumers with similar styles to what you see on the runway for a significantly lower cost. This is a win-win situation for those living on a tight budget, but the reality is that the fast fashion industry has a harmful impact on the environment that many people are unaware of.
Fast fashion is a recent phenomenon, but it is growing at a rapid pace. Consumers are buying more clothes than ever before, and not just by a small amount. Globally, we consume 400% more than we did just two decades ago. That equals out to about 80 billion new pieces of clothing each year and with more clothing comes more waste. It is suspected that the average American will send about 80 pounds of clothing to the landfill each year. As a result, landfills are overflowing with textiles. Due to the excessive use of synthetic fibers like nylon, polyester, and acrylic, these textiles simply cannot decompose. Synthetic textiles sitting in the landmines will stay there for hundreds if not thousands of years. Even natural fibers like cotton and leather are being genetically modified to meet the high demands of consumers. A lot of people still believe that buying a natural fiber, like cotton, means that your fiber is not synthetic. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Cotton takes up nearly 50% of the fiber that is used to make clothing today and 90% of that is genetically modified with various chemicals.
One way to help reduce the carbon footprint of the fashion industry is by recycling and repurposing your old clothing. Right now in the United States, only 15% of consumers clothing is recycled. Studies show that up to 95% of the textiles that are dumped in the landmine each year could be recycled. As a result, various brands have put a recycling program into play to help reduce the carbon footprint of the fashion industry. So why aren’t consumers recycling there used clothing? I think the answer has to do with a lack of proper knowledge and a bit of oblivion. I don’t think our society is always made aware of what goes into the production of fast fashion clothing and what happens after. Brands know this method of production is harmful to the environment but it is the cheapest option. As consumers are becoming aware of the dangers of fast fashion we are seeing a major increase in ethically sourced clothing companies that use natural dyes and recycled fibers. The one drawback is that these brands tend to be more expensive and consumers today have grown accustomed to fast fashion pricing. Unfortunately, it all comes down to money. Fast fashion sells. For manufacturers to produce such large amounts of clothing in a short amount of time, there is simply no way that production practices can be environmentally friendly or sustainable. Manufacturers are not worried about the harm on the environment or the negative health effects, they are concerned with getting the product made and getting it made quickly so they can turn it around to their buyers while the trend is still in demand. This had led to a vicious cycle that is becoming harder and harder to break as consumers become accustomed. As consumers, we need to be cautious about the brands we choose to support and what we do with our old clothing. The only way to lessen the environmental impact of the fast fashion industry is to stop feeding it.