Fast fashion has surged in recent years, and for a good reason. But what is fast fashion, and what environmental impact does it have?
According to Good on You, fast fashion can be defined as cheap, trendy clothing, that samples ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture and turns them into garments in high street stores at breakneck speed.
So that means you can now buy a replica of that shirt or dress you saw advertised on a legacy brand's store for a fraction of the price. Most of these items will be then doomed to the back of the closet after one or two uses until a replacement comes along.
Fast fashion has essentially created a use once and throw away culture, due to the cheap prices and quality of the garments released.
To put into perspective how much this way of production has changed the fashion industry, in the 1980s, the average American purchased 12 items of clothing a year. Today, that number has nearly quintupled to approximately 68 items.
But what impact does fast fashion have on the environment, and how does it impact the planet?
The problem starts with the creation of the fabrics used to make these clothes.
An insane amount of resources are needed to create these fabrics. For instance, to produce one cotton t-shirt, 2,700 liters of water are needed. That's enough water for one person to drink for 2 and a half years! A pair of jeans uses 7,600 liters, and a jacket can use up to 11,000 liters.
Synthetic materials such as polyester, spandex and nylon use approximately 342 million barrels of crude oil per year.
33% of materials used in the production of viscose, a cheaper and more durable alternative to cotton and silk, come from ancient or threatened forests. The production of viscose generates insane amounts of waste too. As much as 70% of the wood harvested in the production of this material is dumped or incinerated, while only the other 30% ends up in the clothing that we wear.
Moving up the production chain of fabrics, harsh chemicals are used in the dyeing process, that are often dumped in rivers to dispose of this waste. One of the biggest examples of this problem is the Citarum river in Indonesia, dubbed the World's most polluted river.
And that is just the production of clothes. When it comes to the disposal and destruction of clothing, matters become even worse. A lot of clothes may be donated to thrift stores or charity shops, but most of those items are not able to go back on the shelves if they're not in decent condition.
Just one Salvation Army center in New York produces 18 tons of unwanted clothes every 3 days! And if clothes aren't sold in the space of a month, they are usually sold by the ton to countries in the developing world.
Most of these clothes are then burned in landfills to create space for next year's items, producing tremendous amounts of CO2 and toxic gases. 87% of all clothing produced ends up incinerated or landfilled.
To put into perspective how detrimental the fast fashion industry is, in 2015, textile production alone produced more greenhouse gasses than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. And this number is only set to grow.
These numbers are pretty daunting, but it doesn't mean you can't help.
By just wearing clothing 9 months longer, you can reduce that item's carbon footprint by 30%.
Another option is to simply buy fewer clothes! By reducing your fashion consumption, not only will you help the environment, but help your bank account too.
Purchasing clothing second hand from thrift stores or charity shops is another amazing way you can contribute to helping the planet. If everyone bought 1 single used item of clothing, that would be equivalent to removing nearly 500,000 cars off the road for a year!
Fash fashion is a massive problem for the environment, but the silver lining is that, by changing a few habits, you can have an enormous impact for the good.