Fast fashion costs the earth

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Confession: I love fashion. I take my clothing choices very seriously. Shopping for clothes and sneakers is a guilty pleasure for me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not high end. It’s unaffordable and brands such as Cotton On, Nike and Zara offer clothes that make you look great at no cost.

But what do people know about the fashion industry and its effects on the environment and its contribution to climate change?

For starters, globally, clothing production has roughly doubled since 2000, according to Lorna Christie, senior lecturer in the department of life and consumer sciences at the University of South Africa.

“People bought 60% more clothes in 2014 than in 2000 – and they only kept clothes for half as long as before,” she said.

South Africans spent 180 billion rand on clothing and textiles in 2017, representing 18% of all retail sales that year, Christie said, adding that the strong fashion base in the country continues to grow. grow.

So what’s wrong with fast fashion? Basically, they are clothes that look like those shown on the catwalks and worn by celebrities, but mountains are made quickly and cheaply.

The global fashion industry is a massive $2.4 trillion industry, employing around 300 million people throughout the production process. Huge volumes of water are used and carbon emissions are produced, which is a major cause of climate change. And let’s not forget the often terrible working conditions in the factories.

A United Nations report on climate change noted that the fashion industry contributes 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions thanks to its long supply chains and because production is energy-intensive. “Industry consumes more energy than aviation and shipping combined.”

Around 20% of global drinking water pollution comes from dye and finishing products, according to figures from the United Nations Environment Program (UNDP) and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which aims to create a circular economy designed to eliminate waste and pollution and regenerate the environment. The statistics are getting more alarming.

The fashion industry uses 93 billion cubic meters of water per year, enough for the water needs of five million people.

To better understand what these numbers mean, making a pair of jeans – from the cotton field to the workshop – requires 3,781 liters of water, an “emission of approximately 33.4 kilograms of carbon equivalent”.

On top of that, half a million tons of plastic microfibers – the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles – end up in the sea. “The danger? Microfibers cannot be extracted from water and they can spread throughout the food chain,” notes a World Bank report using UNDP figures.

Because fast fashion clothes are of poor quality, they don’t last long and are quickly thrown away. The UNDP estimates that 87% of the total fiber content used in clothing is either burned or ends up in landfills.

Oxfam, a group dedicated to fighting poverty, has found that around 70% of discarded clothing donated globally ends up on the African continent. Although the intention was good, the quality of the clothes is so bad that they end up being thrown away. Among the countries affected are Kenya, Ghana and Tanzania. For context, Ghana throws away 100 tonnes of clothing every day, the equivalent of the weight of a killer whale.

Christie said these discarded clothes are extremely polluting. “The chemicals used in the manufacturing are released and because of all the synthetic fibers used, the clothes either don’t break down or break down very slowly.”

Shein, Shein, Shein

If you missed it, the subtitle above is a play on “shame, shame, shame”, a dark scene from Game of Thrones where a popular character parades through the streets while the audience shouts “shame ‘ and throws feces at her for her. Shares. Shein is an online fashion brand selling cheap clothes and shipping them worldwide.

On Instagram, Environment by Impact explored Shein’s effect on the nature and amount of clothing she produces. He revealed that around 92 million tons of Shein clothes end up in landfills, the equivalent of one garbage truck every second.

The brand has enjoyed huge popularity in recent years due to its low prices and rapid production of new styles. He is also popular with young people on TikTok.

Recently, the brand has been the subject of criticism on social networks because of the lead found in children’s clothing. Lead has a particularly harmful effect on pregnant women, babies and young children.

The brand was under investigation in South Africa for tax evasion by shipping clothes in smaller packages.

But that’s not all. “Shein has been repeatedly criticized for poor working conditions, high levels of toxic chemicals in its garments, copying items from independent designers, and poor handling of customer data,” Sangeeta Singh-Kurtz wrote. , senior editor of The Cut.

There are allegations that its employees endure harsh working conditions and appalling wages. Yet South Africans regularly buy their clothes, mainly because they are affordable.

So how do you mitigate the damage caused by fast fashion? Here are some solutions.


Start by being more aware. Check the companies that produce the clothes you buy and their practices.

Buy good quality clothes because they will last a long time, or buy second-hand items.

Know what happens to your clothes when you’re done with them. Recycle or donate unwanted clothes to avoid landfill.

Mend your clothes.

Beware of greenwashing. Brands like to make statements about doing things for the good of the environment. Do your own research. The Sustainable Brand Index and the Fashion Revolution Transparency Index publish information about brands and their practices.

But the simplest solution of all is to reduce. Stop buying so many clothes – buy things that will last. I talk to myself too. “Stop your clothes nonsense! is what I have to say to myself.

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