Fashion and Climate Change: what you need to know
The rapidly visible effects of climate change have created a media frenzy over the last year; from Greta Thunberg leading the fight for change, to companies like McDonalds switching from plastic to paper straws. One of the sectors greatly contributing to the climate catastrophe is the fashion industry, which accounts for roughly 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions – more energy than the aviation and shipping industry combined (UNFCCC). The fashion industry’s high levels of pollution arise in the assembly of raw materials used to manufacture clothes since this requires land and water, or the extraction of fossil fuels. Additionally, the production process contributes to this too since this involves high volumes of water and energy, as well as using chemical dyes, finishes and coatings; some of which are toxic. Moreover, some clothing items are made using synthetic fibres which can result in ocean pollution since plastic microfibres are released when the clothes are washed which then enter rivers, the ocean and the food chain (Parliament.UK).
Fast Fashion Facts
A particular issue relating to the damaging impact of the fashion industry is the current trend of fast fashion. Fast fashion is a term used to describe clothes that take inspiration from recent style trends seen on the runway but are retailed for an affordable price for the average consumer (Green Matters), but which are often only kept by individuals for a short period of time before throwing away (BBC). This has a negative environmental impact because retailers often cut costs that increase their carbon footprint in order to keep up with the quickly changing demands for these styles (Green Matters). Since these products are cheap to produce and sold at undercut prices, they are often of poor quality, therefore failing to be durable, long-term investments for consumers. In fact, every week in the UK 11 million items of clothing end up in landfill (Oxfam) which is largely due to the fact that consumers are led to believe that clothes are “out of fashion” and should be replaced. This worrying trend is evidenced by data showing that the average consumer purchased 60 percent more items of clothing in comparison to 2000 but kept each garment for half as long (World Resources Institute).
How can we help?
In response to the growing epidemic of fast fashion, the charity Oxfam has launched the Second Hand September campaign to encourage people to pledge to avoid buying new clothes for the 30 days of the month (Oxfam). The campaign seeks to raise awareness of the environmental impacts of the fashion industry and to inspire consumers to buy pre-loved, second-hand items instead. Second Hand September has been launched to coincide with one of the fashion industry’s busiest months (Financial Times), making it a bold statement which has the potential to have a real impact on how consumers view their shopping habits. Furthermore, the resale market has grown 9.2% in two years and so it’s never been easier for individuals to shift towards more sustainable clothing choices (Elle), substituting reusing and recycling rather than purchasing, and quickly discarding, new items. It is simple to see that fast fashion is unsustainable, in addition to being extremely damaging in the fight against climate change – but it seems that Oxfam are taking the lead in educating consumers on, and providing, the solution.
By Charlotte Beardwell