Opinion: The environmental cost of fashion

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Fast fashion is an approach to the design, production and marketing of textiles that emphasizes the quick and low-cost manufacture of products that follow current fashion trends. Fast fashion prioritizes immediate satisfaction of the consumer and the maximization of revenue at minimal cost. 

The fast fashion industry is no friend to the environment; unbeknownst to the majority of their consumers, the products manufactured come at an environmental cost. 

In order to keep up with current trends, the fast fashion industry engages in immoderate textile production. In nearly every step of the production process, fast fashion contributes to its ever-growing environmental footprint. Notably, fast fashion produces approximately 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions in an attempt to meet the demand for new textile products. 

The need to curb greenhouse gas emissions is of great importance at this pivotal time in the Earth’s climactic historyNeglecting to restrict textile production and carbon emissions is irresponsible and directly endangers the health of the environment and its inhabitants. 

In addition, the fast fashion industry is the second largest consumer of the world’s water supply. From the growth of crops to the manufacturing process, the fast fashion industry contributes to approximately 20% of global waste water

Cotton is a crop commonly grown for textile production, but cotton is an objectively dirty crop. The growth of cotton requires a significant amount of water and the use of pesticides to prevent crop failure. These pesticides are commonly washed into nearby water bodies and are a concern for bioaccumulation, the build-up of substances in an organism, typically a hazardous substance. 

Textile dyeing is an area of concern as the irresponsible disposal of chemical waste contributes to water pollution and creates unsafe work conditions due to contact with hazardous substances used in production. 

The textile industry also contributes to the global plastic problem, impacting ocean ecosystems through the pollution of the world’s oceans with microplastics. At this point in time, microplastics are estimated to account for approximately 31% of plastic pollution of the planet’s oceans. 

A source of microplastics is the laundering of synthetic textiles, which contributes to about 35% of the ocean’s microplastics. In total, 500,000 tons of microplastics enter the ocean through the laundering of clothes, equivalent to 50 billion plastic water bottles. Microplastics accumulate in gyres, circular ocean currents, and can bioaccumulate in lower organisms adversely impacting ocean ecosystems and those who consume marine organisms. 

Fashion trends are fleeting and cheaply made clothing has a short life duration, evident as approximately 85% of post-consumer products go into landfills. This contribution to landfills is becoming an even greater concern as the rate in which we buy is increasing; between the years 2000-2014, clothing production had doubled and the average consumer now buys 60% more items as compared to 15 years ago. 

Using our leverage as consumers, we can hopefully alter the fast fashion industry’s approach to the wholesale of textile products and raise awareness for environmental issues. To limit contribution to the environmental impacts of fast fashion, more consumers must take a proactive approach such as thrifting or buying from an eco-friendly brand to promote the adoption of an environmentally sustainable lifestyle    

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