It takes 20,000 litres of water to produce one kilogram of cotton.  Naturally, this puts significant pressure on the environment’s resources. According to the United Nations, 1.6 billion people live in areas with water scarcity, meaning places with no access to water. On the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, it says, “water scarcity is among the main problems to be faced by many societies and the World in the XXIst century.”

According to Sustain Your Style, an initiative to inform fashion consumers about the current issues in the industry, 200,000 tons of dye are lost to effluents every year. Effluent is the liquid waste that is discarded into seas and rivers, this affects the wildlife that lives there. Furthermore, 20 per cent of industrial water pollution comes from textile treatments and dying.

Every time we wash a synthetic garment 1,900 individual microfibres end up in our oceans which are then ingested by fish and we later consume. Many fish die because they have consumed a lot of microfibres that they are unable to digest.

Non-degradable clothing, which is usually made of synthetics, take up to 200 years to decompose and an average western family disposes 30 kilograms of clothing to landfills every year. The fashion industry produces 10 per cent of the world’s global carbon emissions. This is due to the production, manufacturing, and transportation of garments that are created in the millions and sold every year.

Fashion has a major impact on the environment. According to Sustain Your Style, the fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world. Fashion production and consumption puts a strain on the environment. These strains include water pollution, water consumption, microfibres in our oceans, waste accumulation, chemicals, greenhouse gas emissions, soil degradation, and rainforest deconstruction.

Why is this happening?

Fast fashion has allowed consumers to purchase five times as much clothing as our grandparents ever needed, according to Sustain Your Style. Fast fashion has the ability to mass produce cheap and disposable clothing. Trends are constantly changing, and people are constantly buying items trying to stay up to date with these fads. This is partly fuelled because of social media platforms that are constantly reminding people to want and buy more. Small time local fashion designers are building more localized and sustainable clothing for smaller niche audiences trying to fight against the larger conglomerates such as Gap Inc., which includes a roster of mass-produced clothing stores such as The Gap, Old Navy, and Banana Republic.

Source: Sustain Your Style.

Mosha Lundström Halbert is a fashion director, writer, entrepreneur and on-air personality. She is a fashion enthusiast and has been seen and heard in many places worldwide. Halbert is very aware of the current fashion disasters that are occurring around the globe today. This includes the act of unsustainable fashion but also the lack of support towards local and slow fashion stores. She said that consumers today are so overwhelmed by the fashion they are supposed to wear, which has ultimately allowed them to lose track of the fashion that identifies them.

When talking about fast fashion she shares a quote she likes to share with others.  It’s a Coco Chanel statement, “elegance is refusal.” Which she takes to mean “saying no to things is the chicest thing you can do.”  Halbert says it should not be difficult to reject a trend because it’s a purchase for a moment and staying true to yourself by buying items that you genuinely need is important. She says that a lot of images are supplanted into our minds allowing us to make purchases that are fads, meaning it will not last very long. Halbert says, we need to control our minds by being aware that many of those images are just marketing tactics that are luring in more customers.

Images of Mosha Lundström Halbert

The garment life cycle shows the different routes a garment could take when disposing that item. Most clothing ends up at the final point: the “grave” or landfill. Sustainable clothing tries to slow down this cycle by reusing and recycling items using a closed loop manufacturing method till the item eventually reaches the “grave” after its maximum use.

Source: Mira Nabulsi

Ellen Macarthur Foundation, a charity in the United Kingdom which aims to create a positive future through the framework of a circular economy, studied the impact of fashion on the environment. Their findings show that “in the last 15 years, clothing production has approximately doubled, driven by a growing middle-class population across the globe and increased per capita sales in mature economies.” This rise is because of the fast fashion phenomena with a fast turnaround in fashion trends and production lines. This means producing items at an unprecedented rate with lower prices. Production for the fashion industry is booming at the cost of the planet’s welfare.

Ellen Macarthur Foundation report states “on current trend, the negative impacts of the industry will be potentially catastrophic.”

Source: Ellen Macarthur Foundation

Value Village is a corporate for-profit company that has been revamping its image over the past three years to try and deliver a new model to consumers to support the change and demand of the consumer culture. Tony Shumpert, the vice president of Rethink and Reuse, a movement to learn how to reduce your own clothing footprint said, “our lightbulb moment was that we have been doing it [recycling clothing] for 60-ish years and we sort of thought we had a responsibility given the landscape that we could see, to help people understand that there are things that can really benefit the planet and in the short run while we focus on innovation and getting to a true circular economy and those things are really simple, it starts with reuse and making sure the product doesn’t make its way to a landfill and instead making its way into the reuse stream.”

Value Village has taken an initiative to help and educate the public about ways to reuse and recycle their clothing. Its website has been revamped to show customers this new model and teach them facts and important notices that would motivate consumers to make a change. Take a listen to Tony Shumpert as he talks about all the changes and transformations that Value Village has seen.

Images of Tony Shumpert

The average person keeps a garment for about three months before it is disposed, according to Tarah Burke, professor of Fashion at Ryerson University. Due to the cheap price (and cheap quality) consumers are purchasing more cheap clothing but are disposing it at a fast rate as well.

Burke is an advocate for sustainable fashion in her teaching. She informs students about the impact that fast fashion has on the environment. Furthermore, she is examining the perception and value that people have towards fashion and how to better their understanding in order to deliver a more adequate and sustainable message. “For instance, it’s hard to value a garment when your lunch or even your cup of coffee costs more than the clothing you’re wearing. So, of course the consumer sees the clothing as disposable when they have no value associated with it” Burke said. The future consumers are also a generation who have never grown up in a household where they know how to sew or how a garment is made, losing the value of their clothing. Therefore, not being aware of what it is like actually making a garment and the level of skill that it takes.

Images of Tarah Burke

Fashion Takes Action is an organization that aims to educate the public about the impact of fashion on the environment using the seven R model: reduce, rent, reuse, repurpose, research, repair and recycle. Their end goal is to “to advance sustainability in the entire fashion system through education, awareness and collaboration.”

Kelly Drennan is the executive director of Fashion Takes Action. She is an advocate for change and sustainability. She says there is a lot of simple things we can do to reduce the impact we have on the environment. Drennan says, “on a co2 level, for every kilogram of textile in landfills, it is estimated that there are four kilograms of co2 emissions. So, it’s pretty big, in Ontario alone there is enough textile waste in the landfill to fill the Roger Centre three times every year.” But by simply switching to cleaning our clothes with cold water and hang drying them we are able to reduce the energy exerted on the environment.

Images of Kelly Drennan