People of all social standings in North America buy into fast fashion, and redecorate with the change of seasons. This is completely normalized by TV shows that glamourize rapid makeovers, flipping real estate, and the disposability of textiles.
Fortunately, many of us are starting to wonder what damage this is doing to our environment such that demand for affordable sustainable clothing is rising. And the reality is that brands are driven by our demand, so it’s great we’re starting to vote with our wallets! Now we’re reaching a turning point in textiles, experts ask: what part of global warming and landfill can be attributed to unsustainable textile production and purchasing?
"Fashion is one of the most resource-intensive industries"
The diagnosis of the fashion industry as the second most pollution-causing sector has been thrown around for years. It’s true that buying clothing, accessories, new furnishings and home textiles plays a huge part in the planet’s demise, and fast fashion pollution in particular is held to task.
Interestingly, however, no credible and verifiable source has been identified as the origin of this widely-held idea. It seems that, in fact, fashion industry pollution is not the “second biggest” polluter; cement and steel are the worst polluting industries.
So where did this idea come from?
“Cement and steel have two of the largest industrial carbon footprints, but most people don’t buy steel and cement. Fashion is a consumer-facing industry,” Linda Greer, former senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the New York Times. It seems that, in order to become aware of our impact on the world, we may have been encouraged to start closer to home, in an industry we can all identify with. Fashion is a global industry and a major polluter that the vast majority of consumers can push to do better by our planet.
So while it’s true that vaguer statements like, “fashion is one of the most resource-intensive industries,” would be more accurate, would that get a rise out of us? Would this provoke us to make a real change in what we can impact?
Greer thinks the point is moot. “Whether it’s No. 2 or No. 5, the point is irrelevant.” It’s almost impossible to trace the entire supply chain of the fashion industry, and it’s unclear whether we should lump decorations, furnishings, accessories, uniforms and casual clothing under the same heading of “fashion.” The industry’s impact on multiple aspects of environmental damage is undeniable, albeit difficult to measure.
What is not in question is that the fashion industry is flawed.
This is true both in terms of what we put on our bodies and our purchases to decorate our homes. Sustainable clothing and textiles are still a niche business and only a handful of major fashion brands are beginning to take responsibility for their part in an excess of landfill, carbon emissions and chemical runoff. Even the best sustainable clothing brands are struggling to penetrate a saturated industry. Consumers and producers are actively choosing to look the other way.
But the facts speak for themselves:
- Textile dyeing and finishing is the No. 2 polluter of clean water, reported by the journal Natural Science.
- Close to 60% of all apparel winds up in incinerators or landfills within one year of their fabrication, measured by McKinsey.
- 20 - 25 % of all chemical compounds produced globally are for the textile-finishing industry, confirmed in the Handbook of Textile Effluent Remediation by Linda Greer.
In sum, fabric dye and stone washing heavily damage our precious water supply, and the many products abandoned during manufacturing create litter and add to our landfills.
But there are signs of change. Conscientious shoppers are choosing to filter their search for new fashion by affordable sustainable clothing. This means that sustainable women's clothing in particular is beginning to grow as a category, as are environmentally-friendly furnishing companies and sustainable clothing brands.
If you agree that systematic change is needed to confront the problem of fast fashion, bet on sustainable women's clothing like Florezca Designs. Using traditional knowledge, Florezca Designs’ artisans create timeless pieces using luxurious alpaca wool.
Want to meet our weavers of the Aymar Sawuri collective in her traditional territory of Colchane, Chile?