The Environmental Cost of Fast Fashion
It is quite challenging to love our clothes and continue to wear them for longer when we are faced with a tempting variety of newness on offer. There is an increase in fast fashion, which focuses on speed and low costs so as to deliver frequent new collections inspired by catwalk looks or celebrity styles.
However, this has a great environment effect as pressure to reduce cost and the time it takes to get a product from design to shop floor means that environmental corners are more likely to be cut. Some of the negative environmental impact of fast fashion include water pollution, the use of toxic chemicals and growing levels of textile waste.
Most vibrant colors, prints and fabric finishes are done with toxic chemicals. In fact, textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of clean water globally, after agriculture. After testing some brands’ products and confirming the presence of hazardous chemicals, Greenpeace launched a Detox campaign, which has been key in pressuring fashion brands to take action towards getting rid of toxic chemicals from their supply chains.
Polyester, which is the most popular fabric used for fashion, has a great negative effect as well. When washed in domestic washing machines, they shed microfibers, adding to the increasing amounts of plastic in our oceans. These microfibres can easily pass through sewage and wastewater treatment plants into our waterways, and since they don’t biodegrade, they constitute a serious threat to aquatic life. Small creatures like plankton eat the microfibers, which then follow the food chain to fish and shellfish, which are eaten by humans.
Cotton too is another material for fashion that poses huge danger. This is illustrated in a documentary called The True Cost, which depicts the shocking impact of toxic chemical use in agriculture, for growing cotton. The documentary featured the death of a US cotton farmer from a brain tumour, as well as serious birth defects in Indian cotton farmers’ children.
Hunger for newness!
Textile waste is an unintended effect of fast fashion. Many people are buying more clothes and don’t keep them as long as they used to. The international expansion of fast fashion retailers aggravates the problem generally.
Although there is interest in moving towards a more circular model of textile production involving the reuse of materials wherever possible, the current recycling rates for textiles are still very low. Regardless of the long-established national network of charity shops and rising numbers of in-store recycling points in UK high-street stores, three-quarters of Britons often discard unwanted clothing, rather than donating or recycling it.
What shoppers can do?
So how can consumers reduce the environmental cost of fast fashion when out shopping? Choosing an eco-friendly fabric is just the first step. The major step is going for recycled content. This reduces the pressure on virgin resources and tackles the growing problem of waste management. Towards this direction, Sea2see is pioneering the use of recycled marine plastic in the optical world.
In general, the smartest step to take is for all of us to keep our clothing in use for longer and focus less on buying new stuff.