Ivonne Lupi | Courtesy The Suitable 

We’re living in an age of decision making, of life and death matters, upon which the future of our entire civilization depends.

All the warnings have been given and the calls for attention have been made, for the upcoming ten years are crucial to determine the fate of the human race and the planet we inhabit.

It is terrifying, the prospect for what will become of the earth if we don’t slow the pace of our destruction, considering we are the only ones to blame for the place it is at now. There are things much beyond our control that will come as imminent consequences of our disregard and neglect for the place we dare call home; natural disasters, forces of mother nature. And while there is still time, we have the responsibility to do everything in our power to avoid reaching a point of no return, where we can no longer undo our mistakes, where we no longer have a place to call home.Truth be told, social media has played a key role in providing its multiple audiences with tools and solutions to be swiftly introduced into our day to day, to keep a more sustainable lifestyle.

They range from green alternatives for common use products, diets to decrease our greenhouse gas emissions, eco-friendly options to reduce our single-use plastic waste, all the way to information about the products we consume.

We could attribute the current state of our planet to multiple factors, and apply plenty of solutions for each, but there is still one very big part of the problem that has passed inconspicuous, and that is the fashion industry.

I love fashion, it represents one of the most magical parts of my life, and for this very reason I have set myself to the task of getting to know as much as I can about it, that includes the unpleasant, and often overlooked bits. And fashion, concerning sustainability, is one of them.

Fashion is a titanic industry, with a value of 3 trillion dollars, this sum amounts to 2% of the global GDP, it also accounts for over 160 million people in the labor force. It is a developing industry, growing, changing, one with a big prospect for the future but not a wholesome one in regards to its environmental footprint.

The textile industry is the second most polluting industry in the world, right after the oil industry. It is attributed half a million tonnes of microfiber pollution in the ocean, the equivalent to fifty billion plastic bottles, most of it as the result of washing clothes alone, fine strands of synthetic materials such as polyester, nylon, and acrylic detaching from the fabric. Washing one synthetic piece of clothing releases around 250,000 microfibres. These plastic microfibers account for 85% of all human-made materials found along ocean shores and end up making their way back to our food supply.

And this damage is only a part of the beginning.

More than 90% of cotton used in textiles today is genetically modified, which makes it dependent on vast quantities of water and chemicals. A quarter of the chemicals produced in the world are used in textiles. Cotton production is responsible for 18% of pesticide use and 25% of insecticide use worldwide, and many of these chemicals can be transferred on to the clothes we wear, eventually making their way into our bodies and thus playing a risk factor to our health and the lives of the people that produce it.

Textile dyeing is the second highest contributor to water pollution after agriculture. It is estimated that 2.5 billion tons of water are used each year for textile manufacture, this doesn’t include cotton production.

Twenty thousand liters is the amount required to produce a single kilogram of cotton, the equivalent of one t-shirt and a pair of jeans.

There is also the disposal of residual chemicals and dyes in major water sources, such as the Noyyal River in India, polluting 3500 km2 of water that run through 180 km of land in Tamil Nadu, a state with a population of a little over 67 million people.

The fashion industry is responsible for 20% of worldwide water waste.

Talking about clothing production alone uncovers some of the reprehensible steps that have driven the fashion industry in the wrong direction towards a sustainable future.

Fashion consumption

The fashion industry produces 10% of all global greenhouse gas emissions due to extensive supply chains and intensive energy production. The world now consumes about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year and nearly 40% of them are exported to countries like the U.S., Italy, and India, from others like Bangladesh, Turkey, Indonesia, and Vietnam, where labor is much cheaper and allows manufacturers to mass produce clothes at a lower cost.

Fast fashion has made the acquisition of clothing much more accessible, serving least expensive options of garments for the public to keep up with the latest trends and modes, but the cheap making of these pieces allows the quality to speak for itself.

The durability of a fast fashion garment is little to none, in fact, it’s average duration is of no more than six months or approximately 30 wears, for a price that ranges from ten to twenty-five dollars per piece. And it is easy to believe that by purchasing a clothing item for what we ordinarily consider to be a reasonable price point we’re saving money when we truly aren’t, nor are we doing anyone a favor.

Due to their versatility and low cost, synthetic fabrics are most commonly used for the fabrication of fast fashion clothes. Which, besides their huge impact on water waste, and because of their short lifespan, end up making their way to landfills as well, where they’re intended to burn and contribute to air pollution, or remain until they decompose, in hundreds of years. Approximately 15% of fabric meant for clothing ends up on the cutting room floor and is disposed of in dumpsites later on.

The other alternative is that they end up in flooding markets in developing countries like Haiti where they are sold by the box and have slowly contributed to damaging the local industry.

These types of clothes, because of their cheap pricing, come from cheap labor too, exploitative, under degrading working conditions, with seamstresses earning a minimum wage of 95 dollars a month, only since last December, in countries like Bangladesh, one of the main garment industry manufacturers. It was only six years ago that the conditions of a clothing manufacturer by the name of Rana Plaza, in the Bangladeshi capital, caused the building to collapse, leaving a death toll of over 1000 people and 2000 injured.

Fashion has a dark side, and we as consumers have the responsibility of yielding consciousness of the many parts associated with it. The problem seems almost out of reach, too immersed in the roots, too broad to take complete hold of, but it isn’t.

It lays in our hands, the possibility to turn around the path leading us to a doomed destination, but what can we do? What solutions are truly available for the fashion consumer to become more sustainable?

Wait for part 2.

[ Sources: Forbes | Fashion United | Business of Fashion ]