Before the acceleration of throwaway culture
Most of us don't realise that our clothing choices today are having an impact on the environment. In a time where people have more buying power than ever and when fashion trends turn over every few months, we will inevitably consume as much clothing as possible to meet this demand.
But what happens to these clothes when we're done with them?
In this article, we are looking at how consumerism and the demand for affordable clothing that aligns with the latest trends are having an impact on the environment.
It’s not abnormal for fashion trends to change quicker than the weather, but this wasn’t always the case. Before the late 60s and early 70s, the fashion industry produced and ran clothes for four seasons of the year.
It was the younger generations who ushered in the change with their desire to create new trends by creating and customising clothing as a form of personal expression. The fashion industry took note of the desire for runway clothing to be adapted and made accessible for all for a fraction of the cost.
By the time we reached the late 1990s and early 2000s, the fashion industry reached exponential growth, and this growth was fuelled by the drive for access to fast fashion, quick trends, and youth-targeted marketing.
Similar to the fast advances in technology, the fashion industry has come a long way from only producing clothes for four seasons each year. Over the past few decades, trends have changed and evolved, with clothing becoming more accessible to people of all ages and classes.
These days, the entire fashion industry is under the umbrella of fast fashion. No matter where you go (or what corner you turn), you'll always find a piece of clothing that fits your tastes and personality. Fast fashion has affected the way today's millennials make shopping choices, and it's hard to imagine anything else when everything can be purchased at a reasonable price while satisfying your need to have it now.
With the rise of social media, influencers, and celebrities, we have seen the cycle of trends increase rapidly, with hype, likes and shares leading the masses of the social media savvy generation to purchase the next must-haves.
But we must question what are the impacts of our insatiable need for the ever-evolving self-expression through our fashion choices?
We are currently experiencing an over-consumption epidemic. It is estimated that we, as a human race, consume 30% more than the Earth can produce.
Fast fashion allows clothing to be produced quickly, cheaply, and efficiently, but at what cost to the environment?
The effects of mindless consumerism
With clothing production doubling since 2000 and retailers such as Zara putting out 24 collections a year, it’s hard to imagine the impact this is having on the environment.
Business Insider reported that the fashion industry is the second-largest consumer of the world's water supply and produces 10% of global carbon emissions.
The production of polyester, a plastic found in an estimated 60% of garments, releases three times more carbon emissions than cotton. These materials when washed, cause tiny microfibres of plastic to enter our oceans, having negative effects on our health and the environment.
As well as the negative effects of fast fashion on the environment and the increase in carbon emissions, this model of producing clothing to meet the demands of consumers has multiple negative societal impacts. With emerging markets increasing, so makes the demand for workers, many of which face hazardous working conditions.
Long hours and low pay with very little regulation in safety and wellbeing for workers have left the most vulnerable societies exposed to exploitation.
We're all guilty of buying something we've worn once or twice, using it briefly, and then throwing it away. It's a reaction to a society where things must be consumed and forgotten because there are plenty more items just as good. So our wardrobes are filled with things we don't wear, and our landfills are full of things we no longer need. So how do we solve this problem?
A report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation stated that less than 1% of the material used to produce clothes is recycled into new clothing, the report offers a solution to the industry and has gained momentum in support from the likes of Nike, Stella McCartney, Adidas and many more.
The solution is ‘Circular Fashion, defined by an article by Motif Circular fashion is a regenerative system in which garments are circulated for as long as their maximum value is retained, and then safely returned to the biosphere when they are no longer of use.
Still confused? To put it simply, clothing and fashion products should be designed with biodegradability, non-toxicity, and recyclability in mind. Some of the key principles of Circular fashion include: a design for longevity, sourcing and producing locally, reusing, recycling, or composting all remains.
What can we do to lessen the impact?
Three consumer principles outlined in the circular fashion report are:
Use, wash, and repair with care
Consider loan, rent, swap, or redesign instead of buying new
Buy quality as opposed to quantity
A lot can be said about fashion. Some say it's a reflection of society, some say it's an art form, and others say it should be taken much more seriously.
I think we can all agree that having one less thing to throw away is a good thing. So next time you search for the latest drop from your favourite brands or browse the next retail collection of must-haves, maybe try to consider how you can rework, reuse and reimagine the piece to ensure it doesn't make that journey from wardrobe to landfill sooner than necessary.