Through this report the writer has brought out, how the increased production of clothes to meet the changing trends of fast fashion is resulting in heavy usage of environmental resources which in turn is leading to climate change.
“If the fashion changes, so will my clothes,” said the 19-year-old fashion enthusiast from Delhi, who is studying for an undergraduate law degree at O P Jindal Global University in Sonipat. 32 T-shirts, 25 tops, 17 dresses, 6 pairs of jeans and 6 pairs of shorts, as well as 10 jackets — this is Priya’s summer wardrobe. Every weekend, she and her friends frequent the shopping hotspots of the national capital to pick up the latest offerings of fashionable attire. Priya says some clothes go out of fashion quickly. “I try to get cheap deals so that I can dispose of them after wearing them twice or thrice.”
World Resources Institute (WRI) claims that 20 new garments are being brought by each person globally every year. Even during a pandemic, shopping patterns for most people haven’t changed much, resulting in massive revenues for online shopping platforms. In the month of June alone , Myntra ended up selling over 10 million products over just 4 days during its ‘End of Season Sale’.
To cater to this growing market, retail chains are pumping out clothes faster by developing quicker manufacturing processes. The European Union said that on an average, a designer or chain used to put out at least two collections each year till 2000, which rose to five in 2011. Currently, chains like Zara and H&M release 24 and 14 collections per year, respectively.
As the demand for certain types of clothes go up, industries are required to increase supply consequently. While economies of scale are beneficial for retailers, the process of large-scale production itself has drastic impacts on the climate. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) claims that 10% of global emissions come from the fashion industry which releases about 1.2 billion tonnes of Carbon Dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per year which is more than the emissions of international flights and maritime shipping combined.
Manufacturing takes up a lot of resources but reducing production is not ideal as the demand is increasing day by day.. To meet production requirements, raw materials are being used at an alarming rate. The fashion industry is the second largest consumer of the world’s water supply. As per the data presented by WRI, 700 gallons of water gets used up to produce one cotton shirt which is enough to provide a person 8 cups of water for three and a half years. Additionally, 2000 gallons of water gets used up to produce one pair of jeans which is enough to provide 8 cups of drinking water for one person for 10 years.
Massive water consumption is not the only problem. UNEP claims that 20% of industrial water pollution is caused by the fashion industry. Washing clothes releases 5,00,000 tons of microfibres into the ocean each year which is equivalent to adding 50 billion plastic bottles. International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) says, “35% of all the microplastics in the ocean come from laundering of synthetic textiles like polyester.” Tons of leftover water from the dyeing of textiles is also poured into river bodies which damages the quality of water.
Alternative fibre, mostly synthetic, like polyester, nylon, spandex, viscose, and rayon are used in place of cotton and wool. The most-commonly used fibre, polyester, also happens to have the highest CO2e emissions as it is produced from fossil fuels. As per a report compiled by 6 scientists at Material Systems Lab (2015), the production of polyester produces more than 706 billion kg of CO2e while on the other hand cotton produces about 2.1kg only.
Moreover, as brought out by the Ellen Mcarthur Foundation, about 342 million barrels of oil are used up per year to produce the required quantities of polyester, spandex, and nylon. Aljazeera reported, 33% of fibres like viscose and rayon are made from the sap of trees found in ancient or threatened forests. 70% of the wood harvested for the same goes waste.
“Synthetic fibres pose an ecological problem for two reasons. Firstly, some synthetic fibres are made of non-renewable resources and not-always biodegradable, and secondly, wearing synthetic fibres may affect human health in the long run,” says Tatjana Kochetkova, Professor, O.P Jindal Global University.
The current trend of fast-fashion—low-cost clothing knockoffs based on high-cost luxury fashion— encourages the idea of use and throw. As a result, massive consumption of new clothes is also resulting in the disposal of used clothes at an increasing rate. UNEP says, “about 60% of the clothing produced is disposed of within a year of production.” The lifespan of clothes is longer than the time they are being used for. Many people are disposing of clothes before the entire value and utility of the product is drawn. Ellen Mcarthur Foundation found out that 87% of clothes produced in a year-end up in landfills, or are incinerated. Moreover, new fibres like polyester are non-biodegradable. Recycled clothes are not much in circulation as the primary demand is for the new varieties of fast-fashion products.
Just like Priya, if a large number of people dispose of clothes after wearing them 3-4 times, the value requirement of the products will not meet but, industries will have to make that one extra sweater to fill the void that has been created. This in turn will employ more resources and emissions. It is a vicious cycle, and if more voids are created then extra emissions get released to meet the gap.
Tom Ford told Vogue, “The main thing about our industry that needs to change is the speed of it. We create too many collections a year. We create too many things. Ultimately our customer has started to view what we create as almost disposable.”
Edited By Vedangshi Roy Choudhuri & Palak Malhotra
Proofed by: Smridhi Bahl