Your clothes are killing the planet and here I’m going to tell you why. In recent times there has been a rise in ethically made clothing and the number of fair trade fashion brands. That means brands and designers are making a conscious effort to reduce their carbon footprint and are taking responsibility for their supply chains. But why is this important?
1) Fast fashion is the second biggest polluter in the world after the oil industry
Let’s start at the beginning of the supply chain. Cotton is used in the majority of today’s garments. Pesticides are widely used in cotton farming. This is great for preventing damage to the crop. However, in countries that produce cotton including the USA, Australia, India, Greece and Brazil, these pesticides have been found in water streams and ground water. To put it simply, pesticides have the potential to contaminate drinking water and the risk increases in countries that do not have strict monitoring and treatment of water measures. Not only does cotton get the pesticide treatment it is a thirsty plant and gets drowned in gallons of water. In fact it can take up to 2700 litres of water to manufacture just one t-shirt
So then we come to manufacturing. Chemicals used the dying the process end up in rivers, contaminating drinking water and seriously damaging marine life. The main toxic culprit is nonylphenol (NP) which has been banned in the UK for use in domestic products due to the damage it causes to aquatic wildlife. But the majority of fabric dying takes place outside of the UK where NP can still be used. The other issue with using the nasty NP is that it remains on the clothes after production and comes out after a few washes. So NP doesn’t only affect marine life in immediate area where the dying process took place but globally. The wastewater from dyeing fabrics is dumped in rivers and rivers lead to the sea and the sea has a current and before you know it we have global NP pollution.
Okay, let’s move away from cotton and on to man-made fabrics. Surely these are better? No, firstly because nylon and polyester are not biodegradable. They last forever and forever and so are not sustainable. Secondly, they both require a lot of energy and produce nitrous oxide during manufacturing. Polyester production can use around 70 million barrels of oil in one year. And what’s so bad about nitrous oxide I hear you ask? Yes, it's laughing gas but it’s also a greenhouse gas and it’s on the rise. Nitrous oxide is almost 300 times more effective than carbon dioxide at contributing to global warming. After production, the damage to the environment doesn’t stop there. When we wash our lovely nylons, individual fibres are washed off and end up in oceans all around the world. So yet again, marine life gets a nasty taste of fast fashion.
In the UK 1.72 million tonnes of new garments are bought every year. Of these less than 5% are manufactured in the UK. That means the majority is shipped in from other countries. It is near enough impossible to quantify the carbon footprint of importing fashion goods but let’s just say, it’s really high! And here’s how I came to that conclusion. One cargo ship produces the same amount of pollutants of 50 million cars do in one year. I’ll just leave you with that statistic.
2) It wins first place for hiring the largest number of exploited workers.
We have all heard of the Rana Plaza incident in 2013. It captured media attention and brought to the forefront the terrible conditions of garment workers. As with all attention it eventually faded. Some big clothing giants began to make moves to a more sustainable and ethical practice. However, there are a few clothing companies who chose to ignore the impact they have on others’ lives.
According to the International Labour Organisation there are approximately 170 million children that are employed under child labour conditions as described by the United Nations. That is “work for which the child is either too young – work done below the required minimum age – or work which, because of its detrimental nature or conditions, is altogether considered unacceptable for children or prohibited.” Of these children a large proportion work in textiles and garment factories to satisfy the demand of fast fashion. There have been arguments that employing children teaches them practical skills but more often than not these children sacrifice school and time to simply be a child.
Exploitation of garment workers comes in the form of poor working conditions with very little interest given to fire and health and safety regulations. They are also subject to working for less than the living wage and working incredibly long hours. It may be difficult to comprehend but they do go to work voluntarily, thus making us realise that not working would be worse. From my research it appears that garment workers in developing countries have very little choice.
3) It makes you feel good!
Most people enjoy doing something good for another person. The joyous effects are doubled if the person giving gets something too. So when you buy a piece of ethically made clothing you are choosing to support a reformed fashion industry, a business that takes care of the environment and the taskforce behind it. You are making a protest against water wastage, against poisoning marine life, against increasing greenhouse gases and against exploitation. And to round it all off you’ve got a new garm to add your wardrobe. Now if that doesn’t make you feel good I don’t know what will.
Ethical clothing should be the only clothing but there are many barriers in preventing its rise. By creating awareness and making ethical purchase choices you can join the movement and be part of the change.