Keeping up with the latest fashion styles and accessories is a constant urge for anyone who loves to look their best. Impressing your peers with our public costumes have become easy thanks to outlets such as New Look, River Island and Topshop updating their ‘seasonal’ pieces every few weeks. Autumnal roll necks are being thrown at the consumer before you’ve even managed to settle into your festival print-dye jackets.
This constant demand and supply of clothing through affordable retailers is what’s called ‘fast fashion’ and it’s killing the environment. Previously, fashion would be expected to go through 4 or 5 cycles depending on the season. You know of the usual Spring outfits, Summer styles, Autumn warmers and Party pieces?
Well, now we’re seeing around 11 to 15 more cycles.
Imagine trying to keep up with 11 to 15 different style changes throughout the year. It’s crazy when you truly think about it. The average American woman has 103 items in their wardrobe at any one time according to a study by ClosetMaid, whilst men are expected to own 30 to 50 tops. There’s a desire for us to keep up with changes in the world of clothing, and yet we all have a favourite 5 or 6 tops that we alter between each week.
The continuous demand to keep up with the latest styles results in retailers producing more textiles than they needed to 20 years ago. Statistics from the Environmental Protection Agency shows that we are producing 10 times more textile materials than we did 60 years ago.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a total of 10.5 million tons of textile was discarded in 2015 (a staggering 65% of textile produced).
Whilst UK households report to have thrown away 300,000 tonnes of clothing in 2016.
And what’s worse about these numbers is that, because of the long and chaotic supply chain, tons of this waste is unaccounted for; arriving in landfills not just in the UK, but along the Indian ocean as well. A large percentage of the waste produced is down to order mistakes and colour issues (3-5% of textiles produced), which somehow warrants unnecessary reproduction because those jeans you just bought in navy blue came out a marine blue.
Not only is textile waste a massive issue with fast fashion, but the CO2 production is increasing at an alarming rate.
A representative at Forbes stated that “the fashion industry’s CO2 emissions are projected to increase by more than 60 percent to nearly 2.8 billion tons per year by 2030.”
That’s enough CO2 to fill US households 20 times over.
It’s not just the demand for the clothing themselves that is heavily impacting the environment, but how we receive our clothes. ASOS shipped over 50 million orders in 2017, with online becoming the norm.
Despite Nick Beighton’s plans on replacing plastic packaging, he doesn’t seem to have given a timescale of this crucial change.
Currently ASOS bags are made of 25% recycled material and the company assures their customers that 458 tonnes of plastic was transformed into manufacturing pellets between September 2016 and August 2017.
But what about the ASOS bags that end up in the houses of those 50 million orders? Can you remember what you did with your ASOS bag the last time you ordered?
There’s a huge environmental incentive for ASOS to find a solution to their waste packaging and despite the company’s contribution, their increasing sales will evidently lead to more pollution.
What can be done?
The issue primarily lies with the fact there’s just too much clothing being churned out by retailers at such a low price. It’s a hard deal to turn down. A £5 shirt for your next party? Might as well, right?
We’re eager to find the most fashionable pieces at the best pricing with the average individual spending £1042 on clothing each year. Asking people to stop this spending habit will have very little impact on consumption, but that doesn’t mean you can’t buy without adding to the waste.
The Big Brands Are Stepping In
Despite the growing cycles of fashion retailers, some are already doing their part and stepping in. H&M released their Conscious Collection in 2017 featuring new sustainable materials recycled silver and ECONYL®, a 100% regenerated fibre from fishnets and other nylon waste. Whilst Zara launched a #joinlife initiative in 2016 with organic cotton and recycled wool.
But is this really enough? Providing clothing pieces at a dearer price that are eco-friendly will for the most part be ignored by the consumer who needs/looks for an affordable option. Pricing a t-shirt twice as much just because it’s Eco-friendly would be ideal, if anybody could afford to have a 100% eco-friendly wardrobe.
With an average of £1042 being spent a year on wardrobe ‘essentials’, anyone interested in keeping up with fast-fashion isn’t going to cut their spending in half. They’ll just continue the 15 cycle charade to keep up.
Reselling & Buying Old
One of the best ways that we can focus on reducing the impact we have as consumers is by re-using and reselling what’s already there. Over recent years there have been plenty of thriving marketplace apps in which you can sell your old clothes, and buy the pieces that you want.
Apps such as Mercari have made it even easier for us to change and shift our wardrobe, from our mobile phone, without having to contribute to the increased production of fast fashion. Not only are you able to do your part in saving the environment by reducing your fast fashion purchases, but often or not you’re getting a better deal too. Plus it allows yourself and others to make money selling your unwanted pieces.
You can also be charitable with your wardrobe by giving away to charity shops – it’s common knowledge that charity shops help to support great causes, but they’re often overlooked in the city. Wardrobe havens such as Oxfam and Cancer Research UK are popping up in smaller towns across the UK and will happily take your old clothes right off your hands. Providing your old clothes to your local charity shops ensures they don’t end up in a landfill whilst offering more options for people to purchase locally. Eliminating the trip to H&M or Primark.
Now not all fashion is fast fashion and, if you decide carefully, you can find stylish pieces that are considered ‘seasonless’, this includes denim jackets which can be worn all year round and have stayed popular for the past 10 years. You also have options of plain white tees and black tops, which might initially seem quite boring, but can be used with a variety of different accessories to spruce up from a Monday outfit to a Tuesday outfit.
In recent years, there have been more brands opting to act on an environmentally friendly level:
PeopleTree is an example of an ergonomical and eco-friendly brand. Producing fashion for women using organic cotton from farms through a world first integrated supply chain, they eliminate the chaos and confusion that we see from unaccounted textile waste.
Alternative Apparel accept responsibility for clothing produced (as manufacturers should) and makes use of oxo-biodegradable mailer bags to eliminate the plastic use in their delivery system. Not only is their delivery system an asset to environmental changes, but they also claim that approximately 88K lbs of organic cotton is used in their clothing production yearly in place of conventional cotton.
Stella McCartney, an advocate for sustainable and luxury fashion, shot one of her 2017 campaigns in the middle of a Scottish Landfill. Highlighting the need for environmentally friendly materials, her brand uses vegan leather and forest-friendly and recycled fabrics.
So are we to blame?
It’s a constant cycle between fashion brands trying to sustain profits by using non-recyclable goods and consumers wanting to change up there styles affordably. The blame can be put on both shoulders and although being 100% sustainable in our clothing choices is near impossible without larger changes, we can continue to push brands into providing options.