WATER- As a Californian facing a serious drought, the issue of water scarcity really hits home. The fashion industry is one of the most water-reliant industries on the planet. It takes 700 gallons of water to make one pair of jeans and 400 gallons for one tee shirt- from irrigating cotton fields to dyeing the clothing. Throughout this process, between pesticides in growing cotton, to chemicals in the dye, chemical runoff flows back into our rivers and waters, polluting the precious freshwater that we have left. Now that's a vicious cycle.
FOSSIL FUELS- Synthetic fibers are made from fossil fuels. For example, nearly 70 million barrels of oil are used each year to produce polyester, which is the most commonly used fiber in clothing production. The amount of energy it takes to extract fossil fuels and then turn them into fibers is hugely wasteful and a large producer of greenhouse gasses! The craziest thing, though, is that these synthetic fibers take over 200 years to decompose, and when they do, they release heavy metals into the groundwater and soil. I know, I was shocked to find all this out, too. Statistics show that consumers of fast fashion wear one article of clothing only five times before throwing it away- which means that we're wasting our precious resources and releasing harmful gasses & chemicals just so that we can look cute for one day of our life and then toss it in the landfill. Fast fashion garments, which we keep for an average of 35 days before throwing them away, produce over 400% more carbon emissions per item per year than garments worn 50 times and kept for a full year.
EMISSIONS- Production of clothing on as large of a scale as fast fashion majorly contributes to climate change. Production omits CO2 and other greenhouse gasses, some of which are three times more harmful than CO2. Since 90% of our clothing is now manufactured outside of the United States, the carbon emissions from air transport is factored into the carbon footprint of the fast fashion industry- and the statistics aren't pretty.
The production of textiles- from treating fibers all the way to the dyeing process, is full of nasty chemicals that end up running off into our water, soil, and can even be absorbed into our bodies- causing cancer and sometimes even birth defects. There are over 2,000 chemicals used in the production of clothing, and majority of them are toxic and unregulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. And we're talking the scary stuff- formaldehyde, mercury, lead, and a bunch of other shit you can't pronounce so you know it's not good . . .Imagine what billions of pounds of fast fashion textiles, all leaking toxic chemicals through the manufacturing process, is slowly doing to our precious planet and our loved ones who inhabit? Yikes.
On top of that, the fast fashion industry has completely transformed modern buying habits. In 1960, Americans purchased an average of 25 pieces of clothing per year, and majority of these clothes were produced in the US. The clothing would be worn, loved, cleaned, and repaired for years until it passed its prime. Nowadays, we purchase an average of 70 pieces of clothing per year, each piece being worn an average of only 5 times before being thrown away. Because clothing is so much cheaper and accessible, our mindset surrounding the purchase of clothing has shifted from longevity to mindless consumption & disposal. As a result, we're creating a massive increase in textile waste and pollution, our landfills are bursting at the seams and polluting our soil and water.
In 2013, the collapse of Rana Plaza took the lives of 1,129 humans and injured over 2,000. Rana Plaza housed the manufacturing of clothing for several Western fast fashion brands like Mango, Wal Mart, Joe Fresh, and Benetton. While the building owners and production managers were aware of the unsafe condition of the building after cracks were discovered and businesses in the bottom floor were closed down for safety reasons, the clothing manufacturers forced employees to return to work the next day in fear of a slowdown in production- threatening withholding a month's pay if they did not show up.
Manufacturing for fast fashion companies is unethical and inhumane, often comparable to indentured servitude. Wages are barely enough to survive, women are verbally and physically abused, and forming labor unions are dangerous, often resulting in jail sentences or physical abuse. Workers essentially have no rights or benefits in some factories. Pressure from the fast fashion brands comes down on the manufacturers, who must agree to their low prices, or else they will lose the business altogether. This pressure then trickles down to the worker, who gets less pay, more pressure, and the expectation of a higher output as a result.