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Sustainability / Fashion

Fashion: An Industry’s Environmental Balance

. 3 min read . Written by William Andrews
Fashion: An Industry’s Environmental Balance

Deadly heatwave across northern India and Pakistan in June. Deadly heatwave across Europe in July. Deadly fires across the Amazon in August. Welcome to 2019. Welcome to the climate and ecological emergency. Action is needed – and it’s needed now.

That action is both collective and individual. Systemic and lifestyle shifts are a must. And fashion – an industry that has an incredible impact on our daily lives – has to change. 10% of global greenhouse emissions are a product of its energy-intensive manufacturing techniques and international supply chains. That’s more than the aviation and shipping industries combined.

The facts are shocking. Textile production pumps 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere each year. The fashion industry as a whole, from the cultivation of fabric in fields to its disposal in rubbish dumps, has an estimated carbon footprint of 3.3 billion tonnes CO2. 3.3 billion tonnes is almost as much as the combined carbon footprint of all 28 EU member states.

How did it get this bad? The answer lies with ‘fast’ fashion. But what is it? The UK’s Environmental Audit Committee, which published a report on the state of the industry in February, defines it as a ‘new accelerated fashion business model that has evolved since the 1980s.’ It relies on rapid turnover, increasing numbers of collections, depressed prices – and massive social and environmental costs. Think £5 dress and £1 bikini.

According to a report by the European parliament, the amount of clothes Europeans buy has increased by 40% in just a few decades. Approximately 1.1 million tonnes of clothes was purchased in the UK in 2016, up 200,000 tonnes since 2012. Brits consume more clothes than any other Europeans: per capita we’re buying 26.7kg of new clothes every year. In 2000, companies tended to release two collections a year, a decade later it was five. 300,000 tonnes of clothing is sent to landfill every year. Companies are burning their unsold items to ‘protect’ their brand.

What about protecting our planet? This is getting worse, not better. The 2017 Pulse of the Fashion Industry report estimates that global consumption of clothing on business-as-usual industry models could increase by as much as 63% by 2030. That’s equivalent to making about 500 billion more t-shirts than we have today. The UN estimates that we’ll need the resources of three earths to maintain our current lifestyle with projected population levels by 2050. This isn’t working.

Textile production for the ‘fast’ fashion industry takes up huge amounts of land that could be left for biodiversity, and is a major driver of deforestation. The water used for dyeing, finishing and washing clothes is precious – and increasingly scarce, especially in cotton-growing regions. As much as 35% of all microplastics in our seas originate with the production and use of the synthetic materials that make up as much as 60% of our clothes.

It can’t go on like this anymore: enough is enough. We need to change our habits, to live sustainably, to transform an industry that is simultaneously crucial and devastating. Fashion gives us the freedom to self-express, to play with who we are and how we present our identities to those around us. But this wastage is the kind that will derail our collective future.

Cue a new culture of sharing. We have too many clothes – individually and collectively. The world doesn’t need 500 billion more t-shirts, and I’m sure we all have something we haven’t worn in yonks lying about at home. Hiring, swapping, loaning: this is the fashion industry’s model for the future. ByRotation is part of the systemic change fashion needs to see. We – you – can be part of that. The exciting newness of cool clothes doesn’t have to cost us our future. Renting is a means of disrupting ‘fast’ fashion and challenging its shoddy environmental balance. Let’s rent our look, rather than buying-and-wasting it.