Fast Fashion 101 + Why It's Hurting Us
The fashion industry makes up a large portion of the world economy and our personal budgets. It's an industry that definitely deserves our attention. We now live in a world with over 7 billion other people. That’s a lot! Think about each of those people owning a pair of pants, shoes, and a shirt. That is 21 billion articles of clothing in the world and we all know that even some of the poorest areas of the world still own more than 3 articles of clothing.
Since the industry is so big, it is also one of the largest contributors to environmental destruction, poverty, worsening economies, job loss, and harmful chemicals that end up in our daily lives.
There is a lot that needs our attention in the industry . . .
The fashion industry uses and wastes an insane amount of water which is very bad, especially when water is a finite precious resource. That water could have been used for more imperative things, like drinking, bathing, and growing food.
It is estimated that over 2 billion shirts are sold globally, and 520 million pairs of jeans are sold in the US each year. The average t-shirt uses 700 gallons of water, and a pair of jeans uses a whopping 1500 gallons of water during its manufacturing process. (Source)
A single mill in China can use 200 tons of water for each ton of fabric it dyes; many rivers run with the colors of the season as the untreated toxic dyes wash off from mills. (Source)
There are numerous moving parts of the manufacturing processes and all sorts of transportation that our clothing and products go through before they end up in your hands. This uses lots of energy and emits large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. As demand increases for cheap clothes so does the needs for more factories. Largest manufacturing countries such as China and Bangladesh have nearly no emission regulations which has unfortunately led to a very steep increase in air pollution.
Just one pound of textiles emits more than 7 pounds of CO2. (Source)
The Chinese textile industry creates about 3 billion tons of soot each year. (Source)
Jobs in the fashion industry are very sought after, but do we think about the positions at the bottom of the totem pole? We’re not talking about the fashion intern that has to get the designers coffee, we’re talking about those that work in the factories that make the clothes. A large majority of workers in the fashion industry across the world, (yes, even in the US), face a daily grind of excessive hours, forced overtime, poor health, exhaustion, sexual harassment, denial of trade unions, poverty wages, lack of job security, and mental stress
In 2007, among those countries studied by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, The Philippines, had the lowest compensation at 88 cents per hour. (Source)
In the current industry, it is common for “great” fashion finds to be cheap in cost to consumers because they are made so poorly that they are not made to last for more than one season. When this happens, items are quickly making their way to the landfill.
Americans throw away 13.1 million tons of clothes every year, (68 lbs of clothes per person, per year), and only 2 million tons are recovered for reuse or recycling. (Source)
Millions of tons of unused fabric at Chinese mills go to waste each year when dyed the wrong color. (Source)
In 2012, Greenpeace’s Detox Campaign exposed many clothing companies and the harmful chemicals that were found in their clothing. Out of 141 items of clothing from 20 different brands, they found high levels of toxic phthalates, azo dyes, and nonylphenol Ethoxylates that all release cancer-causing amines. (Source) Not only are these chemicals contaminating our waterways and vegetation, they are also causing cancer and disrupting hormones.
The cotton industry uses 25% of the world's pesticides and herbicides. (Source)
These days, shoppers are reaching for what's cheap. In order for companies to be able to sell their products at such a low price, they have to pay their workers extremely low, almost always, unfair wage. Many companies are having to take their manufacturing overseas so they can get cheap labor. By paying workers unfair wages, it is creating more poverty.
Employment in the U.S. apparel manufacturing industry has declined by more than 80 percent (from about 900,000 to 150,000 jobs) over the past two decades. (Source)