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The thirst for fast fashion

As the seasons change it can often be seen as nature’s cue to us to change our wardrobe.  Fashion magazines are full of glossy spreads selling us the desire for clothes we think we need, and the new colours that will be ‘in vogue’ this time around informed by the fashion gurus.  Fashion is a billion euro industry impacting subconsciously as well as consciously on all our lives in more ways than we imagine.  We can be  conditioned by so many visual messages on media of all kinds that to be ‘on trend’ appearance wise is everything.

Some facts:

  • The fashion industry has seen a spectacular growth in the early 21st century. It is now valued at more than 2.5 trillion dollars and employs over 75 million people worldwide.
  • Nearly 20 percent of global waste water is produced by the fashion industry e.g. the estimated amount of water required to produce 1 cotton T-shirt plus 1 pair of jeans is shocking 20,000 litres!!
  • The fashion industry also emits about ten percent of global carbon emissions.
  • In addition, the textiles industry has been identified in recent years as a major contributor to plastic entering the ocean, which is a growing concern because of the associated negative environmental and health implications.

Fast fashion is also linked to dangerous working conditions due to unsafe processes and hazardous substances used in production. Cost reductions and time pressures are often imposed on all parts of the supply chain, leading to workers suffering from long working hours and low pay.

The SDGs and fashion

During a side event “UN Partnership on Sustainable Fashion and the SDGs” held at the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) on 10 July 2018, in New York,  10 different UN organisations agreed to establish a UN Alliance on Sustainable Fashion.  The event was successful in establishing a clear link between the fashion industry and the SDGs, in particular through SDG 6 on clean water and sanitation, SDG 12 on sustainable consumption and production and SDG 15 on life on land.

Recommendations discussed prior and during the event included the importance of exploring the establishment of a UN Partnership on Sustainable Fashion. Indeed, it is recognised by SDG 17 (Sustainable development through global partnerships) that the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will require different actors working together. With this idea in mind, distinguished panelists from different UN organisations will explore the elements of what a UN Partnership on Sustainable Fashion could look like.

So what can we do now?

Aside from informing ourselves of the reality and doing our homework around the human and environmental impact – there are also 4 things you can do from now:

  1.   Always read the label -a label certifying clothing as organic or sustainable is a good sign that it has an ecologically friendly background.  Know where your clothes come from.
  2.   Look for low impact materials e.g. Polyester, nylon and acrylic are made from petrochemicals and can release microfibres into the water during the washing  process. The chromium used for tanning leather is also highly toxic.
  3.   Transform and upcycle – Some garments are thought to be discarded after just seven to 10 wears.  Know what is available locally to support restyling of pre-loved clothes.
  4.   Don’t trade up, trade in – Several major retailers offer clothing donation programmes where you can leave your unwanted clothes to be sold in secondhand shops, reused in different countries around the world or recycled to make new material.

All of these alternatives can help prevent your clothes from ending up in landfill – which is what happens to an estimated $175 million worth of clothing in the UK each year.

Here are some useful resource links to begin doing that homework and finding out how you can contribute to a circular economy i.e one based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.

World Economic Forum- Make your wardrobe work harder

UN Alliance – path to fashion sustainability

Ellen MacArthur Foundation – A new textile economy

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation




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