The fashion industry is worth over £32 billion to the UK economy and this number is only set to rise. In the UK, we consume more items of clothing per person than any other European country. Fast fashion is when clothing is mass-produced, cheaply made and sold at a low price point. They are designed and marketed to take advantage of the latest trends and to be worn only a handful of times. However, when you buy fast fashion clothes, do you ever wonder where it comes from and where it goes after you've discarded it? Follow the fast fashion journey here and discover its effect on the environment.
with the average consumer buying 26.7kg of fashion items per year
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Fast fashion has become the most dominant business model in the global fashion industry. characterised by its ever-increasing speed of clothing production and seasons, fast fashion has helped to democratise the clothing industry, but it has also encouraged over-consumption and a throw-away mentality that is damaging the environment.
Between 2000-2014, garment production doubled and it's now estimated that the global production of clothing has exceeded 100 billion units. We now, on average, buy 60% more clothing items and only keep them for half as long than we did 15 years ago. It is estimated that the fashion industry emits more greenhouse gasses than all the world’s air and maritime travel combined.
The UK has the highest consumption of new clothing in Europe, with 26.7 kgs per capita, which is 46% more than Germany and 99% more than France.
Items of clothing per capita (KGs)
This high level of consumption is causing a global waste problem. In the UK, it is estimated that £140 million, roughly 350,000 tonnes of used but wearable clothing, makes its way to landfill every year, while 700,000 tonnes are sent to recycling facilities. However, according to the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, less than 1% of recycled clothing is used to make new garments.
While fast fashion does have a highly negative environmental impact, it can be argued that this fashion movement has ‘democratised’ the benefits of fashion. In the Environmental Audit Committee report on the fast fashion industry, published in February 2019, one witness, Dr Sumner of Leeds University School of Design, said:
“Fast fashion has allowed all segments of society, irrespective of class, income or background to engage in the hedonistic and psychogenic pleasures of fashion. At no other time in human history has fashion been so accessible to so many people across our society. This is the power of fast fashion.”
However, while fast fashion may have contributed to the democratisation of the fashion world, whether the industry is sustainable, both in terms of its environmental impact and in terms of profitability, remains to be seen. The Pulse of the Fashion Industry report recently stated that the Fashion industry will see a profit reduction of $52 billion by 2030 if it carries on as it is.
According to Parliament's Environmental Audit Committee report on fast fashion, the industry is defined as:
“‘Fast fashion’ is a term used to describe a new accelerated fashion business model that has evolved since the 1980s. It involves increased numbers of new fashion collections every year, quick turnarounds and often lower prices. Reacting rapidly to offer new products to meet consumer demand is crucial to this business model.”
Textiles is one of the world’s most polluting industries – from the start of the process to the end, fashion, especially fast fashion, can leave an environmentally dubious trail.
The resource-heavy sector used over 98 million barrels of oil in 2015 and that number is set to rise to 300 million by 2050 if the industry sticks to business as usual and the global population continues to grow as predicted. The treatment and dyeing of textiles also contributes to 20% of global industrial water pollution. The UN has stated that by 2050, the equivalent of almost three planets could be required to provide the natural resources needed to sustain current lifestyles, if the global population rises to 9.6 billion. While this statement refers to general consumption, not just fashion, it does illustrate the strain we are putting our planet under with our current level of over-consumption. In Parliament's report on fast fashion, many of the witnesses criticised the industry for promoting over-consumption and called fast fashion a 'monstrous disposable industry.'
It has been well documented in the media, and in the film The True Cost, that the manufacturing of fast fashion has a high environmental cost as well as a high social cost. However, the environmental impact of our clothing does not stop once a garment has been made. On average, the lifetime of a garment in the UK is estimated to be 2.2 years. In that time an item of clothing will be worn and washed several times. 63% of clothing is now made from plastic derived manmade materials, such as polyester and acrylic. Every time you wash a garment that is made from plastic, thousands of invisible microplastic fibres are released. It is estimated that over 700,000 microplastic fibres are released in a typical 6kg wash. These microplastics then make their way into our waterways and, ultimately, into the ocean.
Once a fast fashion garment has come to the end of its life, it may end up in landfill. According to UK WRAP, an estimated £140 million worth of wearable clothing goes into landfill each year and as many garments are made of mixed materials, they usually cannot be recycled. The charity has also reported that the annual environmental footprint of a household's newly bought clothes, along with washing and cleaning, is estimated to be the equivalent of driving 6,000 miles in the average modern car and taking 1,000 baths.
The issues surrounding fast fashion are wide-ranging and complex and sustainability needs to be at the heart of the industry. The latest edition of the Pulse of The Fashion Industry stated that:
"By 2030, fashion brands will be able to see an increase in EBIT margin of 1 to 2 percentage points – if they invest in sustainability. “
Making fashion sustainable is crucial to both the health of the planet and the industry. By using sustainable natural materials such as wool, cotton and linen, clothing will not only last longer but also not pollute the environment once it has come to the end of its life, as all these materials decompose safely. Using a closed-looped system, as championed by the Ellen Macarthur foundation, will also help to improve the environmental footprint of the industry.
If you want to do your bit to help the environment, here are our top tips to be a sustainable fashion consumer :
At Celtic, we have been crafting sustainable clothing for almost 30 years. We only make clothing that is crafted from natural materials, such as wool, sheepskin, cotton and linen and we only have two seasons a year. Shop our latest collection today.