The fashion industry currently contributes 10 per cent of all carbon emissions

By Panayiotis Kleanthous

As I was strolling around the streets of London on a Sunday afternoon, I came across this very interesting shop that inspired me with its innovative promotion of slow and ethical fashion to write about fast fashion and textile waste but also propose ways that we, as individual consumers, can help tackle this issue and minimise our environmental impact.

The fashion industry currently contributes 10 per cent of all carbon emissions thus making it one of the most crucial and urgent environmental issues globally.

Fast fashion is the creation of cheap clothing catering to temporary trends in fashion rather than longevity. The practices that fast fashion encourage are often unethical and cause severe harm to the environment. Although for many individuals, fast fashion is frequently the only option for reasonably priced or size-inclusive apparel.

Promoting fast fashion encourages child labour, below-minimum wage jobs and environmental harm. But many consumers most probably can afford other options as well. However, societal and cultural influences lead people in believing they must constantly wear new, never-seen-before clothes. If you are able to spend hundreds of euros on Shein hauls, then it is most likely that you are able to make some more sustainable choices.

According to the UN’s Environment Programme, 20 per cent of the world’s wastewater is generated by the fashion industry. In other words, 93 billion cubic metres of textile dyeing and more greenhouse gas emissions than the aviation and shipping industries put together, are produced by the fashion industry. Moreover, it is anticipated that by 2030, 134 million tonnes of textile waste will be produced annually, surpassing the current estimate of 92 million tonnes. Most of the used clothing and textile waste that is discarded ends up in landfills, and the ground with the surrounding water sources absorb the micro plastic from clothing made of nylon and other synthetic materials. Likewise, huge quantities of textile waste from clothing are dumped in less developed nations, as is the case with Chile’s Atacama desert, where at least 39,000 tonnes of textile trash from other (more developed) countries are left to rot.

Meanwhile, fast-fashion companies are burning their brand-new clothing. Burberry was found trashing about $36.8 million worth of its own goods in 2018. H&M also burnt 60 tonnes of brand-new clothing in 2013. Other brands have also been exposed as trashing their own products. A few examples include Michael Kors, Nike, and Victoria’s Secret.

It appears to be a significant waste of time, money, and resources. Brands “damage stuff as a strategy to retain uniqueness through scarcity” claims Vox. A manager at Abercrombie & Fitch stated: ‘‘we don’t want to project the idea that just anyone, especially the underprivileged, can wear our clothes. The company name may only be purchased and worn by those of a specific stature.’’

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Fast fashion also promotes below minimum wage jobs

Purchasing brand names is a way to demonstrate one’s wealth. However, I have never understood the fascination with brand names. Luxury brands do not equal quality-improvement all that much. Many luxury brands continue to underpay and breach labour and safety-in-the-workplace laws as they keep operating sweat factories where unacceptable and illegal working conditions prevail. Therefore, expensive clothing does not always equate with being ethical, just for the sake of costing loads of money.

The pricing of high-end and luxury clothing is a characteristic that defines such types of clothing. The consumers are made to believe that businesses will use their higher profit margins to reward their workers. Many high-end fashion companies nevertheless employ the same production techniques as fast-fashion brands.

The incomes of clothing sector workers fall below the EU-established statistical poverty levels. While this is happening, the brands that employ them are making massive profits. In 2016, a group of luxury fashion houses signed the Utthan pact, a compliance pledge aimed at ensuring safety of the embroidery industry in Mumbai. Despite this, many of the production factories did not comply with Indian factory safety laws, according to an investigation.

On an individual level, there are some shifts we can do to help the environment but also avoid unethical organisations that generate more and more profits on the backs of workers who are sometimes even unpaid and frequently working under inhumane conditions.

A few simple and sustainable adjustments you can make to your wardrobe: outfit repeating, shopping sustainably and slow fashion.

Outfit repeating

Repeating outfits has become a taboo in the fashion industry and on social media, yet reusing clothing is one of the most environmentally friendly fashion choices we can make. By rewearing an outfit, consumers help save landfill space. Furthermore, environmental resources could also be saved: a single pair of jeans requires approximately 6,814 litres of water to manufacture. Moreover, 60 per cent of fabrics are made with fossil fuels and the majority are dyed with hazardous chemicals.

Outfit repetition is a practice that benefits the environment and nothing to be embarrassed about.

Shopping sustainably

This practice comprises buying from thrift stores, choosing quality over quantity, upcycling/repairing your clothes and donating them.

Thrift stores are shops that specialise in selling second-hand goods. Among the many advantages of thrift shopping are the following: less waste, prevents items from ending in landfills, lowering carbon and chemical pollution, lowering water use and lowering energy consumption.

If you find visiting a thrift store inaccessible, there are many online sites that focus on reselling clothes like: Depop, Poshmark and Tradesy.

Cyprus has some amazing second-hand clothing shops and some of them also offer online and shipping services. These shops are: Motivw, Dostou Chance, and Lemons Vintage Shop. Motivw also organises clothes swap events in the form of pop ups.

Keep in mind that to reduce emission waste when shipping, try buying multiple items in one order rather making single smaller orders.

Quality over quantity

Purchase fewer high-quality natural fibre items such as cotton, silk, and wool. Therefore, the amount of micro-plastics that damage the environment is reduced and the longevity of your clothes is increased.

Upcycling and repairing

Upcycling is the process of renovating old items to create something new.

Sewing and repairing minor clothing damage is an extremely effective way to extend the life of your clothing.

Donating Quality Clothes

Thrift stores are frequently forced to throw away damaged items that people no longer want, which only adds to the amount of waste in landfills.

If the clothing you’re thinking about donating has stains or tears that can’t be repaired, consider upcycling or recycling it instead.

In summary, some sustainable shifts would be to:

  • Buy fewer clothes. Even if you must purchase at fast-fashion stores, buying less has a significant impact and is also cost-effective.
  • Consider using second-hand platforms such as Depop.
  • Invest in clothes that will last longer. It may be more expensive up front, but it will save you money in the long run because you won’t need to replace it so frequently.

Panayiotis Kleanthous is studying for an MSc in sustainable finance and accounting at the University of Sussex and volunteers as a member of Friends of the Earth Cyprus’ executive board