Work experience student Jenna reflects on the current environmental impact of the fashion industry and circular fashion as a solution.
The fashion industry is currently the third most polluting in the world and accounts for around 10% of global CO2 emissions. The fashion industry currently operates using a linear economy model which encourages the take, make and disposal of materials which has led to huge levels of waste and encouraged a throwaway culture in today’s society through fast fashion. Therefore, it’s essential that the fashion industry reinvents itself, moving away from fast fashion & towards a circular economy.
What is Fast Fashion?
Fast fashion is cheap, trend driven clothing, that has been mass produced to replicate the latest catwalk designs & keep up with rapid changes in consumer demand.
Popular fast fashion brands include:
- Pretty Little Thing
There are huge issues surrounding fast fashion such as overconsumption, the pollution of the planet & the exploitation of workers.
Overconsumption is when the use of a natural resources has exceeded the sustainable capacity of a system. It’s the root of the planet’s environmental issues & has been encouraged because of the emergence of fast fashion. Overconsumption fuels higher levels of pollution, greater domestic water use & more waste.
Only 20% of the world’s population is responsible for the consumption of 80% of natural resources & the wealthiest countries consume up to 10 times more natural resources than those in the poorest countries. This is shocking especially due to the fact that those in the poorest countries will be hit the hardest by the negative environmental impacts caused by the overconsumption in wealthier countries.
Pollution of the Planet
The fast fashion industry produces an estimated 92 million tonnes of textiles waste annually & the majority of this ends up in landfill. Less than 1% of used clothing is recycled into new garments.
Additionally, fast fashion is heavily dependent on synthetic fibres like polyester, nylon, acrylic and elastane which are made from fossil fuels. The plastic in clothing means that the textile sector accounts for 15% of total plastic use with the only sectors that use more being construction & packaging. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, clothes release half a million tonnes of microfibres into the ocean every year, equivalent to more than 50 billion plastic bottles.
Rapid production in the fast fashion industry means that sales & profit are prioritised over human welfare. Employees often work in dangerous conditions for low wages & little to no human rights. A Bangladeshi worker would need to be paid 4.5 times more than the current minimum wage to afford a decent living standard.
Child labour and modern slavery cases have even been reported in developing countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Sri Lanka & the Philippines where big fast fashion brands exploit local communities.
What is the Solution?
By moving away from the fashion industry’s traditional linear model to a circular fashion model, more sustainable production & consumption can be established in which raw materials are kept longer in production cycles & can be used repeatedly, therefore generating much less waste and pollution.
What is Circular Fashion?
Circular fashion can be defined as garments that are sourced and produced with the intention to be used & circulated responsibly & effectively in society for as long as possible, and after are returned safely to the biosphere.
Currently there are 4 main models of circular fashion which represent an opportunity for new & better growth in the industry, these include:
Repairing is a way to creatively restore or give a new lease of life to clothing that would otherwise have been disposed of. By repairing your clothing, you can wear it for longer, slow down how much you consume & make sure that less goes to waste. Overall, 31% CO2 emissions are saved in the repair model compared to the traditional linear model.
Remaking or “upcycling” is gaining popularity in the fashion world & clothing is being refashioned into trendy new creations at home and by innovative designers.
Upcycling is a creative way to prevent the purchase and manufacture of unnecessary items. When you upcycle, you spend more time & effort creating an item. This encourages us to place more value on what we already have. Buying upcycled products can also help to support small local businesses, thus reducing reliance on globally mass-produced products & fast fashion.
Second-hand fashion is clothing that once belonged to someone else. It might have already had several years of use or may have been recently produced. There has been an increase of online thrift shops and social media communities, which sell second-hand products. Supporting the second-hand fashion industry is a great way to keep clothes in circulation for as long as possible. Keeping clothes for just an extra 9 months can reduce their carbon, water & waste footprint by 20-30% (it also provides a fun opportunity to find unique items & experiment with your personal style).
You can shop second hand at charity shops & thrift stores as well as online platforms like Vinted, Depop, Vestiaire Collective and ThredUP.
The value of the global online clothing rental market is estimated to reach 2.4 billion GBP by 2025.Rental fashion allows a person to borrow clothes for a fixed amount of time, returning the items to the company once they’ve finished wearing them. Consumers can rent a variety of clothing online from luxury items to ones that complement their everyday wardrobe. Since 2010, rental fashion has prevented the production of over 1.3 billion garments, saving 67 million gallons of water, 98.6 million kWh of energy, and 44.2 million pounds of CO2 emissions.
Popular rental fashion platforms include: HURR, Rent The Runway & Selfridges & Co Rental.
It’s evident that the fashion industry contributes negatively to our environment however it can change! By adopting circular fashion root causes of global challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution can be tackled.
Circular fashion and sustainability is at the core of ReMode and I have learnt more about this throughout my work experience and been inspired to find more ways to become sustainable myself. ReMode exists to raise awareness of the fashion and textile industry & provide solutions to environmental issues in the fashion industry. This is why I chose to focus my series of social media posts and this blog on fast fashion and the circular economy.
I also learned about a number of services that ReMode provide such as creative hands-on workshops which are all designed to teach the community practical skills that extend the life of garments & fabrics. Some previous workshops include:
- Recycle or dye
- Meddle & make
- Sewing craft workshops.
They also operate a shop in Paisley where you can buy, swap & donate clothing. You can even join ReMode’s Membership Token Scheme where you can earn 1 membership point for every 0.5kg of clothing and textiles donated, which can be spent in store.
Lastly, ReMode provide extensive education & events programmes which highlight the negative impacts of the fast fashion industry and providing solutions.