Fashion: The Cost

picture of cotton fields

'Every time you spend money, you're casting a vote for the kind of world you want'.
Anna Lappé, Small Planet Institute

If loving fashion is a crime, we plead guilty. However, fashion also has a huge impact on the environment, requiring large amounts of water, energy and land to grow fibres such as cotton. It can sometimes be a thirsty, polluting, energy intensive and a wasteful business. Think about what you want your impact to be on the planet.

Cotton

Cotton represents almost half of the total fibre used to make clothing today. More than 90% of that cotton is genetically modified and its cultivation consumes vast amounts of water and chemicals.

Not for nothing has cotton earned the nickname ‘the dirty crop’. Although just 2.4% of the world’s cultivated land is planted with cotton, it accounts for around 18% of the world’s pesticide use and 25% of total insecticide use, making it the most pesticide-intensive crop grown on Earth.

The largely untested impacts of these chemicals on both the land and human health are beginning to be questioned by those working in the industry.

Organic cotton is better

Organic promotes life and creates solutions. Organic agriculture promotes life in the soil, increased biodiversity, increased food security, ability to mitigate the impacts of climate change with stronger carbon sequestration, the reduced use of irrigation, and the elimination of toxic and persistent pesticides from the water we drink and the air we breathe.

Organic cotton uses no Genetically Modified (GM) seeds.

Around 70 to 80% of organic cotton production is rain-fed, rather than irrigated, resulting in a lower water footprint in comparison to conventional cotton.

… and recycled cotton is better still

Recycled cotton typically saves 40% of water, uses no pesticides or insecticides, and eliminates landfill by disposed garments.

Leather

Leather production is increasingly being linked to a variety of environmental and human health hazards.

The amount of feed, land, water and fossil fuels used to raised livestock for leather production come at a huge cost to the health of our planet.

In addition to raising the required livestock, the leather tanning process is amongst the most toxic in the entire fashion supply chain. Workers are exposed to harmful chemicals on the job, while the waste generated pollutes natural water sources, leading to increased disease in surrounding areas.

Studies have found that leather tannery workers are at a far greater risk of cancer, by between 20 and 50%.

Animal welfare

Animals are used for a variety of products in the fashion industry, from fur and leather to wool, cashmere, angora, silk, to down and feathers. No animal deserves to live in miserable conditions, subject to pain and suffering.

Fast fashion

Fast fashion is the clothing equivalent of fast food - cheap, nasty and ultimately bad for you.

Fast fashion encourages consumers to purchase clothing, much of it completely unneeded, at an increasingly rapid rate … and the world has embraced it.

Worldwide, about 80 billion pieces of clothing are purchased every year. This is 400% more than the amount consumed just two decades ago.

And as new clothing comes into our lives, we also discard it at a shocking pace. With cheap fashion now abundantly available, consumers have come to view their purchases as ‘disposable’. A newly-acquired item is estimated to remain in a woman’s wardrobe for as little as five weeks.

The average person throws away around 32kg of clothing per year. That adds up to 1.7 billion kilograms of unnecessary waste being added to landfill annually. Clothing and household textiles currently make up more than 5% of all landfill waste.

Fashion & human rights

We have become increasingly disconnected from the people who make our clothing, as 97% of items are now made overseas.

Who makes our clothes?

There is an estimated 40 million garment workers in the world today, many of whom do not share the same rights or protections that most people in the West do. These are some of the lowest paid workers in the world, and 85% of all garment workers are women.

The human factor of the garment industry is too big to ignore - the exploitation of cheap labour and the violation of workers’, women’s and human rights in many developing countries around the world is horrific.

The impacts of globalisation

The fashion industry represents one of the biggest connection points for millions of people across the world, spanning agriculture and manufacturing right through to retail. It has been one of the leading industries to capitalise on the new globalised world of the 21st century.

However, it is harder and harder to believe the free market story that a rising tide will lift all boats. Today we have some of the highest levels of inequality and environmental destruction the world has ever seen.

Global fashion brands are bigger than ever before. With individual annual revenues in the billions, they are part of a now almost $3 trillion a year industry. These brands are continuing to profit from their use of cheaper labour in foreign countries, with clothing and accessories often produced in substandard conditions and in which workers may not have a good understanding of their rights, nor the skills to effectively realise them.

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