Discover the World’s Finest Wool – How Fast Fashion destroys our environment!

How much clothing is produced worldwide?

Every year, approximately 80 billion new garments are produced worldwide. That’s 400% more than what was produced just twenty years ago.

As quickly as clothing is produced today, it ends up in the trash. The average American today generates about 80 pounds of textile waste annually. This is equivalent to more than 11 million tons of textile waste in the United States of America alone.1

When clothing was still painstakingly made by hand, it was a commodity that people held on to for a very long time. However, since clothing can be industrially produced in low-wage countries and is now available in abundance, we are beginning to view our everyday clothing as disposable.

However, we consumers successfully ignore the fact that people are exploited for this, and the environment is grossly polluted. Who wants to burden his conscience in such a way because of the shopping for some clothes?

What are the consequences of textile production for the environment?

By the time a T-shirt is ready for sale on the counter, it has gone through a lot: Straightening, bleaching, dyeing, weatherproof clothing is additionally impregnated. For all these processes, the textile industry uses approximately one kilogram of toxic chemicals per one kilogram of clothing.

More than 6,500 different chemicals are used in textile finishing, including heavy metals such as copper, arsenic and cadmium. Many of these are toxic, some are carcinogenic, and some end up in groundwater.

Dyeing one kilogram of textile fibers also requires around 60 liters of water: Water that ends up contaminated with these chemical additives.

According to the World Bank, 17 to 20 percent of the industrial wastewater produced worldwide is generated in textile processing alone!

Cotton requires a particularly large amount of water

In the case of cotton fibers, the cultivation process also requires huge amounts of water for irrigation. This not only leads to natural water reservoirs being almost completely pumped dry and groundwater levels sinking.

In addition, the water is also contaminated with pesticides and fertilizers – and unfortunately, to a considerable extent:

Approximately 16 percent of all insecticides used worldwide are sprayed on cotton fields. However, cotton production requires only 2.5 percent of the world’s agricultural land. These toxic substances subsequently seep into the soil and, partially get back into the groundwater.2

Textiles: Environmental Impacts | Pumpkin Interactive

When cotton is grown in the fields, it is impossible to clean up the polluted water. Sprayed pesticides and fertilizers seep into the soil directly or, at the latest, with the next rainfall.

In the industrial processes of textile processing and textile finishing, specially installed sewage treatment plants should clean the wastewater before it is discharged into adjacent bodies of water.

Countries such as India or Bangladesh have, in principle, high standards for the quality of sewage water from industrial production. Unfortunately, there is a lack of stringent and comprehensive controls in these countries regarding whether these standards are actually met.

The price policy of western fast fashion brands is also partly to blame for these practices. However, appropriate ecological requirements are demanded. The producers in the low-wage countries receive almost no additional cent for their efforts.

Because of cost pressure, many factories neglect the demand for environmental protection – or existing sewage treatment plants are simply shut down to save costs.

What are the negative effects of fast fashion on employees, the environment and health.

Low wages and poor working conditions in textile factories

Fast fashion garments are almost exclusively produced in low-wage countries – usually, in the Asian region like Bangladesh or Cambodia. Only by cheap production, the articles’ prices can remain so low.

However, one thing should be clear – if you can buy a Shirt for under 5 dollars, then someone else has to pay the higher price for it.

From the monthly wage, a worker in Bangladesh can barely maintain a halfway normal standard of living. With a 14 hour shift, most workers do not even receive $100 a month, which is just about the nationally set minimum monthly wage (2019).

With this amount, you can usually pay for food and rent in Bangladesh, but not for additional consumer goods or health insurance! For a family to survive, the children often have to go to work.3

Inhumane working conditions in many textile factories.

textile factory bangladesh

Since there are no labor standards in most low-wage countries or these standards are not sufficiently controlled, the seamstresses’ working conditions are often inhumane. Many of the textile factories are dilapidated.

These circumstances led to the collapse of the “Rana Plaza” textile factory in Bangladesh on April 24, 2013, killing 1,138 people. About 2,500 people were injured in the disaster.

Since this catastrophe, the working conditions have improved, but they are still far from what we would call fair.

International trade unions and textile companies subsequently signed the self-committed agreement on fire and building protection. Textile factories had to become safe workplaces. As a result, more than 1600 factories needed to eliminate safety and fire protection deficiencies to ensure safe working conditions.

Nevertheless, working hours and especially the low wages should finally be adjusted. This is the only way to achieve a sustainable improvement for the workers in the textile industry.

Negative Impact of Fast Fashion on the Environment

Greenhouse gases

The production of cheap clothing not only harms the textile workers who produce clothes but also has a negative impact on the environment.  As textile consumption grows in industrialized countries, so does environmental damage in the producing countries, through water pollution and pesticide usage.

However, textile manufacturing also produces several million tons of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, which is the leading cause of global warming that affects living conditions around the globe.

The production and transport of textiles are causing several million tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year.

But cotton production is not the main culprit here. The worst is polyester, which has become very popular – the CO2 emissions for polyester are almost three times as high as for cotton. That’s because non-renewable petroleum is used for the production of polyester.

Textile production is one of the most polluting industries, producing 1.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, which is more emissions than what international air travel and ocean shipping are causing.

One reason for this is that over 60% of textiles (fast fashion) are produced in countries such as China or India, which derive most of their energy from coal-fired power plants.

This increases the ecological footprint of each garment even more. The fashion industry is responsible for about 10% of total global emissions worldwide.

Kilogram of CO2 Emissions per Ton of Spun Fiber. 4

Water pollution and Water Consumption

Chemicals for fiber processing and textile finishing, such as dyes and bleaches, are often discharged untreated into wastewater in some producing countries.

In China, over two-thirds of rivers and lakes are classified as polluted, and access to clean drinking water is not guaranteed for many millions of people.

The high water consumption in the textile industry is mainly due to cotton cultivation. An average of 10,000 liters of water per kilogram of clothing is required worldwide to produce clothing from cotton.

Two thousand liters of water are used for the production of one T-shirt. You could fill a small swimming pool with that, or shower, wash clothes and flush the toilet every day for 20 days.

Pesticides and Fertilizers

In the production of natural fibers such as cotton, tons of pesticides and fertilizers are used.

So far, cotton cultivation accounts for about 25% of the global insecticide market and about 10% of the pesticide market.

Pesticides and insecticides are significant contributors to global bee and insect mortality. Pesticides also acidify soils and pollute Water.

What's better for the environment: Polyester or Cotton?

Polyester overtook cotton at the beginning of the 21st century and is now one of the most used fabrics in the fashion industry. With synthetic materials, emissions are much higher because they are made from fossil fuels like crude oil.

For example, a polyester T-shirt emits 5.5 kilograms of CO2, while a cotton T-shirt emits only 2 kilograms.

But switching entirely to cotton would not be a solution either, as artificial irrigation leads to soil salinization and erosion, depletion of water reserves and poisoned groundwater.

Carbon Footprint of White Cotton Shirt / % Shares 5

Percent share of global consumption of different types of textile fibers. 6

What are the effects of fast fashion on our health?

Clothing is our second skin. The human skin is the largest organ and highly absorbent. Substances that come into contact with our skin very quickly enter our system through it.7

For the production and processing of raw fibers, as well as the subsequent dyeing, impregnation and also for protection during the transport of textiles, about 3500 carcinogenic, hormone-active or otherwise toxic chemicals are used. These include softeners, dyes, pesticides, etc.

Residues of these toxins remain in the textiles. The typical smell of newly purchased fast fashion garments speaks its own language!

Chemical dyes used to color textiles are dangerous. The so-called azo dyes are said to be carcinogenic – not only for the worker but also for the wearer.

Surfactants are also used in the textile industry to make textiles water and dirt repellent. Studies have shown that some surfactants cannot be broken down in the environment and accumulate in the blood and organ tissues. They endanger the liver, affect the endocrine system and are said to be carcinogenic.

Furthermore, heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and mercury are used in textile production. They are used in dyes and pigments, as well as in the finishing of textiles. These substances can trigger allergies and accumulate in our bodies over time.8

What-can-cause-Atopic-dermatitis or atopic-eczema

All these substances are used during the production of textiles and have an impact on the wearer. Logically, however, they also have health effects on the people in the factories, who come into contact with these chemicals even more directly than the buyers of the final product.

These workers often suffer from dermatitis, asthma, skin rashes, allergies.

The Alternative: Slow Fashion, Ethical Fashion and Sustainable Clothing Consumption

Fortunately, an expanding “counter-movement” has developed in recent years. Under the slogan “Who made my clothes? – The Fashion Revolution Week calls for more transparency in the fashion industry.

The Fashion Revolution Week is held annually in the week after April 24, which is the anniversary of the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse that killed 1133 people and injured over 2500.

The goal is to raise awareness about the exploitation of workers in the textile industry, change the way clothes are produced and consumed,
so to highlight the impact of fast fashion on climate change.

Slow Fashion

Slow Fashion represents sustainably produced and consciously consumed Fashion.Slow Fashion is a change back to more social responsibility and respect for people and the environment.

The focus is on sustainability and awareness in the production process, and high-quality clothing is offered in fewer collections.

Slow Fashion includes not only ecological and sustainably produced Fashion, but also second-hand clothing. Second-hand clothing gives consumers the opportunity to extend the product cycle of garments, to dress fashionably and individually, and not to waste resources excessively.

Ethical and Sustainable Fashion

The term “Ethical Fashion” has also become an increasingly important topic in recent years. It is mainly about the ethically correct treatment of employees in the production process, but also for a fair and ecological approach to our environmental resources.

Sustainable clothing consumption can also be seen as a counter-movement to fast fashion. Buy new clothes as seldom as possible and then buy high-quality or second-hand clothes.

Wear high-quality clothes for a long time and repair broken clothes instead of throwing them away. You can also borrow clothes for special or one-time occasions instead of wearing the expensive dress for just one evening and then letting it gather dust in the closet.

Conscious clothing consumption – that is, not constantly buying new low-quality goods and taking care of your own clothes is probably the best thing you can do for the environment and your wallet.

Is Fashion Destroying the Planet?Ethical Fashion Documentary

What is the impact of wool on sustainable textile production?

Wool is a very unique, renewable and biodegradable raw material. Unlike synthetic fibers such as polyester, wool does not release tiny plastic particles into the water when washed.

Wool regulates people’s heat balance much better than synthetic clothing. In addition, wool products tend to have a long lifespan and are washed less and at lower temperatures.

However, you should not support animal cruelty practices like Mulesing through your purchase. Therefore, we recommend buying certified clothing or products that you know come from animal welfare practices and contain as few unnecessary chemicals as possible.

Of course, also wool is not without emissions and water consumption. In the case of wool, to be fair, the methane emissions of the sheep must also be included in the overall balance.

Basically, all textiles produce a relatively high amount of CO2 emissions, even more so if they are produced in low-wage countries such as Vietnam, China, Bangladesh or India.

High-quality and sustainably produced wool textiles made of merino wool or alpaca fibers are often not dyed and instead the natural shades of the wool are used. Thus, the use of chemicals can be reduced.

A positive aspect of high-quality wool clothing is its long durability and use, which is confirmed by a recent study from 2020.9

If you want to know everything about the pros and cons of wool in the sustainable fashion industry read this article. →

Can wool be ethical and eco-friendly? | Gaia & Dubos

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Summary

The Slow Fashion movement should inspire everyone – because it protects us and our environment and brings respect to people. We hope this article has shown the importance of slow fashion for a sustainable life and the protection of the environment.

We should learn again to value our clothes, to exchange them or to repair them before always buying something new.When buying new clothes, we should make sure that they are made of natural materials and under fair conditions.

After all, most of us have so much clothing in our wardrobes that we will often hardly wear most of it – while elsewhere, people are sewing these clothes under undignified conditions and can barely make a living from their wages.

In addition, sewage is discharged into the rivers – and clothes that are no longer needed are thrown into the garbage and burned because it is more convenient than still selling them. None of this is fair, and it’s certainly not sustainable – and that’s why the Slow Fashion movement was born.

What can I do to reduce my ecological footprint?

  • Appreciate and care for your own clothes
  • Prefer fashion made from sustainable materials
  • Look for labels to recognize ethical fashion
  • Possibly buy second hand
  • Repair or recycle used clothing
  • Buy quality instead of cheap short-lived fast fashion
  • Pay attention to where the clothes were produced
  • Choose better and buy less

Do you have questions or more tips regarding slow fashion, or you have important information about sustainable clothing? Then feel free to leave a comment below this post.

Thank You for Reading

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  1. https://www.statista.com/topics/5091/apparel-market-worldwide/
  2. An overview on corporate response towards sustainability issues in textile industry, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10668-017-9949-1
  3. https://sus-a.com/index.php/new-bangladesh-minimum-wage/2018/#:~:text=In%20September%202018%20the%20Bangladeshi,into%20effect%20on%20December%201.
  4. (PDF) Carbon Footprint of Textile and Clothing Products (researchgate.net)
  5. (PDF) Carbon Footprint of Textile and Clothing Products (researchgate.net)
  6. (PDF) Carbon Footprint of Textile and Clothing Products (researchgate.net)
  7. Chemicals from textiles to skin, Published online 2018 Jun 17. doi: 10.1007/s11356-018-2448-6
  8. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/10/151023084508.htm
  9. Environmental impacts associated with the production, use, and end-of-life of a woollen garment, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-020-01766-0

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