The fashion industry’s dirty little secrets

Written by Kajsa IngelssonDecember 24, 2020

When we think of pollution, we envision coal power plants, strip-mined mountaintops and backed up highways. We don’t often think of the shirts on our backs.

But what if I told you that the fashion industry is the second largest polluter after oil?

It’s true. Let’s start with the materials themselves;

Ma ma ma terial madness

Some not so fun facts about cotton:

  • It takes 2,700 liters of water to produce an average cotton t-shirt.
  • The cotton industry alone is responsible for 2.6% of the world’s water use.
  • Cotton is one of the most chemically dependent crops in the world:
  • 2.4% of the world’s cropland is planted with cotton yet it consumes 10% of all agricultural chemicals and 25% of insecticides.
  • Plus, 20% of the world’s cotton is GMOs.

What about other materials than cotton you might ask yourself?

  • Polyester and nylon (almost all your activewear) are made from petrochemicals aka raw oil.
  • It’s estimated that it takes about 70 million barrels of oil just to produce the virgin polyester used in fabrics each year.
  • The manufacturing of both polyester and nylon uses great amounts of energy.
  • Nylon (stockings) also emits a large amount of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide. The impact of one pound of nitrous oxide on global warming is almost 300 times that of carbon dioxide, the most known greenhouse gas.

Now tell me, are your clothes to DYE for?

All fabrics need to be dyed to get that perfect wash of color.

  • An estimated of 20% of industrial water pollution comes from textile dyeing and treatment.
  • 8000 synthetic chemicals are used throughout the world to turn raw materials into textiles. Most of these are released into freshwater sources untreated.
  • Altogether more than half a trillion gallons of fresh water are used in the dyeing of textiles each year. Dumped into rivers, they reach the sea, spreading across our globe.

The pictures below are of the Citarum River in Indonesia.

It’s considered to be one of the most polluted rivers in the world due to the hundreds of textile factories lining its shores.

Why? They dump their chemicals right into the river, making it an open sewer filled with toxins. This is impacting the health of aquatic life, wildlife and humans living alongside with this once beautiful and healthy river.

Let’s travel all over the world, baby!

Globalization means that your shirt likely traveled halfway around the world in a container ship fueled by the dirtiest of fossil fuels.

Let’s break it down into numbers:

60% of world clothing is manufactured in developing countries due to cheap labor and poor regulations. Most often the raw material used is being shipped to these countries from the US, China and India. When the clothes are finished products, they are loaded into shipping containers and sent by rail, containerships and finally trucks to the retailers all over the world.

In America, 22 billion new clothing items are bought every year.

Only 2% is domestically manufactured. An estimated 90% of the garments purchased are being shipped by container ships each year.

  • There are about 900 container ships on this planet.
  • 1 container ship can produce as much cancer and asthma-causing pollutants as 50 million cars in just one year.
  • The container ships are burning fuel 1000 dirtier than highway diesel and do not consume fuel by the gallon, but tons, per hour.
  • Pollution by the shipping industry, which has boomed over the past 20 years, is affecting the health of those living in coastal and inland regions around the world, yet the emissions of such ships goes mostly unregulated.

I want it now and I want cheap! (It doesn’t matter the cost)

A current trend in fashion retail is creating an extreme demand for quick and cheap clothes and it is a huge problem. Your clothes continue to impact the environment after purchase; washing and final disposal when you’re finished with your shirt may cause more harm to the planet than you realize.

Only about 10 years old, fast and cheap fashion is leading the way in the wasteful industry of disposable fashion.

By design, the fashion industry is constantly changing with the seasons, but fast fashion can change weekly, summed up by a sign in H&M, “New stuff is coming in each and every day. So why not do the same.”

It’s not uncommon for shoppers to wear an item once or twice before throwing it away for next week’s style, aided by the poor quality of many of the clothes causing them to fall apart after several washes.

In the U.S. the average person discards 32kg of clothing annually. 85% of these is estimated to wind-up in landfills or incinerators, and that’s just America. Sadly, the story around the rest of the world isn’t much different.

In the U.K. alone customers have an estimated $46.7 billion worth of unworn clothes lingering in their closets.

What do we do now?

So how do we put a stop to this endless circle of thoughtless consumption? Before you scream; NOOOO! You ruined shopping you bastard!! Let me introduce you to:

Life of Mjau goes ECO CHIC. All the coolest thrift stores in one awesome place! Search for your city to find all the stores close to you. Or why not browse through our listed online stores?

There are also plenty of sustainable and eco-conscious brands out there these days. Make sure that you use your money to vote for the kind of world that you want to live in.

Because nothing is cooler than a healthy, cool planet.