The lifecycle of fast-fashion by Alex Giles

10 August 2021

The fashion industry produces over 400% more garments than it did 20 years ago. Fast fashion is responsible for 10% of our planet's annual carbon emissions, more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. This comes from mainstream companies such as Zara, Primark and Boohoo.

How many times do you wear an item before passing it on to waste disposal or donating it?

On average, the life span for a garment is around just 7 wears. This is detrimental to the world as we know it.

The life cycle of an item of fast fashion clothing begins in a factory, in countries such as Bangladesh, Thailand and India, where companies capitalise on poverty and employ women and children to work in cramped sweatshops for diminutive wages. According to a report from UNICEF, 170 million children work in the fashion industry.

One ton of fabric uses up to 200 tons of fresh water, the waste from this production is dumped in local rivers. Extinction Rebellion and the UN stated that 3.6 billion people are at risk of water scarcity throughout the year. Almost half the population.

Next the garment is transported internationally, where you might buy it. If an item is made of a synthetic fabric such as nylon or polyester, each time it is washed, around 700,000 microfibres are shed, which after being released into the ocean are consumed by aquatic life and eventually by humans. Introducing plastic to our food chain.

Unfortunately, the majority of clothing is neither recycled nor donated. Taking up to 200 years to decompose. But what if it is donated? Clothing donated to countries in Africa has a destructive effect on the economy. 30 years ago in Kenya there were 110 large scale textile manufacturers however this dropped by 50% by 2006, largely due to our ‘donations’. This dropped the local employment rate of 500,000 to 20,000 workers within the local clothing industry. Various East African countries have proposed an import ban of our poor-quality garments, but western forces mean they're unlikely to be successful, so that we can continue to dump our waste with them in the name of charity.

When you buy a £5 dress, someone else pays the price.

How do we combat this realm of issues? Invest in clothing that is meaningfully made, second-hand or made to last. The app “Good on you” is an effective and simple way to test the ethical nature of a brand before you buy from it, simply type the name in and a score from 1-5 will indicate the sustainability. Consider cost-per-wear, when you wear that £5 dress once, it's less cost effective than buying a well-made dress that you can wear infinitely.

Hold brands accountable.

Hold influencers accountable.

Hold yourself accountable, change is within reach.