"Pulling at The Threads of Injustice" is a series dedicated to those directly affected by fast fashion- the garment workers.
The very first blog post of the “Pulling at The Threads of Injustice” series, “Inside the Unforgiveable Working Conditions of the LA Fashion District,” touched on the brutal work conditions within the factories of the LA Fashion District. The district, home to an estimated 2,000 fast fashion businesses, is an undeniable contributor to the 92 million tons of textile waste produced by the fast fashion industry each year.
Most people are aware of the ever-growing textile waste issue that plagues our planet. Right now, the fashion industry follows the oil industry as the second largest source of pollution in the world. The countries that bear the brunt of the industry, though, are nations like Kenya, Chile, and Ghana- where an entire 20-meter cliff of waste, made up mostly of clothes, exists and only continues to grow.
Not only is post-consumer waste a growing issue but what effects does the fast fashion garment production process have on the environment? Before we dive into that (very concise) overview, it’s worth mentioning that the reason for differentiating between fast fashion and other textile production is that, when it comes to environmental impact, the quality of the clothes makes all the difference - but we’ll get to that in a minute.
It might (but probably not) surprise you that the fabric you’re investing in when you shop at places like Shein, Forever 21, and Zara isn’t the best. The core of the problem lies at the very beginning of the production process which takes up to a 200 tons of freshwater per ton of dyed fabric. Cotton production has especially damaging ecological effects because it’s grown in warmer, dryer areas but needs plenty of water to grow - 9,700 liters for just 1 kg, to be specific. The results are the desertification of precious bodies of water like the Aral sea. According to Stephen Leahy from the Guardian, "85% of the daily needs in water of the entire population of India would be covered by the water used to grow cotton in the country while 100 million people in India do not have access to drinking water."
Cheaper fabrics are also made of mostly if not full synthetic fibers (nylon, polyester, acrylic. etc.) as opposed to semi-synthetic or more natural materials. The problem with this is that synthetic fabrics, which are plastic fibers, take up to 200 years to break down. They’re made using fossil fuel which is a highly energy-intensive process that also adds significantly to the greenhouse gases taking a toll on the atmosphere. It’s also worth noting that according to Sustain Your Style, “30% of rayon and viscose clothing, both made of synthetic fibers, comes from endangered and ancient forest.”
What’s worse is that synthetic fibers are made up of microfibers- essentially tiny pieces of plastic. The issue is that about 7,000 pieces of these microplastics are released every time a synthetic garment is washed. These go into the oceans where they’re ingested by marine life, ultimately entering the food chain. Microfibers have been found in human blood and even breastmilk. But the good news is that you can help combat this pollution by washing your synthetic clothes only when it’s necessary and use colder water. This doesn't stop the release of microfibers but releases less.
So, what can you do? When it comes to prolonging the life of the clothes you already own, both mending and upcycling clothes are great alternatives to immediately purchasing new replacements. Investing in higher quality clothes - ones made of more environmentally friendly fibers - also decreases the likelihood that you’ll have to look for new items in the first place. And once you’re sure it’s time to replace your favorites, recycling your clothes is a great way to go, or even better (if they’re in useable condition), passing them on responsibly to a second hand thrift store (like ALMAZ) or someone you know personally.
It can be pretty intimidating to get even a glimpse of the impact our buying practices can have on the environment, but shopping with these few factors in mind is one step closer to combatting the impact you make as a consumer in the fashion industry.