Fast Fashion at a Glance
Let's try to answer this as efficiently as possible: what is the impact of fast fashion at a glance?
Fast Fashion statistics
Quick disclaimer: be aware that lots of statistics circulate without a linked source and there are articles where some are debunked. That's not to say that fast fashion - and the fashion industry - aren't damaging. However, statistics surrounding the fashion industry are quite hard to measure so we are using these figures as rough estimates.
Buying trends - more and more clothes
Due to falling costs, streamlined operations and rising consumer spending, between 2000-2014:
- There was a 60% increase in number of garments purchased per capita
- Clothing production doubled
Globally we are consuming 400% more clothing than the 1990s, at an estimated 800 billion new garments. Should this growth continue, clothing sales could reach 17.5 million tonned in 2050, 3x today's amount.
So what does this mean in terms of impact?
Fast fashion pollution
The textiles industry relies largely on non-renewable sources of energy and uses approximately 98 million tonnes a year. This includes:
- Oil to produce synthetic fibres
- Fertilisers to grow cotton
- Chemicals to produce, dye and finish fibres and textiles
Various studies present the following data:
Textile production generates around 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually (equal to more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined).
The apparel and footwear industries accounted for 8.1% of global climate impacts (3990 million metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent) in 2016.
The University of Manchester says that the fashion industry produces 92 million tonnes of waste per year, though the specifics of this waste are unclear.
In terms of discarded clothing, there are estimates that at least 50% of fast fashion produced is disposed of in under a year. Some estimates suggest that consumers treat the lowest-priced garments as nearly disposable, discarding them after just 7 or 8 wears.
The management of said waste is set to become increasingly challenging. In a business-as-usual scenario, more than 150 million tonnes of clothing would need to be landfilled or burned in 2050.
The fashion industry uses a huge amount of water, estimated at 1.5 trillion litres. That's the equivalent of 5 billion bath tubs.
A 2017 study reveals that the largest portion of microplastics in the oceans come from the washing of synthetic textiles. Half a million tonnes enter the oceans annually.
High cost and time pressures are often imposed on all parts of the supply chain which can lead to garment workers suffering poor working conditions with long hours and low pay.
93% of brands surveyed by fashionchecker.org aren't paying workers a living wage.
The garment industry is suggested to be amongst the top offenders for child and/ or forced labour listings.
Workers and our environment pay the price for the speed and convenience that fast fashion offers. The impacts are devastating and only continue to get worse.
Make a difference by shopping with eco-conscious brands, investing in longer-term fashion items and recycling old garments where possible.
Style that’s sustainable: A new fast-fashion formula by McKinsey, 2016
The 2019 Ethical Fashion Report by Baptist World Aid Australia
A New Textiles Economy - Full Report by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, 2017
Primary Microplastics in the Oceans by Julien Boucher and Damien Friot, 2017
Bureau of International Labour Affairs
"Environmental Cost of Fast Fashion is not sustainable" by the University of Manchester, 2020
Measuring Fashion: Environmental Impact of the Global Apparel and Footwear Industries Study, 2018