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The Impact of Fashion

Or why we are working to change the industry from within

The Impact of Fashion

We are a sustainable fashion brand and the impact of fashion drives our purpose. It triggered us to quit our jobs and start blonde gone rogue back in 2017. If you are a fashion lover, I bet you hear a lot about the impact of fashion on the environment and on society as a whole these days. Sustainability is in the news every day. But what exactly is that environmental impact everyone is talking about? What is the social impact? Dive in here for the facts.

The Positive Impact

Let's start with the good. The fashion industry is being attacked from left and right (and rightfully so!) but sometimes what doesn't get mentioned is why we need it and why we love it so much. So, before we dive in the 1001 reasons why fashion needs to change, let's go through why fashion is so important.

Apparel Factory Worker Bangladesh 

Employment

The fashion industry employes over 50 million people wordwide. It is the fifth biggest industry in terms of employment and it provides jobs and livelihood to millions of people in developing countries, supporting the advancement of the local economy. Every 1,000 tonnes of textiles collected are said to create 7 direct full-time jobs and 15 indirect ones. For instance, in Bangladesh, clothing countrs for 80% of total export.

 

Something to keep us warm

The fashion indsutry gives us these nice, warm and cosy clothes that we love wearing. While many of us take our full wardrobes for granted (and yes - we will argue later that we are buying way too much), for many people around the world good clothes are still a luxury. Fashion as a way to self-express

 

Self-expression

Clothes are an unique platform for self-expression, for communicating who we are without using words. We all have this one friend that says 'I don't care what I wear, fashion doesn't matter to me.' and even they make a statement with their style. What we wear has the power to make us feel cool, sexy and confident. This is the real magic of fashion.

It is nice things like the above that make us love fashion. However, current practices in the industry are a major contributor to the world's social and environmental issues. These are the things we have set to change here at blonde gone rogue. We are working every day towards creating a new, sustainable and ethical niche within the industry.

 

The Negative Impact

These are just the facts we have found from sources we trust.

 

The people

The other side of the coin when it comes to employment. In most production countries the minimum wage is half of what is considered a living wage. And still 50% of the workers in the industry are paid below that minimum wage. It has been repeatedly reported that workers are not paid overtime, are not allowed breaks and experience abuse at the workplace. Unfortunately, garment workers abuse is not a distant problem for any country. Just recently a story broke how factory workers in Leicester, UK were forced to work during the COVID-19 lockdown for just £3/hour - less than half the minimum wage.

A more horrifying statistic is that 71% of fashion companies believe that modern slavery might exist in their supply chain. The general lack of traceability in the full supply chain makes it practically impossible to run verification and be confident about the all labour used. 

The triggers for these statistics are multifold, unfortunately. I wish we could say 'It is the brands' fault!' and point all our effords on pressuring brands to fix the issues. Governments have let down their people. The demand for lower and lower prices from consumers gets pushed up the supply chain with every next person and company being more and more squeezed. Many brands have chosen to look the other way and to not ask questions, too. Let's be honest - when I buy a £4 tee made in the UK, the price is already telling me that the seamstress didn't make a living wage. We have actually done the math in our Comprehensive Guide to Sustainable Fashion blog post - check it out!

 

The environment

Fashion does consume a large amount of resources and leaves its mark in terms of pollution and waste. Below a breakdown of the environmental impact of the industry. 

Fashion is the second largest water polluter in the world

 

Water

The fashion industry is the third largest user of water after oil and paper. The main drivers are the production of cotton and the textile dying processing.

It takes 9,000 litres of water to make just one pair of jeans. That is the amount of water a person drinks in 12 years! A cotton tee consumes 2,400 litres. As you are guessing - cotton is a very, very thirsty plant that requires a lot of water to grow. And believe me, if we talk about natural fibers, we are practically just talking cotton. It accounts for 90% of natural fabrics being produced.

The textile industry as a whole uses 378 billion litres of water per year. I don't even know what to compare it to in order to visualize it. It is 150,000 Olympic swimming pools. It is enough to satisfy the thirs of 100 million people for a whole year.

It is actually so much water that 20% of fresh water pollution comes from textile treatment and dyeing. While we are heading into a fresh water crisis (among many other crises), the textile industry is the second largest polluter of clean water in the world.

Cotton is the crop that uses the most pesticides

 

Pesticides

More pesticides are used in cotton farming than any other crop. At the same time cotton accounts for just 2.4% of all crops produced in a year. While it is great that no more pesticides are used for other crops, the chemicals used in the cotton production process are highly poisonous both to the farmworkers and the soil.

Organic cotton is what seems to be an easy solution to the problem. The pesticides pollution impact of organic cotton is 98% less than that of conventional cotton. However, it takes 2 whole years for a farmer to become an organic cotton certified producer. This is the amount of time needed to clean the soul from the chemicals and pesticides used for growing conventional cotton. This means that not only a farmer should not produce anything on his land for 2 years but as well that farming of conventional cotton leaves the soil too poisoned to grow other crops. 

Example of chemicals released from textile dying.

Chemical pollution

The textile production process uses over 10 million tonnes of chemicals a year. There are over 8,000 types of chemicals, including formaldehyde, chlorine, lead and mercury that are used in fabric production with the majority being used in the dyeing process. However, only 16 chemicals are actually EPA-approved. Leads you to wonder what is the impact on the workers in those factories, doesn't it? What is the impact on the environment? The above pictures of coloured waters say plenty. Chemicals are dumped in lakes and rivers and while they look so beautiful - they are so, so toxic.

Runoff from the dying factories can and does contain harmful pigments, heavy matals, alkali salts and toxic solids. About 40% of dyes are known to contain organically-bound chorine - a carcinogen which can lead to cancer in the same way asbestos and cigarrettes do. These substances poison local habitats and create unrepairable damage to the local environment.

Fashion's carbon emissions amplify climate change

 

Carbon emissions

The global fashion industry accounts for 10% of greenhouse gas emissions. This is the equivalent of 372 million cards driving non-stop for 1 year. It is more than international and maritime shipping combined. For example, a T-shirt has carbon footprint that is approximately 20x its own weight - 6kg. Due to the growing demand and globalisation of clothing production, the emissions caused by fashion are predicted to increase with 60% in the next 12 years.

In 2001, two journalists from the Guardian - Fran Abrams and James Athill, embarked on a journey to follow where all the parts of a pair of jeans came from. They discovered that the jeans traveled two times around the globe by the time they were sold in the UK. Crazy, isn't it?

But CO2 is not the only problem. Synthetic fibers have been continuously gaining popularity. They are extremely durable and easy to work with from a design perspective. At this moment, synthetics like polyester make up 60% of the world's total fiber demand. And this comes at a cost. Nitrous oxide - a gas 300 times more damaging than CO2, is released during the production process of synthetic fibers.

This is an issue that consumers can act upon. First, buying from local designers and locally produced garments help save a lot of emissions. Second, 1 tonne of recycled or reused apparel saves up to 11 tonnes of CO2 entering the atmosphere. Don't you feel very attracted to recycled polyester all of a sudden? Unfortunately, only 20% of discarded garments are recycled. So, it is really important to check how to responsibly dispose of our clothes. 

Consumption

Between 2000 and 2014 the amount of clothes produced doubled. In the West, we consume 400% more apparel than just 20 years ago. The low prices of fast fashion have spearheaded this growth. However, while we have so much more cheap clothing, we keep clothes for twice shorter than we used to. This demand for newness has resulted in high-street brands releasing a new collection practically every week.

40% of consumers qualify as excessive shoppers and 40% of the garments we buy are rarely or never worn. And while prices have dropped and it seems so inexpensive to get just 1 new tee for £4, today we spend 60% more money on fashion than we did 15 years ago. Considering the environmental impact of the industry, we are practically pouring money into fueling climate change.

Waste from teh fashion industry 

 

Waste

Every second the equivalent of one garbage truck of textile waste is thrown away. In the UK alone, one million tonnes of textiles are sent to the landfill each year while this number hits the staggering 98 million tonnes worldwide. The problem is not that garments have been worn out though. The problem is that we have developed the throwaway culture of seeing clothes as worthless, disposable possessions and we throw them away before they have actually become worn out - on average a person creates 13 kg of fashion waste per year.

However, once the textiles leave our wardrobe, their life is far from over. Textiles take anywhere from a few months to 200 years to biodegrade, with polyester taking the lead here as well. Being made from oil, its raw materials take over 100 million years to form - and we just wear it twice and toss it to the landfill for 200 years before it decomposes. While taking their time to disappear, clothes release chemicals like formaldehyde, heavy metals, BPA and PFCs into the environment.

Ouch!! Nature doesn't deserve this. Workers don't deserve this. We believe fashion can do better and we are working towards achieving a better, more sustainable future. Read our ethical fashion manifesto.