Is human behavior to blame for our over-excessive consumption of clothes and damage to the environment?
It is no secret that the fashion industry is one of the world’s most polluting industries, causing environmental damage through water consumption, waste creation and the use of vast amounts of land, pesticides and chemicals. To counterbalance the detrimental effects we as humans have created and are continuing to create, steps are being taken to reduce the impact the industry has on the environment and there has been a rise in ethical brands entering the marketplace in the hope of encouraging more conscious decision making. However, is the appearance of new brands only adding fuel to the fire?
Despite numerous brands and retailers working to minimize their environmental impact and increase the sustainability of their products, the UK Parliament has stated that, “by 2030 global apparel consumption is projected to rise by 63%, from 62 million tons today to 102 million tons—equivalent to more than 500 billion T-shirts.” This means both water consumption and the industry’s carbon footprint will continue to dramatically increase and, even though sustainability efforts are being made, the industry is struggling to keep up with the insatiable appetite of the consumer.
The production of more clothes at a cheaper price allows us to refresh our wardrobes quickly but at the cost of the product being thrown away after only being worn, on average, seven times. A rise in apparel consumption might mean more profit for the retailers but, as a consequence, it means more damaging effects caused to the environment due to a production system that was not built, or intended to be used, for this amount of output—this is known as fast fashion.
We as humans are disposing of wearable clothes, rather than choosing to wear them again, pass them onto friends or donate them to charity shops. In fact, many of us even choose to throw unused pieces away just because we cannot be bothered to return them to the brand! The Times noted that in just the UK alone, “clothes worth £12.5 billion [were binned] as the rise of ‘throwaway’ fashion led to 300,000 tonnes of textiles ending up in landfill.”
What does this say about us as a society? We are continually feeding an ever vicious cycle of fast fashion, contributing to the excessive purchase of cheaper items that are poor in quality and thrown away before repeating this damaging cycle. By our personal choice to overlook the environmental cost of fast fashion, to ditch clothes because they are no longer ‘en vogue’, or simply by just being lazy, each of us, as an individual, is contributing to the world’s carbon and water footprint. Why are we choosing to send clothes to landfill instead of recycling them when for each tonne of clothing that is recycled it is possible to save carbon dioxide emissions by half a ton?
Perhaps one can argue that more education needs to be provided to consumers to help increase their awareness of this issue as it if often thought there is too much differing advice out there, which causes the consumer confusion. Or, perhaps, this is just another excuse for us sticking our heads in the sand and hoping the problem goes away.
In light of our awakening to the impact of the fast fashion business, there has been a rise in ethical brands entering the marketplace and many of us do choose to step away from fast fashion in favor of our role in human responsibility. Ethical brands source sustainable ingredients, and sustainable initiatives, for example by sourcing more sustainable cotton to create premium sustainable pieces. However, fast fashion outlets continue to have the monopoly of the market and whilst this is the case, we cannot truly ever have a sustainable industry.
Here the challenge is the cost of an ethical brand’s product. In order to create a product which is ethical and sustainable, the cost is indeed higher and due to our behavior as humans the majority of us will continue to choose a cheaper item of clothing. The Evening Standard noted that in a survey carried out by Onepoll in 2018, sampling 2,000 respondents aged 18-35, “61 per cent of buyers have no interest in well-made, long-lasting clothing,” and, “over 70 per cent of buyers admitted to liking the idea of sustainable clothing but a third said they would not pay more than £5 extra for a sustainable garment.”
Slow fashion can not become the norm when the consumers themselves are unwilling to pay a premium for clothing and instead desire to chase the latest fashion trends at a rapid pace. The introduction and creation of new brands and new pieces of clothing is only adding to the problem itself, these products whilst bought with sustainability in mind could still end up only being worn a number of times before being sent to landfill. If you do need to purchase a new item of clothing, it is great to support and invest in a brand with an environmentally responsible outlook, but our focus overall should be in making a concerted effort to reduce our consumption.
As consumers, we like to believe that we are making a purchase decision which is favorable to the environment, however as human behavior has shown, fashion and shopping is often an irrational decision. In fact, an impulse purchase is almost synonymous with the fashion industry. Therefore our selfish, impulse buys, coupled with the societal pressure and belief that a purchase will make you happy, will continue to fuel the fast fashion industry.
It is paramount that we step away from fast fashion and shift the demand back to quality, not quantity. Without a doubt, it is our human behavior and selfish desires which are continuing to drive the demand for fast fashion and an exponential increase in the production of clothes which proportionately causes irreversible damage to the world we live in. It is up to us to start to consciously consume, slow down and ultimately shop less. Let us begin to influence our peers and future generations and continue to encourage the minimization and reduction of our fashion purchases. Let us think about the impact our decisions have. We are here to care for the environment, not destroy it.