Fashion x Climate Change
Of course, at this stage, we are all aware of the concept of global warming. The association we usually have is of gas guzzling cars and oil fields. But did you know that our clothing is basically the equivalent of driving around a monstrous SUV?
So first off, let’s break the whole global warming thing down (I, for one, have a hard time of keeping it all straight). Climate change, or global warming, is the rise in Earth’s overall temperature from the increase of greenhouse gases, with CO2 serving as the primary greenhouse gas emitter.
The major risk that global warming poses is the melting of the ice caps and the rise of the oceans, which would displace Zady (our office is just a stone’s throw from the water), but even before that global warming is showing its impact in increased drought conditions and flooding.
The climate changes to come will likely threaten access for many people to shelter, food, and water. Additionally, with the irreversible damage to the world’s ecosystems, including the extinction of a large portion of Earth’s vulnerable species, diseases will have the most extensive negative effects civilized humans have ever experienced. Sounds fun, right?
We know about our cars, we know about oil, but what fast fashion brands will not tell you is that our clothing is a big chunk of all the emissions and with individual apparel consumption continuing to rise, all our “cheap” clothes have a very expensive price for the environment.
Many processes and products that go into the making of fibers, textiles and apparel products consume significant quantities of fossil fuel. The fashion industry is actually responsible for a full 10% of the total carbon impact. That’s kind of insane considering the only message we’re ever told is to just buy more.
Let’s dig in now to what is causing the 10% contribution.
There are three layers to understanding this. First, the pace and which we are buying clothes, the impact each type of clothing fiber, and the power source of our fashion manufacturers.
Clothing Production on Overdrive
Today, we wear our clothing on average of only seven times before we get rid of it. Because of this disposability the global fashion industry is pumping out more clothes than ever, 150 billion pieces a year as a matter of fact, which is over twenty pieces of new clothing for every single person on the planet every single year. To get out all these clothes these factories are on over-drive.
Shift to Gas Guzzling Synthetic Fibers
Along with cheap clothing, we also have cheap fibers. Fibers are the base material that go into clothes, and now polyester has replaced cotton as the most common fiber in our clothes, it now in over 50% of our clothes.
And guess where polyester comes from? Let’s think back to those gas guzzling cars, yes, polyester comes from the same fossil fuel we use to fill our gas tank. And also like gas guzzling cars, pound for pound, polyester has a much higher impact than other natural fibers.
And as you can see the other synthetic fibers are even worse. Acrylic is 30% more energy intensive than even polyester!
The Fashion Industry’s Dirty Power Grid
We know that we have a system that’s running on overdrive, that pumping out dirty synthetic fiber, and then we get to add the power source that all of this is running on. The production phase, specifically where the spinning of the fibers takes place, is the part of the supply chain that relies the most heavily on energy.
Now, take a look at this map:
And now let’s see where our clothes are produced, the top two countries for fashion are China and Bangladesh. Both of these countries rely heavily on coal, the fossil fuel for their power supply. And our fashion factories are not any different. These factories, are plugged into that coal supplied grid pumping out all that clothing that we end up wearing just seven times.
So there you have it. Add clothing that is meant to be thrown out, with fibers that have a cheap sticker price but an expensive environmental price, and factories that are plugged into a coal-powered electricity grid and you have our dirty clothing industry.
But That’s Not all Folks
In addition to the output of greenhouse gas, the fashion industry is also responsible for limiting Earth’s natural ability to absorb all those greenhouse gasses. You can learn more about that in our pieces on soil, forests, and wool.
We believe that as a company we’re responsible to ensure the sustainability of our industry. Click on the links to learn more about how we define sustainability and our thoughts on the role of business in society.