The fashion industry is thought to be responsible for around 10% of global carbon emissions, according to the United Nations.
Generating 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 (UNFCCC), that’s more than the aviation and shipping industries combined. By 2030, research predicts these emissions will rise to 2.7 billion tonnes of CO2.
As the world’s first sustainable email platform, EcoSend is on a mission to highlight the changes - big and small - that are needed to reduce the effects of climate change.
Today, it’s the turn of the fashion industry, since the clothes you’re currently wearing have a hidden carbon footprint.
Why Is Fashion So Bad For The Environment?
Fashion brand Maje has recently partnered with Fairly Made which is an organisation that measures the environmental and social impact of products.
Any items labelled as a ‘traceable product’ will list their environmental impact on the product page, so that customers can make informed decisions about their purchases.
To Maje's credit, not many fashion brands are so upfront about environmental aspects such as the country of production, materials, manufacturing techniques and transport methods.
Though, at 23,044km and 8kg of CO2 generated for a single garment this definitely paints a worrying picture. This is especially the case when you then think about every garment created by every fashion brand in the world.
So how did things end up this way? These are some of the top reasons for the current state of the fashion industry.
Clothes Are Imported Rather Than Made Locally
Image: The British Library
As of 2020, the top countries manufacturing textiles included China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, India and Turkey. The UK doesn’t even feature in the top 10 countries.
But it wasn't always this way.
Back in the Industrial Revolution (1760-1840), the textile industry was thriving in Britain producing materials such as cotton, silk and wool. In 1912, the cotton industry reached its peak, although all of this changed after the war when other countries such as Japan started producing cotton more cheaply.
Rising costs continued to push a decline in the British textiles industry, and during the 1960s and 1970s, mills were closing at a rate of one per week.
Fast forward to today, and there are a small amount of clothing manufacturers that still exist in the UK. However, the UK currently imports £27.7bn of clothing from overseas every year.
The reason why we import most of our clothing rather than make it in the UK remains due to the increased costs for retailers.
Although the high street may be synonymous with imported clothing, our above designer Maje piece was also imported from China, showing it is an industry-wide problem, rather than only applying to fast fashion stores.
Fashion Trends Change Frequently
Speaking of fast fashion, the whole idea of trends is that they consider what’s ‘popular right now’. These are decided by fashion houses, fashion editors and pop culture. But the whole idea is to make consumers want to keep up with the latest looks because their existing clothing is no longer in style. This is how they make their money!
Buying fashion based on the idea of trends is actually super wasteful, and is a huge driver of environmental pollution including CO2 and plastic waste.
Steve Jobs famously wore the same outfit every day. While that might be a tad extreme for most people, there is definitely something to be said for sticking to statement pieces in any wardrobe.
Think about this for a second. Say if you bought a whole new wardrobe based on current fashion trends. Even in a year's time some of those pieces might be 'last season'. In 5 years? You can pretty much guarantee all of those trends would have long faded into the background.
When you free yourself from the need to keep up with trends - you inevitably reduce your personal carbon footprint.
FYI - You can still create an individual look with fashion without having to only wear new items!
Poor Quality Materials = Short Item Lifecycles
The demand to produce large volumes of clothing for the lowest possible price often means most garments aren’t made to last. The producers and retailers know this - yet they continue to produce clothing in this way, since they expect you to just keep on buying new clothes.
Some of the cheapest fabrics to produce in the fashion industry include synthetic polyester, elastane, nylon, cotton and viscose.
If you’re wondering why these fabrics are so cheap, that’s because synthetic fabrics are derived from 63% petrochemicals. Therefore, even sourcing the raw material has an environmental cost, before we even get to the quality of the finished fabric.
As cheap fabrics are used to keep up with fast fashion trends, the trade-off is garments which lose quality fast. Often the signs are notable after the first wash of the garment and can include stretching, shrinking, pilling or ripping of the material.
Unsold Products May Be Destroyed
A report by the BBC found that Burberry has burned £90 million worth of stock over the last five years. The company cited ‘not wanting its products to be sold cheaply or stolen’ as the reason.
Across the wider fashion industry, The Round Up reports 92 million tonnes of textile waste are produced every year. Only 1% of clothes get recycled into new garments.
Once again, we think of textile waste as something perhaps only associated with fast fashion brands, when in reality it is an industry-wide problem. Most consumers simply have no idea of the carbon footprint of their clothes, let alone the waste being produced by their favourite brands.
How Can I Reduce My Fashion Carbon Footprint?
Having awareness is the first step to solving any problem. While fashion brands may be the ones at fault, ultimately we’re their customers.
Therefore, where we spend our money and how can have a huge impact on making change.
Organisations such as the Ellen Macarthur Foundation have put together recommendations on how the fashion industry can improve its climate credentials. Take a read of their ‘Our vision of a circular economy for fashion’ to read these in full.
Other top tips:
Don’t be a slave to fashion! - This will reduce the amount you buy, and also the amount of money you save.
Ditch single use outfits - i.e. special occasion garments that cannot be re-worn, or customised outfits with time-sensitive information (such as printed t-shirts).
Consider whether you already have something similar in your wardrobe you could wear instead of buying new.
When buying clothes, purchasing fewer clothes made from high quality sustainable fabrics will work out both cheaper and more sustainable in the long run than fast fashion fabrics.
Opt for clothing brands which take sustainability seriously.
Look at the life cycle of a garment, and think about how it could be repurposed or reused in the future.
Avoid synthetic fabrics wherever possible.
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Every email we send generates up to 26g of CO2. While that might not sound too big of a problem, given 300 billion emails are sent every day that soon adds up.
EcoSend supports businesses to reduce their carbon footprint. Our systems run on renewable energy sources, and we plant trees on behalf of our customers just for using us. We’re also investing some of our profits into climate-related causes.
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Have any questions about switching your email marketing platform over to EcoSend? Visit our Support page to learn more.