Updated: Sep 17, 2020
When you think of pollution you usually think of trash, factory smoke, or oil spills...not the shirts on our backs.
The clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world after oil.
Fast fashion is like the fast food of the clothing industry.
Although most clothing companies are based in the U.S., the products are primarily manufactured in developing countries: Asia being the major clothing exporter.
About 22 billion new clothing items are bought by Americans yearly. 2% of those items are domestically manufactured.
The reason for the large amount of pollution is because of the extensive supply chain.
Raw Material -> Textile Manufacturer -> Clothing Construction -> Shipping -> Retail -> Use -> Disposal
This chain includes pesticides in cotton farming, toxic dyes, large amounts of natural resources, and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).
More than half a trillion gallons of fresh water per year are used in just the dyeing of textiles. That waste water is is then discharged, usually untreated, into near by rivers. (Side note: all rivers lead to the sea).
2.6% of global water use is consumed by the manufacture of Cotton.
Even organic cotton uses 5,000 gallons of water.
Synthetic fibers use less water to manufacture, but they still produce a lot of pollution.
Polyester is made from petroleum. This process is energy intensive, takes large amounts of crude oil, and releases many VOCs.
When these textiles are washed, they shed microfibers (microplastics) into the environment.
The Citarum River in Indonesia is considered the most polluted river in the world due to hundreds of textile factories lining its shores (as well as plastic pollution). It is so severe that the stream can burn human skin...
What is "Fast Fashion" exactly?
Fast fashion is inexpensive designs that move quickly from production to retail stores. This includes cheap textiles, cheap workers in developing countries with very little pay in harsh work environments. They do not keep in mind the use of water, or how they dispose of or where their waste ends up.
Examples of "Fast Fashion" companies: