Fast fashion. It’s not a jumpsuit you wear to the running track, nor is it Vin Diesel’s new clothing line — thank heavens.
In recent years the notion of fast fashion has been making headlines around the world, with the fashion industry falling into the environmental spotlight.
Fast fashion is when stores continually release new collections inspired by fashion icons, trends, or celebrity styles, and make these items available to consumers at low costs.
Fast fashion comes at a price, and it’s not just the pain of looking at the neon yellow crop top in your wardrobe, that you bought last year in a shopping spree.
The negative environmental impacts of fast fashion include extensive resource use and insurmountable levels of textile waste in the form of discarded garments.
Not to mention that textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of clean water globally, next to agriculture. While some colors definitely look to dye for, we really don’t need to add a regal red tone to the sea.
Related: Why wear organic cotton T-shirts?
Then there are the human costs of the industry. Most of the world's clothing, including fast fashion from super brands, is still made in developing countries with low or no health and safety measures. There have been countless reports of fatal factory conditions, and on average the industry has 5.6 injuries per 100 workers per year. In comparison, a large sporting goods manufacturer only has 2.5.
More than 14 million people (meaning more than half the global fashion industry workforce) are paid less than half of what is considered a living wage.
But this is just the tip of the fast fashion iceberg. Let’s move on and see how it relates to sustainable T-shirts.
Sustainable cotton T-shirts — a rundown
The above is great and all, but surely there can’t be that much of a difference between a sustainable cotton T-shirts and a “normal” T-shirts, can there?
Well, it turns out there is a big difference. Let’s look at some of the factors:
Over the past seven years, products from many fast fashion brands have been tested for toxic residue. A number of products still contained hazardous chemicals, many of them banned or strictly regulated because they are toxic, carcinogenic, hormone-disruptive, or bio-accumulative, meaning once you get it in your system, it doesn’t go away. The agricultural processes for conventional, non-organic cotton are so toxic they have in extreme cases resulted in congenital disabilities (birth defects) in the children of cotton farmers.
By purchasing a sustainably produced T-shirt, you cut out all of these toxins from the production line. And really this is a no-brainer. You want a work suit, not a hazmat suit.
T-shirts, along with most other clothes in the fashion industry, are made from cotton. In fact, 40% of our clothing has cotton in it. But growing cotton requires a lot of water and pesticides to prevent crop failure. The pesticides have their own environmental consequences, such as contributing to colony collapse disorder, where bees and other pollinators die in large numbers. Conventional cotton covers 2.5% of the world's farmland but uses 10%–16% of the world's pesticides (herbicides, insecticides, and defoliants) — more than any other crop.
Furthermore, many developing nations lack sufficient investment in good irrigation systems, making them at risk of drought. Since 1950 the Aral Sea has lost 90% of its volume, primarily due to cotton production. The only fashion related items that should be loosing 90% of their volumes are 1980’s shoulder pads.
By going for organic instead of conventional cotton, you are cutting out almost all the herbicides and pesticides.
Organic cotton also uses around 70% less water, easing the strain on local ecosystems.
Unfortunately, right now less than 1% of the world’s annual cotton yield is organic.
We are not talking about the human dignity, and mental torture of being confronted with pictures of yourself in a ghastly, asymmetrical “power blazer”.
Remember the pesticide poisoning? Well, it’s not limited to the environment. Food and water supplies are easily contaminated from agricultural runoff; consequently, local communities suffer disease, illness, and the aforementioned congenital disabilities.
But buying a sustainably produced T-shirt ensures that workers have safe working conditions and a livable wage, which brings a higher standard of life to the local community.
Driving sustainable development one T-shirt at a time
Let’s look at some numbers about organic cotton. In 2014, sustainable T-shirt production saved more than 200 billion liters of water, 288.7 million kilowatts of energy (enough to power a 60 watt light bulb for half a million years!), and 92,5 million kg of CO2.
That’s a large environmental footprint taken off the earth. And remember, organic cotton is less than 1% of the global cotton production. This means that if we all bought organic, sustainably produced cotton, we would be adding two zeros to all of those numbers. That means 9 billion kilos of CO2. (or 9 million tons. In comparison the great pyramid of Giza weighs 5,7 million tons).
Ultimately, the best thing we can do to affect the industry is to keep our clothing in use for longer by buying quality items — and choosing timeless designs with multiple functionalities. There’s a reason classic cuts always work.
Related: What is sustainable luxury fashion?
Brands of the future — get used to sustainable T-shirts
In every major fashion metropolis across the world, sustainable fashion is on the rise. Buying quality products from sustainable sources is as much of a fashion statement as it is an ethical choice.
Anyone can buy a low-quality T-shirt made with child labor, but it takes a person of true style to buy something that looks great and takes the environment into account.
We’ll keep doing our part to ensure, that you always have the option of purchasing an organic, sustainable T-shirt that fits. No chemicals, no fleeting trends, just quality.
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