Fast Fashion is a multi-billion-dollar industry which relies on high rates of consumption. It’s been around since the beginning of the 21st century, and has had an increasingly damaging impact on the planet. In this post, we’re going to take you through 7 fast fashion facts that are not well publicised or addressed by the fashion industry. The reason? They either question held beliefs about sustainability in fashion, or show underfunded areas where the fashion industry can improve.
1. Data on the fashion industry is not reliable
Fast fashion facts are very easy to come by, but much harder to verify. This was explored in articles by Racked in 2017 and Vox in 2020, and has since been picked up by the Transformers Foundation, who released their case study of cotton last year. The organisation stresses the need for clearer and better research on the fashion industry, and highlights the flawed history of “facts” like “cotton uses 25% of all pesticides”. Spreading the wrong fast fashion fact can be counter-productive.
In researching this article, TWOTHIRDS found that several fast fashion facts could be traced back to 404 errors, meaning that the data-source had since been removed. This was true of information like “Globally just 12% of the material used for clothing ends up being recycled” (cited source: Ellen Macarthur Foundation) and “4.3 million tonnes (of european textiles) go to landfill” (cited source: European Commission). We would therefore advise regarding any fast fashion fact and fashion industry facts with a healthy dose of scepticism, and always checking the source before inadvertently spreading misinformation. Full disclosure: there’s a chance that we’ve fallen into the same trap in the past by quoting with outrage from fashion industry facts that don’t have a source! Rest assured, it’s something we’re working hard to avoid.
2. Cotton is not a “thirsty crop”
The Transformers foundation report revealed that the fashion industry - including media, marketing, and PR - has been getting cotton wrong. It is frequently referred to as a “thirsty crop” which consumes high amounts of water, a fast fashion fact that is actually misleading. Cotton can be grown in arid regions and its global water consumption is supposedly proportionate to its land use. Transformers warn against “blaming unsustainable water management on a single crop”. The report says that we should rather be having an “open conversation” about the topic of sustainable water management in the context of cotton.
So, it’s wrong to refer to cotton as a thirsty crop, but does that mean it’s eco-friendly? Well, as far as we know, organic cotton is still better for the environment as it prohibits the use of synthetic pesticides. Some natural pesticides that are used in organic farming, however, can affect key pollinators like bees.
3. One fifth of european textile waste could be recycled
According to a recent McKinsey report (from July 2022), 30-35 percent of Europe's textile waste is being collected, but hardly any of it is being recycled into new clothing. This fashion industry fact shows that the industry is nowhere near as efficient as it should be. The management consultancy says that if enough funding was allocated, 18-26% of textile waste could be recycled back into clothing. That’s one-fifth of the 8.5-9 million tonnes of textile waste they expect Europe to produce in 2030.
Why does this matter? It shows that the EU, in collaboration with the fashion industry, needs to put more resources into recycling. This is crucial for reducing fashion’s impact on the environment.
4. Greenwashing is a big problem
These days every brand seems to be quote-unquote, “sustainable”. but not all green claims were created equal. Greenwashing happens “when companies present an exaggerated or even false image of having a positive impact on the environment.” This is especially true of fashion, where concerns about sustainability have been on the agenda for decades. Fashion brands are more likely to want to convince customers they’re doing their bit, when what they’re doing may not actually be making a difference.
This fast fashion fact is something to be aware of when you shop for any kind of fashion. Last month, the guardian reported that even the Sustainable Apparel Coalition doesn’t quite know how to untangle greenwashing from fashion. For simple tips, refer to our recent post on greenwashing!
5. Synthetics require more oil than Spain
In “dressed to kill”, a fashion report that pulls no punches, it is revealed that the fashion industry’s use of synthetic fibres is equivalent to 1.3% of global oil consumption. This figure, the authors say, is greater than the amount of oil consumed by Spain. In spite of their well-known negative impacts on the environment, synthetic fibres like polyester & nylon make up the greatest portion of fibres used in fashion.
Oil is a fossil-fuel which, when burnt, releases toxic gases that drive climate change. To become more sustainable, the fashion industry needs to deal with its addiction to synthetics, and cut ties with oil.
6. The average lifespan of a garment is 5 years
Well, 5.4 to be specific. Researchers arrived at this fashion fact by interviewing their subjects after they had thrown garments away. They found that older recipients had held onto their clothing for as long as 50 years, whereas the younger generation recorded below-average results. However, even an average of 5 years shows that garments do last longer than we think, suggesting that it is attitudes around how we use clothing that needs to change.
7. 85% of major brands do not say how much clothing they make
Lack of transparency runs riot in fast fashion. This fact was taken from Fashion Revolution’s annual report findings on the world’s major brands and their progress in supply chain transparency. Some ground has been made, with nearly 50% now listing their first-tier manufacturers. However, Fashion Revolution found that 85% were still not communicating how many styles they produce every year. This suggests they are continuing to ignore calls to reduce overproduction, one of the fashion industry’s most damaging characteristics.
Overproduction is caused by creating more stock than can reasonably be sold. Leftovers are rumoured to be burned or landfilled.
More research is needed to establish the fast fashion industry’s impact on the planet and how it can be reduced. The seven “Fast fashion facts” presented in this article have been selected to give you a clearer idea of what’s happening in the industry, and where progress is lacking. To drive change, avoid buying fast fashion, and support sustainable clothing brands that have a proven track record on environmental issues.