The Fashion Industry vs the Environment

Hannah Willing/Hannahwillingg

Over the past few weeks, it’s been hard to miss the worldwide explosion of responses to Adam McKay’s somewhat controversial film, ‘Don’t Look Up’, which premiered on UK Netflix on Christmas Eve. The satirical film, which oozes wit and humour, has struck a chord with its audience due to the poignant environmental themes which interlace the plot. A comet – upon which the story is based – threatens the existence of all civilisation and yet is swiftly dismissed by much of society. It serves as a metaphor for the current state of the world; the very real and irreversible implications of our actions for the environment are constantly overlooked and scientists deemed neurotic by the media and general public.

It has been proven countless times that mankind possesses an incessant and irrational need to assert dominance over nature. Whether it be through the use of modern machinery, warfare or simply through greed and selfishness, we have exploited our home, Planet Earth, for centuries. Actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio has sought out projects with environmental undertones throughout his career and was drawn to his latest enterprise, ‘Don’t Look Up’, due to its unmistakeable analogy regarding the climate crisis and mankind’s inability to recognise the severity of the matter. The audience is presented with the hard facts which have often been all too easy to ignore, and consequently many viewers have felt the need to reflect upon their own carbon footprint.

Why chastise ourselves if its only one top, one pair of jeans?

It is a universally known fact that many industries are guilty of wreaking havoc on the wellbeing of our planet, and the need to spread this message has never been more urgent. As the second largest polluting trade – supplanted only by the oil business – the fashion industry has a lot to answer for. The figures are damning: the garment industry alone is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions, consuming more energy than the shipping and aviation industries combined. The price that society is forced to pay in order to stay up to date with the latest fashion trends is a climate crisis and the worldwide catastrophic consequences that it creates, which makes us ask: is it really worth it?

Fast fashion brands such as Missguided, Boohoo and Pretty Little Thing seduce their target demographic – young people – through ridiculously low prices, churning out hundreds of thousands of items in sweatshops and selling dresses for as little as 8p, even in the wake of a climate crisis. Many believe that it is the responsibility of these brands to educate their buyers and address these social and environmental issues, especially considering 40% of young consumers have expressed a desire to possess a greater understanding of eco-friendly fashion.

All is not lost, however; there is light at the end of the tunnel

The truth is, while some may remain blissfully unaware, many of us understand – at least to some extent – just how dangerous our shopping habits really are, but it’s easier to push the thought to the back of our minds and overlook the distressing facts. We’re all guilty of doing so at one point or another in life – ignorance is bliss, after all. One lone purchase surely can’t contribute to the damage, we assume, as we pass our credit card across the counter. Why chastise ourselves if its only one top, one pair of jeans?

The answer is simple: 8000 gallons of water are required to make a single pair of jeans, which equivalates to how much water one person drinks in seven years. Many of these briefly adored pieces are then discarded after only a few wears in order to make room for the newest and trendiest item; without a second glance, they are sent away to join their fallen comrades, the 21 billion tons of other rejected garments residing in landfills across the world. Consequently, according to Greenpeace, $500 billion is lost every year due to under-wearing and society’s cataclysmic failure to recycle clothes.

All is not lost, however; there is light at the end of the tunnel. Young people are picking up the pieces left behind by previous generations and are beginning to take constructive action. Brands which promote and support sustainability have seen an influx of business in recent years, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic created a rise in health, economic and environmental concerns. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of which businesses are environmentally conscious when spending their hard-earned cash; research demonstrates that over 60% of young people are prepared to ditch fast fashion entirely – a fact which came to fruition when, during lockdown, many made the important discovery that only a handful of the clothes in their wardrobe had actually been worn. Consequently, 39% of young UK consumers bought fewer first-hand fashion items in 2021.

In short, the fashion industry’s perspective and approach to eco-friendly fashion needs to shift radically. While the road to recovery will not be an easy one, this new generation of environmentally conscious consumers and emerging designers who are dedicating their careers to sustainability are paving the way for other liable industries and the rest of society, while simultaneously becoming the future of fashion.