We are buying twice as many clothes as we did in the nineties. But this is not a fairy tale story.
In fact, the fashion industry is a huge problem for the environment, and for the climate. Not to mention the questions it raises about ethics and fairness.
Here are five reasons why the clothing industry is a serious problem:
1. There is a large overproduction and overconsumption of clothing
Clothing chains make a living by getting you and me to buy as many clothes as possible, even when we do not need any more clothes. This is what we call overconsumption.
Since the 1990s, people in Europe have been buying almost twice as many clothes (measured in kilos of clothes) for their money. And the majority of those clothes are imported.
And what is worse: we don’t wear our new clothes for very long! Vast quantities of clothes are discarded, either in landfills, or sent abroad. (See: ‘Where Fast Fashion Goes To Die’)
2. We have gone from “fast fashion” to “ultra-fast fashion”.
Both the price and the quality of clothes are going down. This is possible due to the use of cheap fibres in the clothes, made of plastic, and low wages for those who make the clothes and poor working conditions in the factories.
3. The clothing industry pollutes and exploits workers in countries where the clothes are made
Our cheap clothes are subsidised by poor people in developing countries: The workers making the clothes we buy often face dangerous and exploitative working conditions, with extremely low pay, poor working conditions, long working days, and no right to join a trade union.
4. Synthetic clothing releases microplastics.
Most of the clothes lying on rubbish heaps around the world are made of plastic, because two thirds of the clothes made today are made of synthetic fibres.
Landfills worldwide are a major source of microplastic emissions. This is because the clothes slowly break down into microplastics, seeping down into the ground and out into rivers and waterways. Researchers estimate that as much as 35 percent of the microplastics in the ocean come from textiles made from plastic.
In the last 20 years, we have doubled the use of plastic in the production of textiles. This is because it is much cheaper to make clothes from plastic than from natural materials.
Around the world, people are buying 60 percent more clothes than they did 15 years ago. And they use them only half as long.
Tips to reduce the spread of micro-plastics:
Buy fewer new clothes
Buy used clothes in natural materials
Wear the clothes you have longer
Buy fewer clothes made from synthetic fibres
Wash synthetic fabrics less frequently and on a more gentle program
Use milder detergents
5. Secrecy around surplus stock
It is not only the used clothes that create a waste crisis in the world, but also the large stocks of leftover clothes that the clothing manufacturers and distributors are left with every year.
But clothing chains cannot, or will not, disclose figures on quite how many clothes are going to waste each year. Figures from Norway indicate that the amounts are staggering, as Norwegian clothing chains are left with at least 700 tonnes of unsold clothing every year.
The Norwegian chains say they donate 600 tonnes of unsold clothing to charities, which are sold in countries where the brand does not have stores or sell clothing in other ways. They also state that 95 tons of unsold clothes are simply burned. This is because current rules give companies a tax deduction for so-called “obsolete goods” that are destroyed, while they have to pay VAT to donate unsold goods to collectors.
But in the absence of obligatory reporting standards, the information about surplus stocks will remain a bit of a mystery, for now.