Face current situation globally
In previous times our ancestors had 1-3 pairs of garments (probably 1 casual and 1 festive clothing). Nowadays, we have our wardrobes full of clothes and still, sometimes complain that we don’t have anything to wear and are checking the sales again and again. On average a person consumes 11.4 kg of apparel each year (for Germany this number is around 12 kg of the clothes per year). In the meantime, one garbage truck of clothes is burned or sent to landfills every second! Our demand raised significantly (the average person buys 60% more items of clothing as 15 years ago), but the time we use &wear garments reduced, meaning that we can wear an item of apparel few times or even worse, only once!
As a result, all the clothing industry is based on the constant demand of consumers and uses the premise of “fast fashion,” which is usually characterized by high volume, low margin, and disposable items, providing clothes cheaply and quickly to buyers. Despite the growing awareness of the people about it, some shocking predictions had been made by Greenpeace in 2017:
- Fashion consumption is expected to grow, with sales of clothing projected to rise to 2.1 trillion dollars by 2025.
- Apparel consumption is expected to rise by 63% from 62 million tons today to 102 million tons in 2030.
Meet the consequences worldwide
The above mentioned fast fashion model of buying, wearing and immediately discarding clothes has tremendous negative impacts both on human beings and the planet’s resources. They include economic, social and environmental aftermaths.
The economic implications refer to the value of the global fashion industry, which was in 2016 around 3 trillion dollars that equals 2 % of the world’s GDP. At the same time discarding cloth also costs money and annually this value is more than 400 billion dollars. The last point is that a huge amount of the world’s population is employed in the clothing industry, though, it is interconnected as well with some social issues.
Social repercussions. The data says that around 80 % of apparel is made by young women between the ages of 18 and 24, including poor (ever dangerous for the health) working conditions and extremely low level of salary that is not even disparate with the price of the items they made.
Environmental issues include a wide variety of negative consequences, which is better to present in some figures:
- Water pollution & consumption. 20 % of overall industrial water pollution comes from textiles treatment and dying. It takes 2,700 litres of water to make 1 cotton shirt, that can be enough to provide for the average person drinking water for 2.5 years! Another dramatic ecological consequence can be seen in the example of the Aral Sea, where cotton production has entirely drained the water and led to desertification.
- Waste stockpile. A “typical” family in the western world throws away an average of 30 kg of clothing each year. Only 15% of it is recycled or donated, and the rest goes directly to the landfill or is burned. Discarded clothing made of non-biodegradable fabrics can sit in landfills for up to 200 years.
- Chemicals. Different types of chemicals are one of the major components of clothes. Among all the chemicals that are produced worldwide 23 % is accounted for the textile industry. Besides, to produce 1 kg of textile the same amount of chemicals is required!
- Greenhouse gases. The global fashion industry is the second-largest polluter in the world (only the oil industry comes ahead). It is generating a lot of greenhouse gases because of the energy used during production, manufacturing, and transportation of the millions of garments that humans are purchasing each day. Just for your understanding: to make a pair of jeans discharges as much greenhouse gases as driving approximately 150 km by car.
- Global soil degradation & deforestation. The fashion industry responsible for almost 93% of the world’s soil degradation due to overgrazing of pastures; massive use of chemicals to grow cotton; deforestation as 5 % of the cloth industry is based on the forest-based fabrics, that is leading to large cut down of the trees, nearly 70 million every year.
Experience fast fashion in Germany
Nowadays, in Germany, prosper a high level of awareness regarding environmental issues, however, in the clothing industry not as strong. An intriguing fact is that since 2017 the biggest import partners of Germany in the textile and clothing industry are China, Bangladesh, Turkey, Italy, and India. When we look at this statistic, it is understandable and shows from where our cloth frequently comes (90 % from non-EU countries) and which working conditions we assume can be there. According to studies, Germans spent about 129 million euros on fair-trade textiles in 2017, which is a significant positive increase in comparison to 2016 (by 66 %).
On the other hand, even eco-conscious younger customers are willing to appeal more to the accessibility of fast fashion. For example, German buyers spent 3.2 billion euros at H&M last year, which made Germany the largest market of the fast-fashion retailer’s. Another point that people, especially the younger generation, are eager to buy online, and that is why such retailer as Zalando (sells fast fashion products also ) is the largest e-commerce business in the country. The preferences for fast fashion can be also proved by the amount of money, which people, who are living in Germany spent on clothes per year. For instance, estimated figures in 2019 are 719 euros on clothing per person, which pretty below some other European countries like Italy (834 euros) or the UK (1133 euros ).
Learn possible solutions & alternativeson the personal level
Taking into consideration everything that was researched above, it is time to talk about particular actions. As some steps are already done, but mainly by the young people, for example:
- Buying second hand. It can be not only physical shop, but also there are opportunities online, like KleiderKreisel.
- Choosing sustainable (ideally local ones) companies that are based on longevity, design, test and invest in business models that reuse clothes and maximize their serviceable life.
- Exchange: donating the things that people don’t need/like anymore, swapping with friends, relatives or random people (some initiatives are organising swapping parties), renting clothes for the short period urges (like pregnancy, or evening outfit).
- Taking good care, mending clothes without throwing them away immediately when it doesn’t fit anymore. Making it new and give a second life while editing some parts, for example, I've downgraded my mom's dress that she was wearing at the age that I am right now.
- Showing position actively such as making a meaningful action, playing a street theatre with local organizations, going on a demonstration, educating friends and relatives. As only with a more all-embracing engagement of the people youth can make a change!