An increasingly relevant topic, what it is, and why you should care.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) the average Australian consumer sends around 23kgs of textile waste to landfills every year. Textile waste includes products such as clothing, footwear, fashion accessories and towels, however the biggest contributor to textile waste is fast fashion.
Fast-fashion can be defined as exceedingly cheap, on-trend clothing that is produced, sold, and then discarded at breakneck speed. It’s generally characterised by thousands of low quality garments in a variety of styles that are produced in a very short time, most usually manufactured cheaply offshore using cheap materials, and cheap labour.
The University of Queensland reports approximately 80 billion new pieces of clothing are consumed every year around the globe, which is 400 per cent more than two decades ago. This is a staggering increase, and less than 10% of this is currently recycled, or reused in any way. Most of these pieces of clothing are now ending up in landfills within a year of being purchased, as the trend towards purchasing new clothes every season grows and grows.
Although it has only been around for roughly two decades, fast fashion is the growing phenomenon that is causing concern amongst ethical consumers. It is increasingly common for the average consumer to buy a ‘trendy’ top for less than $15, wear it once or twice, and then throw it away completely. This is creating unprecedented levels of textile waste and poor spending habits in our generation.
So, let’s dive into this topic!
First Up: Pollution on a Global Scale
According to recent statistics, globally the fashion industry is the second largest polluter, with the environmental damage only increasing year on year as the industry grows. To keep the costs of the fashion products low, cheap, toxic textile dyes are used to colour them. These dyes pollute the water sources around the factories with harmful chemicals such as lead, mercury and arsenic; poisoning the water itself, damaging aquatic habitats, and harming the health of the people living nearby. Some fabrics are made from fossil fuels, such as polyester, and it contributes to plastic pollution in our water.
The fashion industry is also a huge consumer of water resources. Did you know that it takes around 20,000 litres of water to produce just one kilogram of cotton? This is roughly just one shirt and pair of jeans! While nearly 800 million humans don’t have access to clear and safe drinking water, the fashion industry is using more than 1.5 trillion liters of water each year – and most products end up in the landfills!
In addition to using up, and poisoning water ways, the detrimental impacts of fast fashion to the environment is also felt through soil degradation. There is mass overgrazing of pastures by goats to produce cashmere and angora, wide-spread use of harmful chemicals to grow cotton, and increasing deforestation to make way for space to produce wood-based fibres like rayon. The clothing industry now accounts for a total of 10% of global carbon emissions, and this number only looks to increase.
The Human Cost
Detrimental impacts to the environment are one thing, but what about the human cost of fast fashion? If numerous brands can afford to sell products for $15 and still make a profit- how much are they paying their workers?
Over 80% of textile workers are underpaid, and work in less than ideal conditions. The documentary “The True Cost” highlights some of the serious production ethical issues with fast fashion. It is not uncommon for workers in poorer countries to be subjected to dangerous environments, low wages and lack of basic human rights.
Fast Fashion and Your Wallet
Not only is Fast Fashion damaging to the environment, our water, and unfair to those who work in the production – it’s not great for your wallet either. Fast fashion is a sneaky expense; it’s hard to see how buying a cheap item can impact your finances in the long run however, all these purchases add up as you go through the latest trends or need to replace items due to low quality materials breaking down.
At Pursue Wealth we are big advocates for spending in alignment with your values and we know there are some ladies (and gentlemen!) in our community who love to express themselves with their style. Becoming a more conscious consumer does not mean you need to completely abstain from purchasing clothes, instead, you may want to research more about the brands you’re purchasing from, or spend more on good quality garments that you will love and wear for many years.
What Can I Do?
The good news is that there are many more environmentally, and wallet-friendly alternatives to fast-fashion. Besides abstaining from new purchases, the best of these options is to recycle your items and buy second-hand because this bypasses the manufacturing process and the item is saved from landfill.
Here are some other ways in which you can practise conscious consumerism:
- Support your area’s local ethical business;
- Conduct a little research on your favourite brands to double check that their practices match your values and ethics;
- Make a conscious decision to purchase less – ultimately, this is the best way to buck the system. Invest in pieces that will last longer than a season and that you’ll receive a greater cost per wear on each item- this is great for your budget!
- Consider a capsule wardrobe – capsule wardrobes are a great way to be a more conscious consumer. Get back to basics with a wardrobe of fewer, high quality items that pair well together.
- Hit the op shops! Buying second hand clothing is not only sustainable but it can be a really good way to stand out by having items in your wardrobe that no one else has, plus it’s great for the budget!
- Wait 15 days before making a purchase of a new item. Oftentimes, we go on autopilot and spend without really considering the (lack of) value fast fashion brings to our life. Waiting it out will allow these impulses to pass and you might realise that you don’t need the latest pants afterall!
Our Personal Principles
If you have read through this article, and you feel passionate about making the switch from fast fashion we would love to help you work this into your financial plan! If you want further guidance on how you can get started, you can book in to chat with one of our advisers through this link.