Can world fashion be sustainable?

Hazel Needham

Hazel Needham

Luckily, over the past 6 million years, the Earth has been pretty good at sustaining us, humans. Because of its supply of precious natural resources like freshwater, it has also been pretty good at sustaining the 8 million species of plants and animals that we share it with. 

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Just how much fast fashion is being produced globally?

Numbers in their millions are difficult to comprehend. But when we talk about a number, for example, like 100 billion – 100,000,000,000 –  8 million suddenly seems much smaller.

Precious, even.

With these numbers in mind, let’s talk about world fashion. We’ve heard of terms like ‘sustainable fashion’ and ethical fashion, but what does it really mean, and why does it matter?

Photo of a washing line of earthy coloured clothes across a green landscape and blue sky

The industry tanking the planets water supply 

Guess how many items of clothing are produced globally each year?

100 billion.

Guess how many litres of precious water which is supporting all 8 million species on the planet it takes to make something basic in today’s fashion world,  like a pair of jeans?

2700.

Considering each human drinks 2 litres of water a day to survive, 3 years and 8 months of drinking water are being used in that single pair of jeans.

Now times that by 100 billion.

Whilst these figures may seem incomprehensible, one thing is very clear. World fashion is messing up how the Earth can sustain us. And when there isn’t any clean water to drink or the air has been poisoned by carbon dioxide emissions and the chemicals used to make our ‘plain’ t-shirts, I imagine we will have worse things to worry about than ASOS selling out in your size.

Reshaping world fashion does not mean kissing goodbye the joys of nice clothes. I’m not calling for pre-Garden of Eden naturalism (though no judgment to those who are that way inclined). According to the Oxford Dictionary, sustainability literally means ‘the ability to maintain’, and slow fashion brands understand that an ideal fashion world is one that doesn’t destroy the very Earth that is sustaining us. 

Let’s go back to our 100 billion garments produced each year. Guess how many of them end up in landfills within a year of being purchased?

3 out of 5. That’s more than 60 billion items annually, and more litres of freshwater than I can bear to calculate. With the World Wildlife Foundation estimating that over 60% of the population will face freshwater shortages by 2025, it is evident that fast fashion is detrimental to the natural world, needless to say, it is detrimental to humans, too.

Clothes piled up in a landfill in Syria

Too many fast fashion brands design their clothes without considering sustainability. Or worse, clothes are deliberately made as cheaply as possible, with poor quality materials and exploitative labour costs, each garment wearing quickly, and being replaced even quicker.  

As mentioned in the above BBC video, all is not lost. Nature’s power of regeneration is remarkable if we give it the space to heal. Here are some super simple ways that you can stop buying into a fashion world that destroys the planet, and instead, build your wardrobe sustainably. It’s time to look after the Earth the way that it looks after us.

1) Consider every purchase 

Is that new pair of jeans really worth it? Or could we be doing something more important with that 3 years and 8 months’ worth of drinking water?

2) Buy quality

The opposite of fast fashion is slow fashion. If we only buy durable and high-quality clothes, they won’t need to be dumped in landfills after a few washes.

3) Recycle and repurpose

Whether it’s charity shops, recycling, or DIY revamping, including using brand initiatives like Patagonia’s Worn Wear, there are loads of ways we can prevent the need for new clothes and new resources.

4) Changing attitudes towards fast fashion 

In her Ted Talk about breaking up with Fast Fashion, Gabriella Smith talks about her revolutionized attitude to clothes.

By distancing herself from common problematic outfit beliefs, including needing a new dress for every special occasion and the ‘I have nothing to wear’ anxiety, we are liberated to adopt a slow fashion model that is sustainable and ethical.

5) Sustainable, clean, and considered fashion 

Avoid the big polluters of the industry and use slow fashion brands. Invest in your future, not the businesses that are driven purely by sales and capital.

Indigenous people - Leonardo Dicaprio Foundation

All of One Tribe’s partners are using technology that means their sales directly protect the rainforest. These are brands that understand that 100 billion is way, way too much. Check out our article about Patagonia to see what the sustainable future of our fashion world really looks like.

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