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The drop in garment prices over the last 20 years has allowed us to buy more and more clothes. We now have 5 times more clothes than our grandparents had. It felt great until we found out what was hiding behind this trend.

In reality, this continuous accumulation of cheap garments is only possible because of a constant reduction of production costs. This, in turn, has serious consequences on our health, our planet, and on garment workers’ lives.

 

It has become a challenge to wear a garment more than five times. Why?

1) Garment quality is declining every year. As a result, our clothes immediately look faded, shapeless, or worn out.

2) Trends are changing so quickly that we cannot keep up. We continue to purchase just to stay up to date.

This is Fast Fashion: Mass-production of cheap, disposable clothing. Countless new collections per year make us feel constantly out of date and encourage us to keep buying more.

What can we change about it? 

Find out about the available alternatives in the section "How to reduce our impact".

 
 

The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world just after the oil industry. And the environmental damage is increasing as the industry grows.

However, there are solutions and alternatives to mitigate these problems. The first step lies in building awareness and willingness to change.

 

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In most of the countries in which garments are produced, untreated toxic wastewaters from textiles factories are dumped directly into the rivers.

Wastewater contains toxic substances such as lead, mercury, and arsenic, among others. These are extremely harmful for the aquatic life and the health of millions of people living by those rivers banks. The contamination also reaches the sea and eventually spreads around the globe. 

Another major source of water contamination is the use of fertilizers for cotton production, which heavily pollutes runoff waters and evaporation waters.

What can we do about it?

  • Choose clothes made in countries with stricter environmental regulations for factories (EU, Canada, US...)

  • Choose organic fibers and natural fibers that do not require chemicals to be produced

Source: Gigie Cruz-Sy / Greenpeace

Source: Gigie Cruz-Sy / Greenpeace

 
 
 

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The fashion industry is a major water consumer. 
Huge quantity of fresh water is used for the dyeing and finishing process for all of our clothes.  As reference, it can take up to 200 tons of freshwater per ton of dyed fabric.  

Also, cotton needs A LOT of water to grow (and heat), but is usually cultivated in warm and dry areas. Up to 20,000 liters of water are needed to produce just 1kg of cotton. This generates tremendous pressure on this precious resource, already scarce, and has dramatic ecological consequences such as the desertification of the Aral Sea, where cotton production has entirely drained the water (see pictures above).  

"85 % of the daily needs in water of the entire population of India would be covered by the water used to grow cotton in the country. 100 million people in India do not have access to drinking water." says Stephen Leahy from The Guardian.

What can we do about it?

FASHION & WATER CONSUMPTION
 
 
 

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Every time we wash a synthetic garment (polyester,nylon, etc), about 1,900 individual microfibers are released into the water, making their way into our oceans. Scientists have discovered that small aquatic organisms ingest those microfibers. These are then eaten by small fish which are later eaten by bigger fish, introducing plastic in our food chain. See more info #WhatsInyMyWash and on Stop! Micro Waste.

What can we do about it?

Cora Ball/Rozalia Project

 
 
 

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Clothing has clearly become disposable. As a result, we generate more and more textile waste. A family in the western world throws away an average of 30 kg of clothing each year. Only 15% is recycled or donated, and the rest goes directly to the landfill or is incinerated. 

Synthetic fibers, such as polyester, are plastic fibers, therefore non-biodegradable and can take up to 200 years to decompose. Synthetic fibers are used in 72% of our clothing.

What can we do about it?

The True Cost Movie

The True Cost Movie

 
 
 

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Chemicals are one of the main components in our clothes.

They are used during fiber production, dyeing, bleaching, and wet processing of each of our garments.

The heavy use of chemicals in cotton farming is causing diseases and premature death among cotton farmers, along with massive freshwater and ocean water pollution and soil degradation.

Some of these substances are also harmful to the consumer (see section about toxicity). 

What can we do about it?

The True Cost Movie

The True Cost Movie

 
 
 

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The apparel industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions.

The global fashion industry is generating a lot of greenhouse gases due to the energy used during its production, manufacturing, and transportation of the million garments purchased each year.

Synthetic fibers (polyester, acrylic, nylon, etc.), used in the majority of our clothes, are made from fossil fuel, making production much more energy-intensive than with natural fibers.

Most of our clothes are produced in China, Bangladesh, or India, countries essentially powered by coal. This is the dirtiest type of energy in terms of carbon emissions.  

Also, according to James Conca from FORBES: " Cheap synthetic fibers also emit gases like N2O, which is 300 times more damaging than CO2."

What can we do about it?

FASHION & GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS
 
 

 
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The soil is a fundamental element of our ecosystem. We need healthy soil for food production but also to absorb CO2.  The massive, global degradation of soil is one of the main environmental issues our planet is currently facing. It presents a major threat to global food security and also contributes to global warming. 

The fashion industry plays a major part in degrading soil in different ways: overgrazing of pastures through cashmere goats and sheep raised for their wool; degradation of the soil due to massive use of chemicals to grow cotton; deforestation caused by wood-based fibers like rayon.  

What can we do about it?

FASHION  & SOIL DEGRADATION
 
 

 
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Every year, thousands of hectares of endangered and ancient forests are cut down and replaced by plantations of trees used to make wood-based fabrics such as rayon, viscose, and modal.

This loss of forests is threatening the ecosystem and indigenous communities, as in Indonesia where large-scale deforestation of the rainforests has taken place over the past decade.

What can we do about it?

FASHION & RAINFOREST DESTRUCTION
 

 

We have known this for decades: most of our clothes are made in countries in which workers’ rights are limited or non-existent.  In fact, production sites are regularly moving location, on the lookout for ever cheaper labour costs.

We often hear company owners saying that "for these workers, it is better than nothing”, “at least we give them a job”, and to a certain extent, they are right.  But it is also right to say that they are exploiting the misery and taking advantage of poor populations who have no choice but to work for any salary, in any working conditions. Even the European Parliament is using the term “slave labour” to describe the current working conditions of garment workers in Asia.

We know that if working conditions improve in one country, companies will just move to another. We believe that we cannot expect much from the corporate world or from governments if consumers do not push for a change.

 

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Many fashion brands assure their customers that the workers who made their clothing are paid "at least the minimum legal wage". But what exactly does that mean? 
First of all, it means that many other brands do not even pay the minimum legal salary! 

Furthermore, in most of the manufacturing countries (China, Bangladesh, India...), the minimum wage represents between half to a fifth of the living wage. A living wage represents the bare minimum that a family requires to fulfil its basic needs (food, rent, healthcare, education, etc). So, in summary, these brands are bragging about paying their employees 5 times less than what a person actually needs to live with dignity…

 

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Garment workers are often forced to work 14 to 16 hours a day, 7 days a week. During peak season, they may work until 2 or 3 am to meet the fashion brand's deadline. Their basic wages are so low that they cannot refuse overtime - aside from the fact that many would be fired if they refused to work overtime. In some cases, overtime is not even paid at all. 

The True Cost Movie

The True Cost Movie

 
 
 

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The collapse of the Rana Plaza in 2013, killing 1134 garment workers in Dhaka, Bangladesh, has revealed the unacceptable working conditions of the whole fashion industry to the world. 
Employees usually work with no ventilation, breathing in toxic substances, inhaling fiber dust or blasted sand in unsafe buildings. Accidents, fires, injuries, and disease are very frequent occurrences on textile production sites. 

On top of that, clothing workers regularly face verbal and physical abuse. In some cases, when they fail to meet their (unreachable) daily target, they are insulted, denied breaks, or not allowed to drink water.   

Tazreen Fashions fire Bangladesh

Tazreen Fashions fire Bangladesh

 
 
 

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168 million children in the world are forced to work.  
Because the fashion industry requires low-skilled labour, child labour is particularly common in this industry. 
In South India, for example, 250,000 girls work under the Sumangali scheme, a practice which involves sending young girls from poor families to work in a textile factory for three or five years in exchange for a basic wage and a lump sum payment at the end to pay for their dowry. Girls are overworked and live in appalling conditions that can be classified as modern slavery.

 
Child labor in the fashion industry
 

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Many cases of forced labour have also been reported along the supply chain of the fashion industry.  

The most infamous example takes place in Uzbekistan, one of the world’s largest cotton exporters. Every autumn, the government forces over one million people to leave their regular jobs and go pick cotton. Children are also mobilized and taken out of school to harvest cotton. 

 
forced labour in the fashion industry
 

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In most of these factories, garment workers are not allowed to form unions to defend their rights collectively. 
Governments law and specific regulations in export zones where factories are established often restrict the creation of unions, like in Bangladesh, where only 10% of the 4,500 garment factories have a registered union. 
Factories also threaten and physically attack unions members or fire them with total impunity, which does not encourage employees to form unions. 

If their workers had more of a voice, they might have been able to resist managers who ordered them to work in the doomed building a day after large cracks appeared in it.
— Human Right Watch representative after the Rana Plaza tragedy
Union prohibition in the fashion industry

Chemicals are used in every part of the textile production for making fibers, bleaching and dyeing fabrics, etc… When they arrive in the shops, our clothes still contain a lot of chemicals, even clothes made of "100% natural" fiber. Our skin is our body's largest organ and absorbs anything we put on it, including chemicals in our clothes. These can present a real danger to our health.

How are they harmful?

A Greenpeace study for the Detox Campaign has identified 11 chemicals frequently used to make our clothes that contain toxins, carcinogens, and hormone disruptors which should be banned, but currently aren't.

Some Studies show that certain chemical substances contained in pajamas, can be found in a child's urine 5 days after wearing those pajamas for one night.

A recent study found hazardous chemicals in 63% of the items tested from 20 different textile brands (including fashion giants).  

What can we do about it? 

  • Always wash new clothes before using them for the first time.

  • Look for garments with chemical content certification label such as OEKO-TEX®, GOTS, or BLUESIGN®.

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