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Fast Fashion And Sustainable Fashion: What Is It All About?

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11 Oct 2022

6 Min Read

Michelle Lee (Guest Contributor), Josephine Serena (Editor)

IN THIS ARTICLE

Does sustainable fashion only impact the community socially? Are there any other aspects which sustainable fashion impacts us? Michelle Lee explores below.

In my previous article, I talked about what fast fashion is and its social impact. But beyond its effects on society, fast fashion devastatingly affects the environment too. While all of us indulge in shopping sprees and clothing hauls to flaunt on TikTok, have you ever wondered how this actually affects planet earth? I hate to tell you this, it’s a lot.

The Product Life Cycle

The Product Life Cycle

Before we talk about its environmental impact, it’s essential for us to address the life cycle of a fast fashion garment. In fact, fast fashion doesn’t consider the whole product lifecycle. Fast fashion produces cheap, non-durable clothing items which follow an inefficient linear life cycle. What does that mean?  It’s when products are ultimately created for one use, and after they’ve fulfilled their use, they’re considered waste. Think of it almost like single-used plastics. After creation, these garments are distributed, sold, used, and disposed of sometimes in a matter of months. I’m sure some of you have experienced buying a poorly made garment that you’ve only worn once and swore you’d never wear it again.

 

On another hand, fashion brands should instead consider pursuing sustainable fashion which focuses on a more holistic way to produce clothing. Product life cycle sustainability is a method of green product life cycle, an approach which involves the following phases: design, manufacturing and service, including usability and renewal. This approach is responsible for minimising any negative impact on the environment by suggesting a framework for sustainable product development that takes the whole product lifecycle into account.

#1. Materials Used

 Materials Cycle

Moving on, fast fashion garments are typically made using fossil fuels, which includes synthetic fibres. Synthetic fibres are man-made, prepared from raw material petroleum called petrochemicals. As a result, these fabrics release varying amounts of toxic by-products, both pre and post-production. Examples of synthetic fibres include polyester, acrylic, nylon, etc. In return, the production of non-environmental friendly materials increases the average global temperature through, which leads to a continuous rise in global warming in the long run. 

 

On the contrary, natural fibres are directly derived from living organisms, such as plants (like cotton) or fur from animals. For instance, recycled cotton, organic hemp and organic lenin. Sustainable fashion involves choosing sustainable fabrics when producing clothes to make our wardrobes more eco-friendly and combat the dangers of our ever growing fast fashion industry. Let’s take a look at some natural fibres and futuristic and innovative fibres when producing, or purchasing clothes!

Natural Fibres

 

Recycled Cotton

According to the Higg Materials Sustainability Index, recycled cotton is a more sustainable alternative to organic cotton and has the potential to help reduce water and energy consumption, keeping cotton clothes out of landfill. 

 

Organic Hemp

Organic Hemp is grown all around the world, and requires very little water, no pesticides, and naturally fertilises the soil it grows in. In return, it’s better for the environment. Fun fact, it helps keep you warm in winter and cool in summer, and gets softer the more you wash it!

 

Organic Lenin 

Organic Lenin is strong, moth resistant, and fully biodegradable. It requires minimal water and pesticides, and does not need to grow in high-quality soil.  Also, it’s light and can withstand high temperatures, enabling it to absorb moisture without holding bacteria.  

 

Futuristic and Innovative Fabrics

 

Tencel

Tencel is created by dissolving wood pulp, which is why it is light. Tencel is 50% more absorbent than cotton. When producing it, chemicals used to produce fiber are managed in a closed-loop system, which means that it is being recycled. As a result, it requires less energy and water to produce, which helps to reduce dangerous waste. 

 

Pinatex

First featured in Vogue in 2017, Pinatex is a sustainably sourced textile, made from a natural waste product known as pineapple leaf fibre. It is a cruelty-free replacement for leather which exists in a more natural and sustainable form. As it is made from a food by-product, it helps reduce waste and helps the farming communities that grow the fruit! 

 

Econyl

Econyl is a promising fibre which is far more sustainable than nylon. The production process of Econyl recycles and regenerates synthetic waste such as industrial plastic, waste fabric, and fishing nets from the ocean, and turns them into a new nylon yarn of similar quality too.

Passionate about fashion and eager to make a positive impact on the world? Talk to our counsellors to learn more about Taylor's College upcoming Diploma in Fashion Design Technology programme, where sustainability meets style. First intake happens in August 2024! 

#2. Climate Change

Industrial emissions of sulfur dioxide

Did you know? Polyester production accounted for around 40% of total fashion industry emissions in 2014. One polyester shirt produces the equivalent of 5.5kg of carbon dioxide compared to 2.1kg from a cotton shirt, doubling the carbon footprint! In addition to that, the energy used in manufacturing, transporting, packaging, and selling a garment all contributes to the carbon footprint.  As a result, raising the average surface temperature of the planet to intolerable levels causes a host of life-threatening impacts such as increased ocean acidification, rising sea levels, more frequent and intense storms, and even  mass species extinctions!

 

However, a special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) set out the possible pathways to achieving this ambitious target. In the Paris Climate Change Agreement, a series of commitments were set on climate change. Its findings are to limit global temperature rising up, and to aim for a reduction in Greenhouse Gas emissions by 45% by 2030, and towards net-zero emissions (0%) by 2050. To sum,  you can still make a change!

#3. Water Pollution

Water Pollution

Are you aware that the fashion industry currently uses enough water to quench the thirst of 110 million people for an entire year? Shockingly enough, the production of a single cotton shirt requires approximately 2700 litres of water

 

Non-organic cotton requires the most water out of any other crop and needs a staggering 7,000-29,000 litres of water to produce just one kilogramme of raw cotton. Around half of the production of cotton requires additional irrigation, which continues to stress on local water supplies. The processing of textiles consumes an immense amount of water which heavily pollutes the water causing environmental damage, unhealthy conditions for workers, and major health risks for those who live near processing plants, especially in countries such as China and India. These chemicals are then discharged into waterways. 

 

By contrast, organic cotton reduces water consumption by 91% as opposed to conventional cotton. Unfortunately, its production requires additional investments into materials  and  machinery, to cover the cost of non-GMO seeds. Other sustainable fabrics that require little water to produce are linen, hemp, REFIBRA™ and recycled fibres like recycled cotton. It’s proven that the use of organic cotton will significantly reduce the use of pesticide, water consumption, and eliminate pollution in local water systems.

As a member of society and consumer of the fast fashion industry, let’s consider the many environmental impacts of fast fashion and the tactics we can take collectively to curb the consequences of our actions. With that said, let’s be more mindful about our consumption, and champion sustainability for the future of the fashion industry! 

Michelle Lee Shu Ling is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Laws (Hons) at Taylor’s University. She’s a Director of Taylor’s Model United Nations who enjoys writing from time to time!

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