The fast fashion industry is a hard pill to swallow if one looks closely at its daily operations. From its fast-changing trends, fast rate of production, fast consumption by the buyers, and fast delivery, everything about the industry can be summed up in the word ‘fast.’ This fast-paced life has ruined the environment and has had a huge impact on people and animals.
Some of the facts listed below are horrifying, so much so that you’ll reconsider buying those $ 20 jeans the next time you go shopping! Here’s a list of fast fashion statistics that you need to learn by heart.
26 Essential Fast Fashion Statistics
“15 million used clothes arrive in Ghana every week from Europe, America, and China and fast fashion items make up more and more of what is sent. 40% of the clothing shipped in Ghana never finds a second life and ends up in Ghana’s overflowing landfills which has created an environmental nightmare.” (BBC NEWS, 2021) & (Independent.com UK, 2022)
This, as they say, is the hidden cost of fast fashion. Most of the fast fashion brands make cheap quality clothing, which when donated ends up in second-hand clothing markets like Ghana’s Kantamanto Market. Since most of these clothes are not in a condition to be sold, they end up making heaps in landfills and ultimately get washed away in the seas or buried on the beaches.
“Textile Industry is one of the worst to exploit women. 80% of global garment workers are women, and paid some of the lowest wages. In various cases, they even remain unpaid.” (Good Clothes Fair Pay, 2022)
The global fashion industry has degraded humans more than we would like to imagine. It has become a hub for worker exploitation to the point that most workers in the fashion industry are paid severely low wages and sometimes even go unpaid, despite working 16 hours a day. Fast fashion does more harm than good despite being the ‘trend’ of the day.
“The fashion industry uses 93 billion cubic meters of water which rounds up to 4% of freshwater globally and is enough to meet the consumption needs of five million people.”(CommonObjective.com, 2021)
The environmental price of fast fashion is reaching an all-time high with industries consuming a lot of energy, water, and other resources that are already available in depleting numbers. Is the $10 shirt on your back worth it if it deprives millions of people of a basic resource like water?
“Fast Fashion industry is the second most polluting industry on the planet, usurped only by oil production, and responsible for much of the climate crisis and human misery.” (Geneco.UK, 2022)
Did you know that around 200 million trees are felled each year to make cellulosic fabrics? Vogue Arabia reveals how fast fashion companies appear morally correct on paper, but the real statistics reveal a different story. By being the second largest polluter, the fashion industry is a major contributor to the climate crisis we are facing in the present day.
“The fashion industry is highly greenhouse gas intensive, with estimated emissions of up to 1.2 billion tonnes annually, that is, 8-10% of the global total. In addition, the textile industry has been identified in recent years as a major contributor to plastic entering the ocean.” (BBC.com, 2020)
How much fast fashion is too much fast fashion? The growth of the modern-day fast fashion industry means a decline in the environment globally. Not only is the industrial greenhouse gas intensive, but also a major contributor to the plastic waste entering our oceans.
“Every year, the U.S. throws up to 11.3 million tons of textile waste and 2150 clothing pieces are discarded every second.” (Bloomberg.com, 2022)
As per reports, clothing and footwear waste generated by Americans has been increasing in massive numbers on a yearly basis. With the craze over trending styles, overproduction is taking place, and according to data by McKinsey, garment production has doubled since 2000.
“As consumption of clothing increases, the cotton plant is re-engineered to keep up with this speed. Larhea Pepper, an organic cotton farmer in Texas, underlines that in the past 10 years, more than 80% of the cotton has become genetically modified, using vast amounts of water as well as chemicals such as pesticides and insecticides. These chemicals have impacted both on the land and human health.”(ISMD, 2017)
The health and environmental cost of fast fashion has become too obvious to ignore. We are disrupting the natural crop cycles to cope up with the ‘fast-paced’ garment production which will come back to bite us sooner than later.
“About 8% of European microplastics released to oceans are from synthetic textiles — globally, this figure is estimated at 16-35%. Between 200,000 and 500,000 tonnes of microplastics from textiles enter the global marine environment each year.”(European Environment Agency, 2022)
The microfibres being released into our oceans are a major source of water pollution posed by the fashion and textile industry. Ever wondered what our future holds if we don’t slow down with our clothing at present?
“It takes almost 8000 litres of water – what one person drinks in seven years – to make one pair of jeans. And when those jeans are discarded, they join the 21 billion tons of textiles that end up in landfills each year. Of 100 billion items produced yearly, 14 for each human on the planet, three in five will be discarded within the year.”(UN, 2019) & (NRDC.org, 2019)
Are your jeans really worth the few dollars you happily spent on them? Or is it worth 8000 gallons of water? Is the cost of water wasted worth the few bucks you spent on those jeans? Slow fashion might appear costlier at present, but that cost is much less when it comes to the impact on the environment.
The average person hordes fast fashion garments for the fear of missing out on the latest trends. However, only half of those clothes are usually worn, while the remaining 50% remain untouched.” (Third Light) & (Fashion United. UK, 2018)
Each day we are purchasing more and wearing less, producing more, and using less. Is fast fashion a judicious choice? Apparently, it is not a smart choice considering the increasing rate of carbon emissions produced by the fashion industry alone.
“Polyester is the most widely used material in the fast fashion industry. It ranged up to 52.2% of the world’s fibre production in 2020. In 2015 alone, polyester production emitted around 706 billion kilograms of greenhouse gasses which is equivalent to the annual emissions of 185 coal-fired power plants. Currently, only 14% of the polyester is produced from recycled fibers.” (Common Objective.com, 2021) & (Climate Science. Org, 2022)
As per research, a single polyester T-shirt emits 262% more CO2 than a cotton T-shirt. Are those polyester clothes worth it if they continue to produce enough greenhouse gasses to suffocate the world to death? Clothing comes at a cost higher than what you pay at the store!
“Nearly 70 million barrels of oil are used each year to make the world’s polyester fibre, which is now the most commonly used fibre in our clothing. But it takes more than 200 years to decompose.” (Forbes, 2015) & (CFDA.com, 2021)
Polyester is used in approximately 60% of the garments produced and is hard to both recycle and reuse because it is almost a 100% petroleum-based fabric. Apparently, the polyester shirt you are wearing is causing more havoc than expected.
“The rise of fast fashion has been heavily dependent on synthetic fibres such as polyester, nylon, acrylic, and spandex, which are made from heavily processed petrochemicals.” (EarthDay.org, 2022)
The fashion industry uses 10% to 20% of pesticides in the making of garments globally. And in 2020 itself, 62% of fibres produced globally were synthetic Are such fibres worth the health and planet risk? There is no doubt that we are better off without fast fashion.
“Fast fashion has created such a system that instead of the traditional two seasons, Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter, we now have around 52 micro-seasons a year, which means the stores have something new coming in every week. Consequently, the world now consumes about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year. This is 400% more than the amount we used to consume in the 1990s.” (Slow Fashion. Global, 2021)
Overproduction is an alarming concern as the fast fashion industry continues to grow while slowing down the production cycles is the only cure. The question is: what are we waiting for?
“In 2012, Greenpeace purchased more than 100 garments sold in 29 countries and regions by 20 global fast fashion brands and had them tested for several hazardous chemicals. The testing results show that all the brands had at least several items containing hazardous chemicals.”(GreenPeace, 2012)
Not only are fast fashion brands ruining the planet, but they are also hazardous to your health, considering the harmful chemicals they use in the making of their products. Greenpeace shares how, from the 141 samples tested, two-thirds contained NPEs (hormone disruptive chemicals), 4 samples had high levels of toxic phthalates (toxic to the reproductive system), and 2 products from your beloved ZARA contained traces of cancer-causing amines. So ask yourself: Is fast fashion worth the risk?
“In Bangladesh, garment makers frequently toil for 100 hours or more a week, only to run out of money before the end of the month.” (Open Access Government.org, 2020) & (Statista.com, 2022)
The politics of a ‘minimum wage’ is an ugly cave with dark truths no one is willing to accept. Vox discusses this politics as played by the leading fast fashion brands who refuse to pay a standard living to their garment workers. In many countries, this ‘minimum wage’ can be deceptive and far lower than what is required to survive. The fashion industry wants to keep it that way so that they can earn as much profit over the misery of the poor as possible.
“Textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of water globally, with one garbage truck worth of textiles being landfilled or burned every second. The fashion industry is responsible for generating 20% of the world’s wastewater.” (UNEP, 2018) & (Textile Value Chain.in, 2020)
An article by the United Nations Environmental Programme reveals how land and water pollution are on the rise and the fashion and textile industry is responsible for a major part of it. All of this because we want to follow ‘trends’ that change every week and buy clothes as cheaply as possible.
“Clothing production has approximately doubled in the last decade while clothing use has declined by 40%. Both developments are mainly due to the ‘fast fashion’ phenomenon.”(Ellen Macarthur Foundation)
Fast fashion works on the principle of producing more and using less. This formula has become the bane of our existence according to the various studies conducted by Ellen Macarthur Foundation.
“Over 100 billion garments are manufactured every year, out of which about 90 million tonnes end up in landfills of countries like Africa and Dubai. It’s estimated that by 2050, global clothing sales could more than triple.” (Clean Clothes.org, 2020)
Cloth waste is one of the fastest-growing categories of waste in the world turning places like Ghana and Chile into fast-fashion dumps. But this has in no way discouraged us from buying more and using less, creating huge environmental concerns for the near future. What will we do if the garment sales triple? Will the world turn into a dump? Or can we save it by buying slow fashion in the present?
“The average American tosses out 81 pounds (37 kgs) of clothing every year. That amounts to 26 billion pounds of textiles and clothes ending up in landfills.”(BBC Future, 2020) & (CALPIRG.org, 2021)
30% of fashion items reach landfills unsold and unused. We are overproducing, overconsuming, and over-dumping to the point that an average American tosses out 81 lbs of clothing every year. Now imagine what the number might be global!
“22% of items moved at each relocation won’t be used again. Belgians wear the least amount of clothes from their wardrobes – only 12%, followed by Americans at 18%.”(Consumption & Environment, 2022)
Why do we purchase clothes if we don’t want to wear them in the long run? It’s because fast fashion feeds the craving for new styles in our brains using marketing tactics that lure us into purchasing more than we would ever need.
“More than the US $500 billion in value is lost every year due to under-utilized clothes and lack of recycling, and around 100,000 marine animals are killed each year by plastic waste, including microfibers.” (World Bank.org, 2019)
Not only are we wasting away our resources, but we are also dumping away our money right along with those unused clothes. Is there a single reason why we should continue buying fast fashion? We can’t find even one!
“Drying up of The Aral Sea, once the world’s fourth largest lake and home to 24 species of fish, has been linked to the fashion industry because of 1.47m hectares of cotton being grown with the river water. Cotton is a hugely water-intensive crop that can take up 2700 litres to make one shirt.” (Earth Observatory. Nasa. Gov) & (Apparel Insider.com, 2021)
In 2014, NASA released shocking pictures of The Aral Sea drying up in a matter of 14 years. His horror was made possible by the fashion industry and the production of more cotton garments than needed!
“While 7.6 kg fibres/person was produced in 1995, that figure rose to 13.8 kg/person in 2018, an 82% increase.”(Science Direct, 2021)
Our consumption has increased, and use has decreased. We are buying carelessly high and using carelessly low. Is it doing us any good? Or are we ‘speeding’ our own destruction?
“Impacts from the fashion industry include over 92 million tonnes of waste produced per year and 1.5 trillion litres of water consumed.” (BBC.com, 2020)
The resource waste as a result of fast fashion is at an all-time high. Is fast fashion worth turning our planet into a dump?
“The tragedy of the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh. An explosion that killed 1,100 people and injured another 2,500. That same year Americans spent $340 billion on fashion, and much of it was produced in Bangladesh, some of it by Rana Plaza workers in the days leading up to the collapse.” (Transparency.org, 2022)
Fast fashion has allowed retailers to detach themselves from the production of their products, creating an inhumane indifference towards the workers engaged in the production process in third-world countries. The human cost is too high to ignore.
Lucy Siegle hit the nail when she said, “Fast fashion is not free. Someone somewhere is paying.” The global fast fashion industry is headed towards ‘fast’ destruction of both environment and people. With 20-40 kgs of clothing being discarded every year by a single person, the world will turn into a dumpster not very far in the future. It’s time we switch to slow and sustainable fashion before the ‘trends’ cost us too much!