There is no easy way to say this to a Western audience.
Our clothes — the stuff in our wardrobe right now — are the result of a reckless industry, responsible for some of the worst pollution and most horrific human rights violations on the planet. Pressured by fashion’s largest name brands, textile factories and garment manufacturers consistently cut corners to increase annual profit margins, at any cost. The modern fashion industry, currently making upwards of $3 trillion a year, is simply unsustainable. Here’s why:
Next to big oil, the clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world and is responsible for the most the detrimental toxic waste dumping, ground water contamination, and water consumption of any industry.
The unrelenting waste of retailers and typical Western households has far exceeded the capacity of global landfills. Americans alone throw away over 14 million tonnes of clothes every year; annually, that’s about 80 pounds per person. Local thrift operations only sell about 20% of donated items. More than 80% of our clothes end up being packaged and shipped to landfills and incinerators around the world.
In addition to using vast amounts of water during manufacturing and dirty oil for shipping, petroleum-based fibres (including acrylic, polyester, and nylon) are non-biodegradable, taking hundreds of years to break down, while releasing a harmful greenhouse gas 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Carcinogenic plastic microfibers have been proven to bioaccumulate in our groundwater, travelling from rivers to oceans, and into our food chain. An increasing contributor of global deforestation, rayon is a synthetic fiber made from wood pulp, manufactured with toxic chemicals such as caustic soda and sulphuric acid and routinely dumped into local ecosystems.
The environmental impacts of growing genetically modified cotton are devastating to local communities, who suffer exponentially higher rates of birth defects, mental illness, and cancer. Seed and chemical magnate Monsanto has exacerbated the harmful environmental and health impacts of cotton operations by threatening local farmers with extortion. As a result, the suicide rate among farmers in India’s largest cotton-producing Punjab region is well-documented, where it is estimated a distraught farmer takes his own life every 30 minutes.