The Fashion Industry is Suffocating our Planet

The UK has the highest consumption of clothing in Europe. On average, a piece of clothing is worn only a handful of times before it is thrown away, and online shopping is continuing to grow. The fashion industry has become a major contributor to pollution and the overuse of land and water.

‘Fast fashion’ refers to items of clothing produced rapidly and cheaply in factories by retailers desperate to be the first to produce the latest trends. We, as consumers of the fashion industry, are buying and discarding our clothes far too quickly, resulting in approximately 235 million items of clothing being put in landfills every year.

Fast fashion is suffocating the earth.

To hear the opinion of someone in the fashion industry, I interviewed Imogen Evans from Edinburgh, who recently showcased her own designs at New York Fashion Week. When I asked Imogen about her thoughts on fast fashion, she told me: “We live in an instant world where everyone wants things as soon as we see them… People are seeing fashion week pieces and then purchasing them online at Pretty Little Thing for £5 the next day.”

Fashion items have become so cheap that they are only used once, even just to take a picture to upload to Instagram. Online retailer Pretty Little Thing stocks hundreds of items under £5, made possible by using cheap blends of materials. It’s encouraging people to carelessly buy a clothing item and then throw it away almost instantly.

Plastics such as polyester and nylon, which are found in cheaply made clothes and take up to 200 years to break down, are going straight into landfills.

This is polluting the earth and affecting wildlife. Landfill sites are taking over natural habitats and plastics are being eaten by unsuspecting animals. The fashion industry is guilty of contributing to air and water pollution in a major way. This, in turn, is contributing to climate change.

The fashion industry is currently creating more pollution than all of the aeroplanes in the world.

We should be extremely worried. According to scientists, we have 12 years to stop climate change. Fighting fast fashion is one major way to do so.

Several British Influencers, such as GraceFitUk and Zanna Van Dijk are now using their social media platforms to encourage people to shop in charity and vintage shops. Their influence will hopefully slow down the rate at which clothes are being bought.

Another example of an influential person using social media to change people’s views on fast fashion is Alice Wilby. Wilby is a Sustainable Fashion Expert for the BBC, as well as the founder of Future Frock – an online editorial platform focused on sustainable fashion. Through her Twitter profile, which is almost entirely dedicated to sustainability, Wilby explains how we can reuse, repair and recycle clothing.

There are several innovative plans being created to help reduce the impact of disposable fashion.

American Eagle has launched a new clothing rental scheme. For $49.95 a month, customers can rent items for a certain amount of time before returning them to be reused by someone else. The aim is to reduce fast fashion while still being able to fulfil customer need, and will hopefully decrease the number of items that are thrown away.

Another idea is a ‘penny per garmet‘ levy, which would require retailers to pay a penny for every item they sell. The money would then go towards recycling the clothes instead of throwing them away.

Only 1% of material from clothing is currently recycled for new clothing and only 12% is recycled for other uses.

We are slowly waking up. We’re getting rid of plastic bags and single use coffee cups and we are reducing the amount of meat we are eating. Hopefully, we will begin to phase out disposable clothing and the climate-changing emissions it produces.

There are some companies who are already trying to do their bit for the environment, such as Adidas, who have said they will only use recycled polyester by 2024. H&M have begun mending clothes for free so that they are not thrown away.

When speaking to Imogen Evans, she rightly noted, “the main problem is trying to educate millennials who aren’t necessarily interested in fashion because these are the people who are mindlessly buying from Pretty Little Thing and Misguided every other week.”

As consumers, we need to change our attitude towards clothes.

We need to stop seeing items as disposable and start buying fewer better quality items which will last longer. This way, we will reduce how much we are all contributing to climate change. Buying less clothing at a slightly higher price and recycling old clothes is a small price to pay for better quality products and reducing our carbon footprints for the earth.

“Now I Use Contraception” – Oun Srey Leak’s Story

This is the third blog in a 4-part series sharing personal family planning stories from around the world – presented by CARE and Girls’ Globe in the lead up to the 2018 International Conference on Family Planning. Catch up on the whole series with stories from HawaParmila, and Olive.

Oun Srey Leak, a 26-year-old mother of one, navigates her way to work on a crowded street in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. She has worked in the Gladpeer garment factory for five years.

The garment industry is a huge part of Cambodia’s economy, employing over 700,000 workers. About 90% of these workers are women.

Srey Leak, like many of her colleagues, moved to Phnom Penh from a less populous area of Cambodia in search of job opportunities. She met her husband and shortly after became pregnant with their daughter.

Photo by GMB Films

“After I got married, I heard using contraception could stop us from being able to have children in the future. So, that’s why I decided to have a child soon after I got married. Two months after the wedding, I got pregnant,” Srey Leak explained.

Although half of female garment workers report being sexually active, less than a third of them use modern contraceptives.

Just as soon as Srey Leak became a new mom, she was faced with the demand to return to the garment factory. “After the birth, I needed to get back to work. So, I took my daughter to my mother back in the province. I am now far away from my child because I don’t have time to take care of her.”

Srey Leak’s story is not atypical. Most Cambodian garment factories operate six days a week, eight hours a day, and workers are often paid based on the outputs they produce, rather than the time they put in. Taking time off to go to the doctor may cost them more income than they can afford to lose, and there are limited health providers and pharmacies operating on Sundays when the factories are closed.

For the past five years, CARE has been working in garment factories to help women like Srey Leak make healthy decisions. Chat! is a package of activities that reaches women inside factories, where they spend most of their time. The innovative package includes sessions providing information on various sexual and reproductive health topics.

Srey Leak welcomed the opportunity to take control of her health. “One day, CARE came to invite workers to join a short training. They showed me short films about understanding the different types of contraception, safe abortion, and the ways in which we can avoid unplanned pregnancies.”

The sessions are paired with videos that feature fictional characters, in which the women can relate to and identify real health challenges. There is also an app that provides interactive quizzes and activities that are tailored specifically for garment workers, to facilitate ongoing learning.

After she learnt about the various modern contraceptive methods available to her, Srey Leak decided to start using oral contraceptives.

“I now take the contraceptive pill every day. If I’d known about this method before, I could have used it before falling pregnant,” she shared. “For me, after I joined CARE’s training, it changed my life. Now I use contraception and I have a greater understanding. So, it means I can have enough money for my next child.”

Chat! is supported by the Australian government’s Partnering to Save Lives (PSL) initiative and the Cambodian Ministry of Health in an alliance to reduce maternal and newborn mortality in Cambodia. Workers who participated are twice as likely to use modern family planning methods and health services. Factory managers have reported increased productivity and reduced absenteeism within their workers.

Learn more about CARE Cambodia’s garment factory work here, and read an interview with Chat! co-founders Maly Man and Julia Battle.