In 2016, 1,130,000 tonnes of clothing was purchased in the UK. That’s a lot of hours we’ve spent scrolling through ASOS, browsing the clothing racks in Zara and avoiding tripping over a fugitive toddler during a Saturday morning visit to Primark. Seemingly, we also needed to make room for all our new purchases, considering a staggering 300,000 tonnes was thrown away in 2016. Our love for ‘Fast Fashion’ and throwaway culture has granted the clothing and textile industry the rather unflattering title of Second Most Polluting Industry, beaten by the oil industry only by a nose. Chemicals used to grow fibers, dye fabrics, and wash garments end up polluting rivers, damaging local ecosystems and causing health problems in the local population. The textile industry also contributes to larger environmental issues such as air pollution, habitat destruction, and ocean pollution. In addition to this, the social effects are equally as devastating. Working conditions for textile workers are often unsafe, with low wages and non-existing rights. With around 80% of the workforce being women, it turns out wearing slogan T-shirts proclaiming our ‘wokeness’ is actually contributing to upholding the very same social structures we want to dismantle.
With the alarming reports on the urgency of climate change as well as widespread social injustice globally, this is not something to take lightly. One thing is clear – if we want to sort out this mess, action is needed on all levels, in all sectors. Consumers, as well as producers and distributors, have a role to play, pushing sustainable, ethical fashion to become accessible for all.
So, what can be done? The easy answer is buying less and choose better; however, this is a highly simplified quick-fix to a much bigger problem. By putting pressure on brands to make changes and become more transparent in their practices, consumers can use their powers to make a long-term difference. This week is Fashion Revolution Week, an initiative led by the global movement Fashion Revolution to mark the anniversary of the Rana Plaza Disaster in 2015, a factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013 which killed 1138 people and injured many more. During this week, you are encouraged to ask your favourite brands the burning question #WhoMadeMyClothes to contribute to more transparent fashion industry.If you want to learn more about how clothing and sustainability are linked, keep your eyes out for the re-launch of the clothing version of the Sustainability in Practice Certificate in September 2019. This is a free, online course available for all students and staff at NTU, where you can explore the Sustainable Development Goals and how you can contribute to a better future.
-Thank you to Lina Erlandsson, who is an Education for Sustainable Development Coordinator in the NTU Green Academy, for writing this blog post!
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