You can buy a hybrid car. You can use cloth bags at the grocery store. Hell, you can even put solar panels on your roof. But if you’re buying fast fashion, you’re still destroying the planet.
In fact, it doesn’t even necessarily have to be fast fashion. If you’re buying clothes from anywhere and only wearing them for a single season, you guessed it: You’re also destroying the planet.
According to a 2013 report, the global apparel industry produced 150 billion garments in 2010, enough to provide 20 new articles of clothing for every person on the planet. And it’s only gotten worse since then. Today, the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry on earth. And the primary culprit is fast fashion—well, that and the culture of throwaway clothing that it has inspired.
A recent article by Fast Company pointed out that fashion was mostly left out of the recent Paris climate talks, which makes for a major swing and a miss by world leaders intent on cleaning up our planet. While the focus on energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable resources is extremely important, without adding disposable fashion to the agenda, it’s hard to imagine much headway will ever be made.
The major issue is right now is that we don’t keep our clothes. And the amount of clothing production needed to meet our new level of demand creates a wealth of both environmental and human rights issues. For most people, to be able buy a new wardrobe every year, clothes need to be cheap. And that’s where the problems start.
First there’s the U.S. apparel manufacturing industry, which has shed 800,000 jobs in the last few decades due to the demand for low-cost labor. And those jobs will likely never come back, regardless of what our next president says. Then there are the criminally low wages paid to those in the countries where apparel manufacturing has gone. As Fast Company points out, though the apparel industry is the largest employer of women globally, less than 2 percent of those women actually earn a living wage.