The public has become increasingly aware of the damaging impacts of plastics to the environment and the need for reduction in single use plastics.. However, many consumers are still unaware of how environmentally damaging the global fashion industry is, with our love of fast fashion continuing. In 2017, we spent 10% more on clothes than in 2012. Consumers can’t resist the lure of offer emails, sale rails or online shopping hauls. Consumers are addicted to shopping because our brains are hardwired to find acquiring more ‘stuff’ enjoyable.  However, this fast fashion addiction is creating tremendous, often irreversible damage to our water supply, water quality and marine life on our planet.

Water consumption for fashion manufacture has been disastrous for the planet

Fast fashion production is having disastrous effects on water supply across the globe. Textile dyes pollute clean water supplies, leaving behind toxic and carcinogenic toxins in the water. Every time clothes are washed, millions of plastic microfibres shed by polyester garments in the washing machine find their way into oceans and fresh water supplies, effectively poisoning the food chain.  It takes about 200 gallons of water to make a pair of jeans due to the cotton used. Cotton production to feed fashion consumption has already caused the loss of the Aral Sea with devastating ecological impacts in the region. In combination with the effects of climate change, competition for water supply is predicted to cause water ‘wars’ across the globe. If consumers continue to want new fashion at the current rates, water use is predicted to increase by 50% in developing countries by 2025. If things don’t change, the future is certainly bleak.

The fashion industry must reduce their water consumption and polluton

Fashion production causes water pollution and consumption on a disastrous scale, so things must change. The fashion industry has so far been slow to react to these challenges, with manufacturers and designers reluctant to respond to environmental concerns on a mass scale. However, there are encouraging developments including a commitment to materials which use water sensibly, creating fashion through minimal water impact. Sustainable cotton use is key, and brands are being developed which use water and cotton sustainably, such as Plexus Cotton. Dyeing textiles responsibly is also essential, and manufacturers need to stick to strict dyeing policies while committing to find eco-friendly dyes to reduce water pollution. Brands such as Levi and H&M have made commitments to water recycling in their production, so brands are making some effort.

Consumers must also change their behaviour to safeguard global water supply

Brands need to invest in solutions to reduce microfibre shedding, including using innovative fabrics which lessen the pollution. Consumers also need to play their part. Reducing washing items and putting pressure on companies to use more sustainable fabrics is key. As ever, to reduce the detrimental impact of fashion on the environment, change in consumer behaviour is vital. Until shoppers can resist cheap fashion, the impact on water use, microfibre pollution and water poisoning across the globe will not change dramatically enough to make a difference.

Textile Consult is a management and training consultancy operating worldwide. We’re currently working with clients to find the best sustainable solutions in the textile industry. Contact us to find out how we can advise your business on sustainable textile solutions.