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Fast Fashion Facts: The Power of Fashion to Change our Planet

Fast Fashion Facts: The Power of Fashion to Change our Planet

There's no denying it. Fashion is cheaper than ever. But it comes as a detriment to the planet we live on.

Fast fashion is particularly bad because it is encouraging such a throwaway model of cheaply made clothing that is swamping countries around the globe with poor quality second hand clothing that is even burnt as fuel or for cooking - it is that worthless. 

We've rounded up a selection of our favourite fast fashion facts, categorised into water, carbon dioxide, plastics, fashion consumption and raw materials. 

Fast Fashion Facts: The Power of Fashion to Change our Planet

Fast Fashion Environmental Impact Statistics

How Much Water the Fashion Industry Uses

Wringing out a t-shirt

Reuse and recycling of 100,000+ tons of textiles saved 70 million cubic meters of water by avoiding new textile and material production. (Nordic Council of Ministers, 2016).

It takes 2,000 gallons of water to make a pair of jeans. (WWF)

Fast fashion is the second-largest polluter of clean water after agriculture globally. The fashion industry accounts for 17-20% of the world's wastewater. (World Bank).

100 billion cubic meters of water is required annually for farming and manufacturing processes, in order to make clothing and textile products. (UNECE).

The majority of the energy (90%) used in washing clothes is actually in the process of heating up the water. 

90% of energy used in washing clothing goes to heating the water. A household could save 864 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions by washing four out of five loads in tap cold water.

To produce one kilogram of cotton lint, it takes on average 1,214 litres of irrigation water (International Cotton Advisory Council).

The second largest consumer of water is the fashion industry (Smarter Business).

20 trillion gallons of water will be saved in the next decade by consumers choosing to shop second hand rather than buy brand new clothing. This is the equivalent of 30 million Olympic sized swimming pools which would have been used in the creation of new clothing (Garson and Shaw Report 2024). 

Research shows that the second-hand clothing industry will save around 20 trillion gallons of water over the next decade, the equivalent of 30 million Olympic sized swimming pools, by offering an alternative source of clothing to the manufacture of new clothes.

Fashion Industry Carbon Emissions

Factory giving off carbon emissions

Just buying one more used item instead of brand new this year could save 5.7 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions (Loop Generation).

The emissions generated by making pairs of jeans owned by UK adults is phemenonal! It is comparable to flying a plane around the globe 2,372 times or a petrol car travelling more than 21 billion miles. (Ethical Hour, Oxfam).

Making textiles produces more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping at an astounding 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon a year. This is because lots of clothing is made in countries that use coal as a large part of their energy mix (Ellen MacArthur Foundation).

If half the items bought in the UK were second hand it would save 12.5 BILLION kilograms of CO2 created by making new clothes from entering the atmosphere. This is the equivalent of 261,000 flights from London Heathrow to Athens or a plane flying around the world more than 17,000 times. (Oxfam).

The fashion industry produces between 2 to 8 per cent of global carbon emissions (UN).

1.8% of the world's total greenhouse gas production in 2021 came from fashion according to a new study by Apparel Impact Insitute (findings published June 2023).

The Apparel Industry’s Global Emissions Will Increase by 50% by 2030 (World Bank).

A new pair of jeans emits around 16.2kg of CO2 which is the equivalent of driving 58 miles in a car (Oxfam).

20 / 20 / 20. The richest 20% of the world's population causes 20 times higher greenhouse gas emissions than the poorest 20% (Hot or Cool).

Fashion could become responsible for a quarter of the world's carbon budget by 2050 (WWF)

Many fashion brands have the potential to slash their greenhouse gas emissions by over 60% with an investment of less than 1 to 2% of their revenues (McKinsey).

Only a third of brands will meet their sustainability targets by 2030 at their current rate of emissions (McKinsey).

Plastic in Fashion

Plastic clothes line pegs

Recycled plastic production although growing only accounts for 6% of total production (OECD).

Global plastic production is predicted to triple by 2060 (OECD).

450 million tonnes of plastic were made in 2020, estimates say this will top 1.2 billion by 2060 (Investigate Europe).

We found that UK laundry generates up to 17,847 tonnes of microfibres each year (243g per person), weighing the equivalent of around 1,500 double-decker buses (The Conversation).

60% of plastics that are certified for home composting don’t fully disintegrate, according to a new study (Ethical Hour). 

Fashion produces 0.5 million tons of microplastics ever year (Earth.org).

About 60% of today’s clothing contains polyester (Greenpeace).

“About 8% of European microplastics released to oceans are from synthetic textiles — globally, this figure is estimated at 16-35%. Between 200,000 and 500,000 tonnes of microplastics from textiles enter the global marine environment each year.” (European Environment Agency, 2022)

Overconsumption and overproduction in Fashion Statistics

White footwear

Only 12% of brands actually publish the number of products that they make every year (Fashion Transparency Index 2023).

The average person now consumes 400 percent more clothing compared to 20 years ago.

Just 1% of brands have commited to reduce the production of new clothes (Fashion Transparency Index 2023).

The consumption of clothing across the world almost doubled from 2000 to 2015 (Ellen MacArthur Foundation).

15-45 billion items of clothing are made and never sold every single year worldwide (WGSN x OC&C Report).

In 2020, Europeans bought an average of 15 kilos of textiles. Of the 15 kilos that are bought on average each year, 6.1 kilos comes from clothing and 2.7 kilos from shoes (the other 6.1 kilos is household textiles) (Fashion United).

Every year, 5.8 million tons of textiles are thrown away, about 11.3 kg per person (European Commission Factsheet Textiles, March 2022).

In 2020, Europeans spent an average of 4.1% of total household spending on clothing and footwear. (Eurostat)

Household spending on clothing in the European Union 2018 was highest in these countries:
• The United Kingdom 65.4 billion euros
• Germany 62.7 billion euros
• Italy 52.4 billion euros
• France 35.7 billion euros
• Spain 24.1 billion euros
• The Netherlands 14.6 billion euros.

(Household consumption expenditure on clothing in the European Union in 2018, by country, Statista 2022).

The average UK shopper is on track to buying 27 new items a year by 2030 (FT)

Most clothes are thrown away within 1-3 years of being produced (Valentina Jacometti).

Fast Fashion Brands Are Producing Twice the Amount of Clothes Today Than in 2000 (Nature.com).

The average number of times a garment is worn before it is discarded is just 7 to 10 wears (Ellen Macarthur Foundation).

50% of clothing bought in the UK is never worn (State of the Planet).

Second hand fashion purchases are unlikely to replace more than 10% of brand new clothing sales (WRAP UK).

Almost 2/3 of shoppers buy preloved clothes. 41% of women and 19% of men said they turned to second hand when thinking about making a purchase. (YouGov Survey of 2,000 UK adults).

Buying a maximum of eight new items a year could reduce fashion's emissions by 37% in the world's major cities. (Research by Leeds University and Arup).

4% of global waste comes from the fashion industry (Pulse of the Fashion industry report)

In 2022, 23 million brand new returned garments were sent to landfill or incinerated in the UK; the most common reason for these clothes being returned in the first place was due to poor sizing (British Fashion Council).

92 million tons of clothes related waste is sent to landfill every year (Earth.org).

According to industry estimates, between 80 and 100 billion new items of clothing are produced every year globally, while a lorry-load of used clothing is incinerated or buried in landfill every single second (Earth.org).

“One in three young women, the biggest segment of consumers, consider garments worn once or twice to be old” (The Guardian).

“It is estimated that around the world, about 107 billion units of apparel and 14.5 billion pairs of shoes were purchased in 2016” (Common Objective).

Clothes are 7 times cheaper than 70 years ago (Vox).

80% of all clothes end up in landfills. (Global Fashion Agenda). 

A study of 2,000 women in the UK found that the respondents wear a high-street garment on average 7 times only (Barnardo's).

Textile waste takles up 6.3% of all landfill space in the US alone (EPA).

In the first half of 2018, visits to fast-fashion websites accounted for 66% of all fashion-related internet traffic (InternetRetailing).

Clothing utilisation (average times someone wears a piece of clothing before discarding it) went down by 36% between 2003 and 2018 (Down to Earth).

UK shoppers bought 32% more second-hand clothes in 2022 compared to 2018 (Oxfam).

Only 10% to 20% of items donated to charity shops are suitable for sale. This is because due to the poor quality and/or condition of the clothes, including fast fashion items (The Conversation).

The top eight fast fashion firms all made over a billion dollars of profit in 2019.

 

Fast Fashion's Use of Raw Materials

Brown rope on white surface

2.5% of the world's farmland is used just for growing cotton for the fashion industry. (BBC).

35% more land will be used by the fashion industry for textile production by 2030. This amounts to an extra 115 million hectares - which could have been used to help promote biodiversity or grow food. (Environmental Audit Committee (2019) Fixing fashion: Clothing consumption and sustainability. House of Commons. UK Government). 

Synthetic materials like polyester require an estimated 342 million barrels of oil every year (BBC).

Clothes production processes such as dying requires 43 million tonnes of chemicals a year (BBC)

1kg of cotton needs 3kg of chemicals (Ellen MacArthur Foundation).

The fashion industry accounts for 10-20% of pesticide use (The State of Fashion, McKinsey, 2020).

“Less than 11% of brands are implementing recycling strategies for their items” (Peppermint Magazine, 2019).

Cotton farming dried up the entire Aral sea in just 50 years because of the sheer water use (WEF).

Less than 1% of existing clothing gets recycled into new clothes. (Pulse of the Fashion Industry Report 2018)

Fast Fashion Impact on People and Garment Workers

It's hard to separate the impact on fashion on the planet, its flora and fauna, from the very people that live on it. The effects have consequences for us all, but especially the people who produce, supply and stitch textiles. 

Bangladesh (a major supplier for fast fashion brands) has one of the lowest minimum wages for labour in the world, at just the equivalent of £60 a month (8,000 taka) since 2018. 

Christmas Waste Fashion Statistics

According to a study commissioned by Oxfam, £218 million worth of Christmas outfits and partwear will be thrown away by new year, after barely being worn.

26% of 3000 surveyed said they were planning to buy a clothing item just for Christmas, with 7 in 10 only wearing said garments less than fives times. 15% would only wear this clothing ONCE!

Need More Facts - Further Reading on Fast Fashion 

We hope you found this treasure trove of facts useful. We regularly publish blogs on the world of second hand and vintage fashion.

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