If you have ever popped into a high street store and walked out with an ‘absolute bargain’, then you have experienced fast fashion. We are talking t-shirts that cost less than a cup of coffee, a new outfit for less than lunch, or even a £1 bikini. Those deals that bring on a little happy dance.

Unfortunately, when you look at the facts about fast fashion it’s clear to see that it’s both socially and environmentally unsustainable.

So, what actually is fast fashion? 

‘Fast fashion’ is cheap, in-style clothing that goes from runway to high street faster than you can say ‘is this a good idea?’.

Merriam Webster defines fast fashion as ‘An approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers.’ 

This approach to fashion doesn’t come without cost. Here are ten eye-opening facts about fast fashion:

1. It takes 2,700 litres to produce one cotton t-shirt

Nearly 20% of global wastewater is produced by the fashion industry. In 2015 alone, the fashion industry used 79-billion cubic metres of water. Plants such as cotton are highly water intensive, and studies show that it takes approximately 2,700 litres to produce one cotton t-shirt. 

2. Fast fashion is one of the worlds greatest polluters

Many reports say that fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world. Whether or not this number is accurate, it’s undeniable that the fashion industry is a dominant player in global pollution. Some of the most polluted rivers in the world are filled with chemicals dumped by textile factories. Manufacturing materials such as nylon and polyester releases a large amount of nitrous oxide, a gas 300 times worse than carbon dioxide for global warming. Plus, by the time your clothes reach you they have travelled a long way, leaving behind a big carbon footprint.  

3. Millions of tonnes of textile waste end up in landfills each year

In the UK alone, approximately 300,000 tonnes of clothing ends up in landfills each year. It’s estimated that the amount of clothing that goes to landfills each year is worth £140 million. In fact, the Ellen MaCarthur Foundation reports that as much as one garbage truck of textiles goes to landfill, or is burned, every second. 

4. Less than 1% of clothing is recycled into new clothing

According to this report from the Ellen MaCarthur Foundation, less than 1% of material used to produce clothing is recycled into new clothing, representing a loss of more than USD 100 billion worth of materials each year. Up to 95% of the materials that go to landfill each year could be recycled. Recycling materials can have less of an environmental impact then creating new materials, for example, using recycled cotton saves 20,000 litres of water per kilogram of cotton.

5. We only use clothes for approximately 2 years

In the UK, the average lifespan for a piece of clothing is only 2.2 years. Extending this lifespan by just nine months can go a long way to reducing its environmental impact. We are addicted to buying new clothes, even though reports show that British shoppers own £10-billion worth of clothes they don’t wear.

6. The fashion industry contributes around 10% of all global greenhouse gas emissions

According to the United Nations, the fashion industry consumes more energy than the aviation and shipping industry combined. It’s long supply chains and high energy consumption means it contributes to around 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

7. Washing clothes can release micro-plastics

Many synthetic clothes such as nylon and polyesters are forms of plastic. And, they now make up about 60% of materials that make our clothing worldwide. When clothes are washed, they release micro-plastics that end up in the ocean, and our food chain. A University of Plymouth study suggests that over 700,000 micro-plastic fibres could be released with every clothes wash.

 8. 20% of global production waste comes from the textile and apparel sectors

According to Close the Loop, 20% of global production waste comes from the textile and apparel sectors. The scale of waste produced is gigantic, with 15.1 million tonnes of textile waste generated in 2013 (reported by NPR, from the Environmental Protection Agency).

9. Around 8,000 synthetic chemicals are used in the fashion industry

As reported by Common Objective, around 8,000 synthetic chemicals are used in the fashion and materials industries. Many of these chemicals are known to have adverse consequences to our health. Chemicals are used in many stages of the manufacturing process, and can often end up back in the freshwater supply.

10. Fast fashion is on track to grow to a $1.65 trillion industry by 2020

Despite its environmental sustainability, the fashion industry is still growing, and is on track to be a $1.65 trillion industry by 2020. A number of retailers are making an effort to become more sustainable, but a lot more still needs to be done.

But, what can we do about it?

Making every choice a sustainable one is really hard. Being aware of the impact we are creating, and giving more though to the goods we are consuming is a great start. If you'd like to learn more about making more sustainable choices when it comes to the clothes you wear, check out our previous blog post: Is this the answer to slowing down fast fashion?