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THE PROBLEM - PART I: HOW BAD IS IT?

We like data. It helps us recognise the scale of issues, and puts them into perspective, by comparing them with things that we understand. We want to start by giving you some numbers, to show you how dirty of an industry fashion is through four key areas: water usage and pollution, waste, use of non-renewable resources and worker exploitation.

Image by Christoffer Engström

WATER POLLUTION

  • Textile production uses 93 billion cubic meters annually. Globally, that's 4% of the freshwater withdrawal (EMF, 2017).

  • Cotton is a notoriously thirsty crop. Producing 1 kg of cotton fibres needs can use up to 4,300 litres of water. Dyeing and finishing that 1 kg needs an additional 125 litres of water.

  • At present, many of the main cotton-producing countries, are under high water stress, including China, India, the US, Pakistan, Turkey, and Brazil. In Uzbekistan, cotton farming dried up the Aral sea (one of the world's 4 largest lakes) in less than 50 years.

  • The dyeing process uses enough water to fill 2 million Olympic-sized swimming pools each year. (WEF).

  • 20% of industrial water pollution globally is attributable to the dyeing and treatment of textiles.

  • 35% of primary microplastics enter the ocean through the washing of textiles (IUCN)

  • On our current track, there could be more plastics than fish in the ocean (by weight) by 2050.

  • Every time we wash a synthetic garment, we release 1,900 microfibres into the ocean. These microfibres are the equivalent in weight to 50 billion plastic bottles.

  • The amount of water consumed by India's cotton industry would be enough to supply 85% of the entire population. Yet, 100 million people in India don't have access to drinking water.

GLOBAL WARMING

  • Fashion is responsible for 10% of humanity's greenhouse emissions. That's more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. (WEF)

  • The production of 1 kilogram of textiles emits 20 kilograms of CO2. (EMF)

  • In 2015, the production of polyester for textiles was responsible for over 700 million tonnes of CO2. (EMF)

  • The equivalent of more than 3 trillion plastic bottles is needed to produce plastic-based clothes annually. (EMF)

  • The production of 1 kilogram of cotton garments uses up to 3 kilograms of chemicals. (EMF)

Image by Zbynek Burival
Image by Hermes Rivera

OVERCONSUMPTION & WASTE

  • In the last few decades, sales of clothing have gone up exponentially, while clothing utilisation has dropped continuously, year after year.

  • In 2014, people bought 60% more garments than in 2000 yet only kept the clothes for half as long.

  • Globally, 85% of textile production goes to the dump yearly. This represents both unsold stock from brands and household discards. That's enough clothes to fill the Sydney harbour.

  • Where does this waste go? The equivalent of 1 truck full of textiles is landfilled or is incinerated every second somewhere in the world.

  • The textiles are dumped in landfills in emerging economies, where they're killing local textile markets and causing waste management issues.

  • The UK buys more clothes per person than any other country in Europe and gets rid of over a million tonnes of clothes per year, worth 140 million pounds.

  • In the US, each citizen throws away an average of 32 kg of textiles per year.

  • Less than 1% of material used to produce clothing is recycled into new clothing, representing a loss of more than $100 billion worth of materials each year.
     

WORKER EXPLOITATION

  • ​Clothing has become the only depreciatory good in today's world. While the cost of of all products and services gets more expensive every year, clothes somehow manage to get cheaper.

  • Today, 45.8 million people live in modern slavery today in 167 countries. (GSI)

  • 26.5 million people in modern slavery (58%) live in the main cotton or garment producing countries of the world: China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan.

  • 51 countries use child labour in their garment and jewellery supply chains (US Department of Labour)

  • Half a million children work in cotton production.

  • Exploitative practices abound beyond forced labour: garment workers are often forced to work 14-16 hour days, 7 days per week to meet brand's deadlines.

  • Salaries tend to meet only a country's legal minimum wage. In India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh this is less than a fourth of the living wage.

  • Unsafe working conditions prevail, with garment workers having to work in spaces with no ventilation and unsound infrastructure. In 2013, a factory that supplied well-known brands in Bangladesh collapsed, killing 1,134 garment workers. 

  • Worker exploitation is not exclusive to emerging economies. In summer 2020 some factories in the UK were paying workers as little as 3.5 pounds/hour and forcing them to work during the coronavirus pandemic.  

Image by NII

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

THE PROBLEM - PART II: THE ROOT CAUSES

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