Fast fashion has been heating up the high street with catwalk culture. Staying chic has never been easier – trendy garments are introduced at breakneck speed, and at bargain prices, aiming to make the current ones look obsolete. The fashion industry that undercuts our shopping costs has been messing up the environment and economy without our notice.
There are over 100 billion garments produced every year. Cotton, a raw material that demands immense amounts of water to grow, accounts for approximately 50% of the total raw materials used in the industry. It takes 15,000 litre of water to make a pair of jeans, which equals 130 times the annual water consumption per person on the globe – how petrifying!
Journalists discovered that the clothing industry has already passed misfortune on the Aral Sea. Located in the Republic of Kazakhstan, the world’s fourth largest saltwater lake stretches over 68,000km², which is half the size of the United Kingdom, but it shrank drastically as streams were artificially diverted to cotton farms from the 1960s. Reporters were terribly shocked after realising that the wasteland they were driving on for half an hour was exactly the floor of the lake. The lake has almost dried up, leaving camels to dwell there.
Cotton as a crop is highly vulnerable to pest attacks, so farming with soil-contaminating chemicals to secure the harvest becomes inevitable. Huge amounts of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides are deployed, then accumulate in the soil. The heavily acidified cotton farms eventually turn infertile after ten years of planting. Chemicals end up in underground water, posing long-term threats to human health once they enter the food chain.
Besides, developing countries that house the majority of clothing manufacturers in the world are short of sewage treatment measures. Due to the lack of proper treatment facilities and official supervision, most of the wastewater is discharged directly into the ocean and streams, with deadly contaminants. Environmental toxicologists once collected and studied stream water samples from an Indonesian clothing industrial area; they uncovered excess amounts of heavy metals, including mercury, lead and arsenic. Despite the horrendous situation, residents in the neighbourhood keep using the polluted water for irrigation, drinking, bathing and washing clothes – as they simply can't access another water source.
Manufacturers are beyond the shadow of a doubt responsible for these pressing issues, although we are appealing on and on until we are blue in the face. We can't shut the industry down, but we could help to cool fashion fever by choosing durable garments, and eco-friendly products that are made with organic cotton or recycled materials. If green garments are beyond reach, just take a step back – before you shop, think twice!