Apr 22

How the Fashion Industry Impacts the Four Elements

by Hannah Tappin

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What has been your biggest source of joy whilst in lockdown? For many of us, it’s been basking in the beauty of nature. Going on long walks, watching sunrises, sunsets, flowers blooming, new life, fresh air and hearing the blissful sounds of running streams and waking up to songbirds. These moments of peace, serenity and oneness have been gifted by the natural world, which is made up of four elements that bestow life to everything. Earth, air, fire and water.

Although the beauty of the planet unites us all, many of us are yet to explore how our actions negatively impact it. Specifically, how our fashion choices determine increased rates of CO2 emissions in the air that we breathe, how waste leads to pollution of our oceans and waters, or how factory burning causes devastating destruction. We have all been forced to turn to nature during a period of difficulty, so it’s more important than ever to not turn our backs on our planet now.

In honour of this year’s Earth Day, Whering has been exploring how the elements are being jeopardised by the fashion industry. A key issue for fashion to combat is clothing waste and throw-away culture, which Whering aims to prevent by enabling you to digitise your wardrobe so you can effectively utilise your items.

So this Earth Day, here is your reminder that with collective change, there is always hope. After all ‘clothes aren’t going to change the world, but the women that wear them will’

Disclaimer: this article is not about blaming or shaming. It simply promotes learning more about key issues and doing the best you can! No matter how small, your actions can create powerful change.

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EARTH

Often the term ‘Mother Earth’ is referenced when promoting sustainability in fashion. Essentially, it refers to the Earth being the source of all its living beings and natural features. Therefore, if it is the source of life itself and we need to nurture and take care of it.

One way fashion production impacts the earth is through specific fibres and their associated chemicals. Specifically, the heavy use of chemicals in cotton farming which causes disease and soil degradation. Despite cotton being a natural fibre, it requires a lot of water to grow (in some climates up to 20,000 litres of water is needed to produce 1kg of cotton). As a result, 99.3% of cotton is grown using fertilisers and genetically modified seeds. Shockingly, cotton represents 10 % of pesticides used globally!

After reading this you may be wondering: “If cotton is bad, which fibres should I be wearing instead?”

When buying future purchases for your wardrobe, great alternatives include recycled or plant-based fibres. For example, hemp needs far less land than cotton to grow and over 9,000 litres less water.

Still reluctant to make the switch?

Switching to sustainable fibres benefits the Earth, but also preserves your wardrobe as the fibres create higher quality garments. This means they last longer as they retain strength and durability.

Ready to throw out all your cotton-based clothes? Not so quick!

If you bin all your cotton or synthetic based fabrics, this will create more waste and actually contribute to the problem. Instead, be mindful when purchasing in the future. Essentially, keep what you have but be conscious when sourcing new outfits! Where you can, make sure you avoid synthetic fibres too.

Combatting the rise of synthetics

Polyester is the most common fibre in clothing, found in over half of garments. It is derived from petroleum, a non-renewable fossil fuel. When transformed into petrochemicals from crude oil, it releases toxins dangerous for our health and the ecosystem. Not to mention that polyester production is also highly energy intensive.

Sadly, it is non-biodegradable, which means that when it’s thrown away it cannot be broken down naturally and acts as a source of pollution. And if you think synthetic fibres are only bad for the Earth, think again.

In fact, when we wash polyester around 700,000 plastic microfibres end up in our rivers and oceans, but we’ll get onto this during our water element section. As you’ll notice more throughout the article, the elements are interconnected, and the detrimental environmental impact fashion has on one affects the others too.

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AIR

You may be wondering how what we wear could possibly impact the quality of the air in which we breathe? It may come as a surprise to know that the fashion industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions!

The fashion industry generates CO2 emissions during production, manufacturing and transportation of clothes. Fast fashion companies in particular outsource their production to cheaper locations including China and India, which are powered by coal, an extremely harmful non-renewable energy.

Are fashion's CO2 emissions the only problem?

Synthetic fibres emit gases more damaging than CO2 such as N2O, which is up to 300 times more damaging. If you are wondering what you can do to help with air pollution, decide to opt for natural, sustainable fibres that won’t emit toxic gases into the atmosphere.

How can Whering help you on your journey to saving the planet?

Once you have digitised your wardrobe, Whering helps you match pieces with multiple looks, making you more aware of items with versatility and longevity. This is particularly great for the planet but also for your wallet as you spend less on clothes that won’t last!

From a psychological perspective, the digitising your wardrobe brings to the forefront of your conscious mind your purchasing habits. Internal reflection and taking time to process and memorise your garment labels helps you learn about materials and broadens your knowledge of where your clothes really came from. Essentially, you can spot the (metaphorical) monsters in your closet: the clothes that you struggle to wear more than five times, maybe those cheap trend-based items of low quality.

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As well as lockdown giving many a newfound appreciation of nature, it has also led to lots of nostalgia and dreams of jetting off on holiday. Pristine clear blue oceans are often the first visualisations that spring to mind. What many people don’t realise is that fashion is a key contributing industry to the wreckage and pollution of oceans and water shortages.

A two-way problem

Fashion impacts the element of water in two ways: consumption and pollution. Unknown to many people, the fashion industry is the second largest consumer of the world’s water supply and also contributes to microplastic pollution. Shockingly, it can take up to 200 tons of water to dye one ton of fabric.

Think fashion's iimpact on water is only a threat in the future?

The effects of water consumption are already evident, for example by the desertification of large areas. For perspective, 85% of the daily water needs in India could be covered by the water used to grow cotton there. Fashion should never take prevalence over people, so let’s strive for clean oceans and a clean conscience by making choices that don’t contribute to a wider ecological problem.

River polution isn't only harming fish and sea-life...

Historically, many big fashion companies have allowed untreated toxic waters from their textile factories to be dumped into rivers. Not only is this extremely harmful and deadly to aquatic life, it also impacts the health of people living in the surrounding areas. As water is an element of never-ending flow, these waters drift to the sea and ultimately spreads worldwide.

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FIRE

We often say we want to look ‘fire’ in our latest outfit, but many of us haven’t stopped to consider the effects of incineration and landfill on the planet. Looking hot shouldn’t be to the detriment of the earth.

Clothing items are quite literally going up in smoke! It has become common practice amongst some of the worlds biggest fashion manufacturers to burn clothes. Many have said it is a cost-effective way of maintaining exclusivity, opting to burn them instead of dropping their hefty price tag in end-of-season sales

Although some argue demanding brands to drop prices only perpetuates many of fashions problems, incineration is evidently not the solution. Burning clothes releases CO2 and other harmful gases, exacerbating the already disastrous effects of global warming.

Not your problem?

In the digital age, when anyone can have their say and communicate directly with brands, consumers should take back power by demanding more accountability and transparency. Consider asking brands for recycled, second-hand and re-purposed items because communicating this sort of information also enables brands to better understand your desires, wants and needs. It also prevents over-production in the first place!

So, what can you do to help?

Digitising your wardrobe on Whering allows you to reflect on your purchasing, explore the versatility of your items and look more stylish at the same time. A win-win for all! Earth Day is all about restoring our Earth, so share your newfound knowledge with friends, family and whoever will listen. Remember, the Earth does not belong to us, we belong to the Earth. Let’s honour and respect it (and stay looking fashionable whilst doing so)!

Sources: sustainyourstyle.org, UAL, Fashion Revolution & HURR