Clean Clothes is a series examining the fashion industry’s impact on our planet, and the brands, technologies, and people helping us toward a cleaner, more environmentally conscious future.
A few weeks ago, a broad circle of fashion insiders gathered in Copenhagen to discuss solutions to the environmental and ethical problems plaguing the apparel industry. The Copenhagen Fashion Summit brought designers — like Prabal Gurung and Public School's Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi Chow — together with editors, production experts and various Corporate Social Responsibility types, many of whom spoke at special seminars and lectures on sustainability, ethical manufacturing and corporate responsibility.
Meanwhile, the Boston Consulting Group and the Global Fashion Agenda debuted Pulse of the Fashion Industry 2017, the first-ever publication analyzing and critiquing the industry as a whole. Unsurprisingly, the results weren't exactly uplifting — the fashion industry is renowned for its ongoing issues with waste, pollution, labor malpractice and overproduction.
The summit was fascinating, albeit hard for editors like myself to translate into "sexy" (aka clickable) #content. So, rather than indulge in a thousand-word long lecture that nobody's gonna read, here's some simple — and mind-blowing — facts that underline just how insane our consumption is right now.
Fashion's supply chain employs 60 million people globally.
The amount of people working on everything from yarn production right through to retail is roughly equivalent to the entire population of Italy.
The apparel industry generates around €1.5 trillion revenue annually.
That's roughly the same as the GDP of Canada.
The Global Fashion Agenda and Boston Consulting Group predict that overall apparel consumption will have risen by 63 percent in 2030.
That's the equivalent to 500 billion more T-shirts. Five hundred billion T-shirts!
The volume of water consumed by apparel production each year is currently around 79 billion cubic meters
Or 32 million olympic swimming pools.
Nike's Flyknit sneakers use 60 percent less materials during construction, as its woven, one-piece upper requires no gluing or panels.
The Flyknit may be known as the shoe that sparked the Flyknit vs Primeknit debacle, but it was actually conceived as a way for Nike to produce sneakers in a less resource-intense manner compared to conventional methods.
A €25 T-shirt would only be €1.35 more expensive if the wages of the worker making it were doubled.
Who wouldn't want to pay that?
$90 - $120 billion USD is wasted annually in plastic packaging.
Plastic packaging is utterly ridiculous. It's wasteful and really difficult to recycle — only 2 percent of 78 million tons of waste packaging gets recycled into equally good quality plastic. That doesn't mean it's not valuable, though.
Ellen MacArthur, the record-breaking British sailor, pointed out that kids in the Philippines walk on vast deposits of plastic that are floating in the ocean, picking out individual drinking straws because they can be resold.
There will be more plastic than fish in the world's seas by the year 2050.
That's if current rates of plastic dumping continue.
Humanity is currently consuming resources at 1.6 times the planet's capacity.
By the year 2030, we'll need two planets worth of resources.
Two thirds of all fibers used in clothing production are cotton-based.
That might sound innocuous, but cotton production puts an immense strain on the environment, requiring vast amounts of water to grow and produce. Already, huge areas of cotton-producing countries in Asia and Africa are under intense water stress and at the risk of drought.
H&M picks up 35 truckloads of clothing a day as part of its in-house recycling program.
Once they've been collected, unwanted clothes are then either donated to charitable causes, or recycled into lower-quality products like cloths and insulation. Of course, that's nothing compared to the vast amount of cheap, disposable clothing H&M produces and sells.
Apparel production giant Li & Fung reports that productivity in its factories increased by 18 percent thanks to a new employee program that creates a financially-inclusive, gender-equal work environment, with a focus on ensuring workers receive proper nutrition.
Of course, treating employees like actual human beings should be the absolute minimum for brands producing clothing, but it's good to know that worker welfare actually makes business sense, as well as being morally responsible.
For further reading, here's 21 sustainable and ethical fashion brands that are actually worth buying.