+++   The Ragnarøk team is going on vacation on 1st July . . . . . but we’ll be back on 1st August 2022! +++

Happy Holidays!

From scratch. About fibers, blends and why we choose Tencel™

Looking down at the dark blue sweater that is keeping me warm today I notice the amount of blonde hairs its carrying, how it is getting fuzzy after all my wearing and washing and how the right sleeve starts to fray in the palm of my hand. I see color, style, a woman’s favorite garment that is starting to show age. What are you wearing today? What do you see when you look at it?

Let me take you back to the day we made the second batch of masks. Our garment technologist Meike is teaching me the tricks of sewing while I am observing her doing what she does best; working the fabrics. When ironing a new piece of fabric, Scottish red, it melts. Alarming! Melting is bad! We thought we had rolls of all pure cotton. Meike steps in, takes the mask, cuts it open and starts to fidget out the three super thin different colored threads in there. Observing the red, yellow and black yarns, she takes her lighter, lights them up one by one aiming to find the synthetic one causing the melt. Watching her do this, a switch in me flicked. As this action quickly invited me to see the fabric the way she does. Not for the mask or piece of fabric I saw, but for the material it is. The individual threads its built out of, fibers spun to yarn. Of course, rationally I know that clothes are made of fabric and fabric is made of fiber. But that’s not something I realize every time putting on a t-shirt. Do you?

This new technical way of looking inspires and excites me so much. Breaking up with old habits leads to new ways, different values. With this blog, I, and with Ragnarøk in general, we want to get you here too. Because we really need to break up with our old ways of fashion. Literally. Built up from scratch a new. Not just the way we value clothes but most of all the way we produce them.

This blog is about..

How getting back to the basis; material, explains why the fashion industry of today is no longer maintainable.

How rebuilding the base of fashion can change everything and how we aim to do this using Tencel for our first production

and how you can change your habits and with that your influence in sustainabilizing (is that a word? Hahah) the industry with a wider knowledge on materials.

Clothes for the bin

The way fashion works right now we make clothes for the bin. Of course we wear them first, at least a little. But in the end they go into landfill. Also when you put them in the recycling bin. From all the clothes produced each year, 85% gets burned or dumped into landfill. That’s a garbage truck filled with textile waste every second going into landfill. 1 truck per second. In the previous blog I shared with you how fast fashion brands are promoting recycling campaigns that are very misleading. (Bit of a long-read, sorry for that, will keep it shorter this time) Most of the clothing handed in for recycling still gets burned somewhere overseas. And from the fabric that does get a new life, only 1% finds it in the form of a new garment.

Why? Because our clothes aren’t made with the aim to recycle them. And that is a huge loss. Because now we go back to the level of fiber; visualize how much time, energy, water, land, fertilizer, labor, food (in case of animal sourced fiber), pesticides and chemicals go into these little things. All that even before the whole journey from fiber to the garment in your closet.

© Liz Vermeulen

Mixed blends

When a piece of clothing is made out of more than one material, it is a blend. Big chance you are wearing one right now. Clothes made out of mixed materials are ‘the usual’. Since the invention of blending, it’s being done all the time. This mixing of fibers does the magic on our clothes. When you mix fibers and do it well, the good features of one material will complement the good features of the others in the mix. That way we make our clothes more comfortable, last longer, fit tighter, wear lighter, print prettier, shrink less, wrinkle barely, and what not more. We are in this luxury position that we can adjust everything exactly to our liking. And it even makes our clothes cheaper. Synthetic (man-made) fibers are cheaper than natural ones, so putting synthetics in the mix lowers production costs of garments. Win-win then, right? Well, if you care about keeping up with every trend, don’t want to spend all your money on it and don’t care about the impact this behavior has on, actually everything, including yourself, then; yes. Sure. But if you do care about the health of our planet, the people doing the work on your t-shirt, yourself and all others alive, let me take you along.

All into one yarn

Looking for information on this subject I ran into terminology that confused me a little. To avoid this becoming too much of a nerdfest, let me briefly mention that the internet speaks of ‘mixed blends’ and ‘blended fabrics’. A mixture is a fabric which is comprised of two or more different fibers each spun into a separate yarn. And a blend is a fabric that is created out of two or more different fibers which have been mixed before or during spinning into yarn.

Meaning: mixing is not just about getting synthetic yarn mixed in a piece of fabric (like Meike showed me when she lit up the treads of the mask) but the synthetic fibers get mixed ínto the yarn. And that is the problem. When fibers get mixed, especially in this way that they become one yarn, you can’t separate them again in a useful way. Utterly impossible! Recycling them? Don’t even try.

Here’s a video to give you a visual of fiber in general and a bit of this process. This is just cotton, but imagine that, when they speak of ‘the duct system and blending and cleaning machine’, that’s where fibers of other materials get thrown in too.

Fiberrrrs 

I want to be careful with all the technical knowledge there is on fibers as I can put up a whole story on the journey of clothes but I’m not sure if that serves you in your needs. Nina is finishing up a MOOC on circular fashion as we speak and shared with me amazing studies. You will find them in the links in the text. To give you the broad lines around fibers, it comes down to this:

Traditionally we know natural and synthetic fibers. Natural ones come from animal or plant origin and synthetic ones are produced in an industrial process. These fibers are originally made from fossil resources (mostly oil) but also biobased alternatives are available nowadays. Listed up:

Natural: wool, silk, leather, cashmere (animal based), cotton, linen, hemp (plant based)

Synthetic: Spandex, polyester, acrylic

Regenerated fibers:

More fibers entered the main field since the last few years. Regenerated fibers like Lyocell (also known as Tencel™), Viscose and Bamboo. Viscose might not be actually new, it got invented in 1883 and was used as a cheap alternative to silk. But it recently gained popularity in the sustainable movement. Rayon belongs to this section of regenerated fibers too. You will see it often. But I mention it on its own as it is not a fiber itself. It’s the name for regenerated fibers in general. So clothing labels you’ll get by can say Tencel rayon, viscose rayon, bamboo rayon. If it just says Rayon you still don’t know the true source. Regenerated fibers are made of natural materials but called semi-synthetic as they need processing before you can use them as fiber for yarn. As Tencel and Viscose are made of wood and Bamboo well, from Bamboo, they are biodegradable and take way less water to grow than for example a cotton plant (which in general is the least environmental friendly crop used in fashion). Although these fibers are made of natural sources and the way they are produced makes them good options for biodegrading and recycling, the chemical process to make them is quite something. Which does not make them great straight away. Tencelis something different in this light tho. Exactly why we love and use it. More on that in a bit.

Innovative fibers

A lot is happening in the field of sustaining the fashion industry at the base of fibers. Fabrics being created from pineapples (piñatex), orange skin, algae, fungi. Which is so interesting as these innovations will really bring more sustainability to the industry. Making them from waste materials or leftovers, being biodegradable as they are made from plants and growing in a very low-impact way in contrast to the other natural fibers we know.

These regenerated and innovative fibers make true recycling optional too. Where with ‘traditional’ fibers the amount of protein in them and the length of the fiber determines their strength, the renewable materials are broken down and then built up again just as they were before. So, where recycling traditional fibers shortens them and cuts their quality, renewable materials are all up for a new go. At least, if the clothes produced from them are made with the aim to recycle them. Because as you now know; if they get mixed with other materials, this will ruin the party.

Polyester = plastic

There is one specific fiber I want to bring to your attention. Polyester. By now hardly to erase out of our experience of everyday wear. A lot of the mixed blends today include polyester. Around 65 percent of our clothes are made of it. Polyester is plastic. And plastic is not our friend. It is put into clothing because it is very soft and it makes clothes very strong and more elastic. But that is because plastic is here to stay forever. Plastic can’t fade or degrade. All plastic ever produced is still here. When aiming to degrade plastic, you actually just transform it into teeny weeny pieces called ‘microplastics’ that are now everywhere around us. In the air we breathe, the soil beneath our feet, the water we drink and even the food we eat. Everywhere! These microplastics do not just shatter around when plastic gets broken down. Every time you wash a piece of clothing made of polyester it releases microplastics into the water. By now, the washing of synthetic clothes releases half a billion tons of microplastic fibers per year into the ocean. That’s more than 50 billion plastic bottles. Per year. It’s pure waste and literal poison.

As that isn’t bad enough already: it is made out of fossil fuel. Plastic is always made out of fossil fuel. Of which the winning and usage is molesting mother Earth. We do realize driving cars is not the most sustainable thing as they drive on oil. But all these clothes fashion companies produce are also made of the same thing. We have to stop that!

Also, wearing plastic on your skin all day every day; not good. And the ‘recycled polyester’ you’ll find is of course better than new polyester but it is mostly made out of recycled plastic bottles. Not your old clothes. And old polyester releases two times the amount of microplastics than newly produced one.

Pro’s and Con’s

Coming back to all the fibers I (quickly) mentioned: They all have their own pro’s and con’s, especially looking at their environmental impact. Colleagues of ours already wrote a lot on exactly this. What each material does for you, how sustainable the process behind the production is and how to compare them with each other. Read about each fiber in English here and for a environmental scan here, if you prefer reading about this in Dutch, go here.

I encourage you to check it out. Informing yourself on the features of different materials is so important and helpful in this transition becoming conscious about clothes. It will help you big time in finding your new favorite garments. If you know what to buy to serve your exact needs, like: breathing, or light weight, warm but not sweaty, whatever it is you want from your clothes, knowledge is your friend. When you know what to look for, you will not only save yourself the bad buys, but you will really love and thus wear the shit out of every piece you own. And at the same time, always feel your best because nothing in your closet is actually ‘meh’. That, to me, is what this is about.

Stop buying unconsciously

Care for what you do purchase, where and who you buy it from

Love what you own

Learn and understand how to care for it right so it will last

And then, wear it out completely and replace it with something of equal value to you

Because that actually is not just what it is about to me. That is what it is about in general. The only true sustainable way to handle clothes in the current system is to wear them out. What you don’t wear out becomes waste straight away because even though you hand them in to recycle, they aren’t made for that.

To bring this back to blends

Blending in itself isn’t necessarily bad as it makes clothes perform better, easier to care for and most of all; stronger. It makes them last longer. Which is great, if we wear them out. But if we only (want to) enjoy them briefly, clothes that last a lifetime are just freshly produced waste. Just as much as we need to change our consuming behavior, the industry needs to change it’s ways. That’s why we chose Tencel.

Closing the loop

You probably hear it every now and then: Closing the loop. What we mean by that is: making the production process an ongoing circle. Beginning again where it ended, ending where it begins. So, no waste! How?

With Tencel

I mentioned Tencel, also refered to as Lyocell, above. It appears under these two names because TENCEL is a brand-name for the fiber that is called Lyocell. This regenerated fiber is made of wood of Eucalyptus and Birch trees. The Austrian company Lenzing AG designed Tencel in such a way that the production is a closed loop, using less harmful chemicals that are abstracted from the fibers when they are done and then can be used over and over again. No chemical waste or polluted water. Truly zero waste. The trees used are grown in a protected way within Europe. So in contrast to other Rayon it certainly does not contribute to deforestation.  And the Tencel fabric we use is made out of 100% Tencel, no blending needed which makes it possible to completely dissolve and use again from start on. I am a visual thinker, maybe you are too, so here’s a video to show you Tencel.

Not just hippies

Sustainability-wise, Tencel to us is just the perfect option for the launch of our company. Other fibers as Linen and Hemp are really great options too, but as we aim for a true closed loop system, this is just the best (for now). Next to the sustainable aspect of the fiber, it is also so good as a base for clothing. The fabric is extremely soft, breathable and anti-bacterial, which will leave you feeling fresh as the shirt won’t come across worn after just a morning of work. You can hang it out after wearing it a day and put it on several times again before it needs washing. Which saves of course water but also leaves the fabric in higher quality longer.

And lastly, Tencel just looks so good. Exactly the style we aim for, casual, qualitative, street wear. Not that Linen or Hemp do not look good. On the contrary, I personally love the natural look they have. But I am not everybody. If we really want to break up with our old way of fashion, these natural fibers that ‘look sustainable’ as the stereotype confirms, won’t make it to the high streets. At least, not for everyone. There are already a lot of companies doing great work with Linen, Hemp, recycled cotton, polyester, all of that. If that’s the style you aim for, options are aplenty. And we love that.

People, like maybe you, that are very aware of the impact of clothes on everything, have options and favorites out there. Some expressing the sustainable vibes more than others. We are very excited about Tencel as it is such a beautiful and qualitative fabric that fits into truly anyone’s closet. Especially the closets of the ones that maybe never cared or still don’t care for sustainability. And that is just amazing! Do I say it’s amazing that people stay careless about environmentalism? Yes. That is not really the amazing part but you know, that is just reality. Some of us are born with this big, intuitive feeling of responsibility that makes us not even question if behaving sustainable is an option or not. But most of us aren’t. Inner motivation is stronger than cognitive knowing. If we, by creating a beautiful product that people take in with the vow to care for it as we intend, also shift consumerism in general to a sustainable version. Caring for ourselves and Pachamama. Big ideals are becoming very real. Within very clear reach. And you are part of that, so thank you.

 

*Writing this with a huge smile on my face.*

 

Liz

Greenwashing

Hey you! Happy that you are here (again). By now you probably know that we feel it is our responsibility not only to offer you the good alternative on clothing but also widen your knowledge on the industry and the Why of things. We believe that changing the wardrobe is nothing without changing the mindset towards it.

The fashion industry holds a lot of problems. In the previous blog-post, Yann summed up the wide picture of whats going wrong. If you haven’t read it and you are in the beginning of your journey of awareness around fashion, go give it a read. Because from now on we will zoom in on all the specific things concerning the fashion industry and sustainability. In general we can say that the fashion industry and sustainability do not go hand in hand. They are closer to being each others opposites. As Clara Vuletich puts it at TedxSydney: ‘fashion is sexy, addictive, exclusive and very fast-moving, sustainability on the other hand is about slowness, care, flourishing and responsibility’. Very true.

©Sunyu Kim

Fast Fashion

She is speaking of fashion, not even of fast fashion, which holds a world of difference. Before getting into the topic of this blog post, greenwashing, let’s elaborate on the term fast fashion. As it is so often used but in contrast of what you might expect it doesn’t get its name from the speed in which we buy and throw out clothes. The term fast fashion actually refers to the very high pace in which fashion companies are able to jump onto trends. The ones that have a very short production time and thus can put new trends into the stores in the blink of an eye. By shortening the process of design, produce, and distribute, they literally push the new collections through the industry. Which makes that every time you enter the store, you will find something new. What makes you come back more often, and so on and on. ZARA is one example and by now has 52 micro-seasons in a year. They also produce 1.250.000 pieces of clothing per day. Makes 450.000.000 per year. Which makes ZARA sort of the biggest of all.

So production speed does not equal buy / wearing out speed. Bueno, greenwashing. We point out the problems of the industry and do not want to blame specific groups. It isn’t about fingerpointing and it certainly won’t get us anywhere further with this troubling system. Why not? Because actually; everybody is to blame. Consumers blame brands for not paying their workers, brands put the low price on consumers as that is all they want to pay for clothes, activists blame brands for following this business model that prioritizes profit, and governments mostly just watch all of it happen. Looking for the one to blame will only distract us from unclogging the drain.

If we want to make things right, it is about how to turn things around. And that (also) starts with you. In this big world, where big money flows, we tend to feel small being just an individual. But we have the power of vote right in our wallets. You might think of yourself as a person not interested in politics. Maybe not even a believer of politics. But actually, everything you do is politics. Everything you think, say and value. Every penny you own and spend is a contribution to maintaining one or the other. See how that brings importance to what you buy and who from?

©Ksenia Chernaya

What is greenwashing

Greenwashing has nothing to do with eco-friendly laundry. On the contrary; when a company or brand acts like their product or way of doing business is sustainable, while it actually is not, that is greenwashing. By pouring a sweet green sauce over already existing, mostly far from sustainable practices, launching products or new collections that are ‘green’, ‘eco-friendly’, ‘sustainable’, ‘natural’, ‘conscious, ‘organic’ or any other term that makes them come across caring; changing into green or brown packaging, offering climate neutral shipping only during a campaign, advertising with a few vegan products, or as we are focusing on fashion: placing recycling bins in their stores. Sadly, most of the time it’s just to score points and win over the growing group of consumers that does care about the wellbeing of our planet and her inhabitants. This group is growing, you know it, we love it.

But they know it too 

We are more aware of the environment as something important and something that we influence with our daily life and choices. We feel more and more responsible for our output and brands know this too. Sustainability became a marketing tool.

We are humans. With a brain and psyche that has been studied to the fullest. Marketeers know how to make us buy things and they of course use that to make us do so. Sustainability became a thing that we care about, so product makers start to compete in this. If you have a shell full of the same kind of products, you will probably feel better about yourself if you choose the most conscious one. But that green packaging or ‘natural’ sticker is just to catch your eye. That the packaging says it a green option, unfortunately doesn’t necessarily mean that it is. But it does trigger our primal response. So, we have to make sure that we don’t immediately go with our first response and bring in the awareness of second thought.

Why can they do this? 

There are no regulations for the usage of terms like natural, green, eco-friendly. If you want to put it on your product, you can.

Greenwashing in the fashion industry

The recycling bin. Right now there are a lot of fashion brands advertising with a recycling program. They put recycling bins in their stores, make commercials about it and even offer you a discount for your next purchase when you hand in old garments. H&M is doing this very well. If you see the commercials they made for it, you just fall for it. I mean..

But now. Knowing it is all trick, personally, it makes me a little nauseous. Of course it is great that they raise environmental awareness and they do give you a scent of feeling responsible for your waste. But truly, its one big lie.

Because recycling is  n o t  sustainable

At least not in the current fast fashion circuit. Only 1 percent of the clothes that get recycled actually get recycled in the literal sense of the word. Meaning that only one percent of old garment will come back in the shape of new clothing. 1 percent! One. Percent.

That’s not really what the pretty advertisement makes you believe, is it?

It takes 12 years to recycle what they sell in 48 hours, says Claudia Marseilles in that same episode of CBC’s Marketplace, linked to above. The fast fashion retailers’ business model is the problem. They are making too much, they are selling it too cheap and it is all disposable clothing. Doing a bit of recycling is a scheme act to distract attention making sure that they don’t have to change the way they are doing things now.

Clothing deficit myth 

Author Elizabeth L. Cline speaks of The Clothing Deficit Myth as a term for the fact that we think that the clothes we put in these recycling bins or donation boxes go to poor people desperately in need of the clothes we don’t like to wear anymore. And that therefore it is a very good deed to hand in our under valued garments. We might even feel like buying new clothes and handing in the old ones, is a way of taking care of less fortunate. But that is only partly happening.

©pexels

What happens to the textiles that you put in these recycling bins?

The bin owners sell them. A part of it goes to the charity stores you have in your neighborhood. But as there are way more old clothes handed in than there are people that need them, or stores that can sell them, most of it gets shipped off overseas and then still ends up in landfill. How?

Due to how these clothes are made, they are a jumble of all different kind of materials to keep the costs as low as possible. Many include synthetic fibers and all the plastic that is in there makes it utterly impossible to separate waste from fiber. And even if it would work out, cotton and wool really lose quality when reused so it isn’t that appealing either. They call this scramble of materials mixed blends. But we can write a full story on that alone later.

The gathered clothes get sorted, as said a part of the usable ones go to the charity stores, the torn ones get shredded and are sold like chunks of fabric-shred to companies that turn it into useful things like isolation material or, for example here in the Netherlands there is a company making filling for punchbags out of it. What didn’t go to the stores and ins’t shred either is wrapped to bunches of clothes and shipped overseas. Where a part of all these clothes goes to the local marketplaces. But as the quality is so low, they can’t even sell it to the people there. So most of all that shipped off garment is piled up and burned, for example on the parking lot behind that local marketplace in Kenia. So.. They’ll make sure its gets what it deserves? “The only thing we will not do, is waste it”?

Why this is bad

These greenwashing tricks lead to; you feeling good about a purchase. They encourage you that way to keep on buying and maybe even buy more clothes than you else wise would have. It is by definition unsustainable! They make you feel like they are taking care of the problematic outsourcing they have so that you can continue consuming their products without them truly having to change what they are doing. They are making up for it, right?

So while you feel like you are spending your money on change, actually nothing changes on the fact that the fashion industry is the 10th most poluting industry in the world when it comes to carbon emissions. The fourth biggest water polluter and the second largest in putting plastic in the ocean.

©cottonbro

And not only that, because with the rise of all the sustainability claims, it doesn’t add to the growth of trust we have towards brands. The harder it gets to tell the difference between truly good practice or marketing playing games, the less we feel encouraged to pay attention and put effort in choosing wisely. If trust is lost, then where are we?

An other example

Next to their recycling program, H&M also has the H&M Conscious line. A good example of a fast fashion brand that is trying to enter the domain of sustainable fashion. But like I said above, you can imagine that adding a ‘a bit more sustainable part’ to a business that is still aiming to grow bigger, faster, isn’t really transformative.

Actually, this conscious collection isn’t much more conscious than the pieces of clothing being made out of different material than the normal collection. The way it is produced, in the poor working conditions for the garment workers, at the same speed, in the same far outsourced places, with thus practically the same negative impact on environment, it is all the same. Sara Dubbeldam from the blog When Sara Smiles got invited to the launch of a new H&M conscious collection last year and wrote an article on how she noticed that the grade of sustainability is only measured by the usage of sustainable materials. Nothing more than that. They spoke about using organic cotton while the cotton they use is BCI, not organic. Which stands for Better Cotton Initiative. And clothes aren’t made 100% out of it but for around 20%. Which of course is already a great improvement.

In general, this blog by now looks like a big rant on H&M as it is about addressing greenwashing. But the fact that all the examples I have are H&M and non ZARA, Boohoo, Adidas, Super Nova, New Look, or whatever brand you can think of, is because H&M is actually almost the only one (truly) trying.

Transparency

When it comes to seeing through greenwashing, transparency is a big one. When a brand advertises with products that are green or eco-friendly without elaborating in any kind of way how that is so, you can tell its an empty promise. Check out online how much you can really get to know about the product, the company and their production process. It takes some time, we know. Luckily, since five years there is the Fashion Transparency Index, a tool that helps us oversee how fashion brands are doing on sustainability and their general transparency of their processes.

©Alena Koval

Which is very good, and very welcome, especially because being transparent on the process is maybe even of bigger importance than already being completely sustainable. Because it is difficult. The industry flows over a lot of different terrains and for full transparency, every part of the chain needs to be open to you as a company too. We struggle with this as well. So yeah, the Transparency Index, so good now all global companies are trying to come across more sustainable, and with that create this facade that makes consumers tumble on their feet. Because who is truly doing good and who is just holding up a curtain? Someone once said to me; when people don’t know what to believe anymore, they are open to believing just anything you tell them. And that is just truth.

So,

Hopefully this kind of shined a light on what is behind this, all of the sudden, thriving-on-sustainability capitalist world. Be aware of the tricks people play on you, not to blame yourself for being vulnerable to it, we are humans and the marketing world knows our weak spots. But with rising awareness, change starts.

If something is too cheap to be sustainable, ask questions. Do your research. Find out yourself. Maybe in the meantime realize that you actually don’t need the thing you wanted to buy. When you buy less, you save money to spend a bit more on something that is in line with your values. And that’s just win, win because reducing is better than recycling, and then money flows where intentions are right. Use your money wisely. Because every day you vote with your wallet. If we want things to change, we have to contribute to that change. Else wise we can just wait our lifetimes.

What’s wrong?

At Ragnarøk Clothing, we never get tired of stating our ambitions to reset the fashion industry, re-evaluate our relation to our clothes and tackle the massive social and environmental injustices brought about by fast fashion and other phenomena. In short: we want to put things right!

Why do we believe this is necessary?

The playing field

The global fashion industry is valued at around 3 trillion $ (3.000.000.000.000), making up around 2 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product.1 Being one of the biggest industries, it comes as no surprise that 1 out of 6 people alive today work in some part of the world’s fashion industry.2 The constant demand for fashion, new trends and innovation in the industry has led to the seemingly unstoppable rise of fast fashion, which produces new trends and collections by the minute.

Today’s fashion industry is undoubtedly dominated by fast fashion, which did not only increase the speed of apparel getting to the consumer, but also the speed and mass at which it moves to become waste. Through providing cheap to produce and competitively priced clothing to a broad mass of so-called “mainstream” customers, the fashion industry has been able to double in size since 2000. The big players of the industry do their best to keep turnover high. H&M, for instance, produces about 12 to 16 collections yearly, while Zara even tops this number with 24 collections.3 These collections are all representing different ‘seasons’, and every new fashion season tries to reinvent the idea of fashion with new trends being born. This also means that the clothes from last season will be thrown out. We buy 400% more clothes than just two decades ago.4 The increase in consumption has its consequences. Most of the waste is non-biodegradable, meaning it sits in landfills for 200 years or more while releasing particles into soil and water and harmful gasses into the atmosphere.5 

The materials

72% of the fabrics used for fast fashion are cheap synthetics, which usually don’t last very long. Many of these synthetic fabrics quickly find their way to landfills, where they are virtually unable to decay. Small particles issued from their production leak into surface waters and our oceans. The harm to our planet, unfortunately, doesn’t stop as soon as clothing lands on our shelves, since washing the items at home releases even more microfibres that add even more pollution to our global ecosystem.6 These fibres are nearly impossible to recycle and therefore tend to end up in landfills, where they make up an average of over 5% of overall waste.7

Germany, the biggest economy in the European Union, imports clothing valued at 43,6 billion € per year, 90% of which is sourced from non-EU countries, namely China, Turkey, India, and Bangladesh. Germans buy more and more fashion items, averaging 60 pieces a year. The items, however, are only worn four times on average before they are thrown out, resulting in one million tons of old clothing being dumped yearly in Germany alone. In a more general sense, a family in the western world gets rid of 30 kilograms of clothing a year, of which only 15% is recycled or donated.8 Even though you could argue that the fashion industry has been able to realize impressive turnovers through these practices, it has led to a multitude of social and environmental problems which heavily outweigh the value it has been able to produce.

The people

We want more and we want it faster. The time for producing and delivering clothing shrinks every day. Pressure on low-cost manufacturers rises. The most vulnerable members of the fast fashion industry are the ones paying up for this as they carry the full responsibility and risk of these shorter production and delivery times. While this increase of volume and speed pushes manufacturers to hire cheaper workforces or explore cheaper material sources, the security of working conditions and social standards weaken. Production workers have to work harder, in hostile environments, for the same salary or even less. The 2013 collapse of the huge fast fashion factory Rana Plaza in Bangladesh is a testament to this.9 Big disasters, like that one, are widely known, but less visible injustices also occur today; big retailers cannot pay their placed orders due to Covid-19. Many garment workers are lacking the payment they need to survive. 

The planet

Considering the environmental impacts of fast fashion, the picture turns bleaker. On a global scale, the fashion industry accounts for 10% of all carbon emissions.10 This is partly due to the complex and long supply chains most fashion companies use nowadays, resulting in transportation all over the world and partly through the materials that are being used. The issues with synthetics were already highlighted above, but the most used natural fibre, cotton, also doesn’t cover itself in glory. The production of a single kilogram of cotton requires between 8.000 and 22.500 litres of water (depending on where it’s grown11), resulting in about 2.700 litres needed to manufacture a single cotton t-shirt!12 On top of that, production of a t-shirt entails the use of a whole kilogram of harmful chemicals and issues 8 to 9 kilograms of CO₂ emissions into our atmosphere.13

Lastly, the push for cheaper and higher-yielding crops has led to an incredible degradation of our farming soils.14 This is particularly bad since healthy soil is essential for the survival of humanity. While the production of cotton increasingly relies on genetically modified strains that possess an improved resilience to natural threats, it also plays its part in the deterioration of global farming land. The influence on food production and other agricultural sectors could be massive moving towards the future. 

The future

The reason for these blog posts is not to spread a sense of hopelessness regarding the future we’re steering towards. Rather, see this as a wake-up call. Things are not going well, there’s no benefit in sugar-coating this fact. But that doesn’t mean that things have to stay bad.

If the industry is to change, if we collectively want to start pushing the needle in the right direction, we have to understand the fundamentals of what’s going wrong.

In the next couple of blog posts, we will illustrate the current state of the fashion industry from different angles, aiming to provide you with varied and informative insights. Don’t hesitate to interact with the authors and the team as a whole in the comment sections!