The good news is that we now have more reliable, robust, and in-depth information on the fashion industry than we have in the past. What is the bad news? Fashion has a problem with misinformation. That means we can’t just stop thinking critically because information is more readily available! It is critical to find credible sources to back up all of the shocking facts and figures floating around.
Fortunately, we did the legwork for you. Here are six “facts” about the fashion industry that you are probably already aware of but that deserve a closer examination.
Myth #1: Fashion is the world’s second most polluting industry.
Enter one of the most commonly cited “statistics” about the fashion industry, but there is no scientific evidence to back up the claim. Despite this, there is ample evidence to suggest that fashion has a significant environmental impact.
After electricity and heat, agriculture, road transportation, and oil and gas production, the fashion industry ties with the livestock industry as the world’s third most polluting industry—at least in terms of greenhouse gas emissions—according to calculations based on the 2019 Pulse of the Fashion Industry report. That is still a significant impact—and something we should all be concerned about.
Myth #2: Leather is a by-product of the meat processing industry.
Many people justify buying leather by assuming that the skins of animals used in the meat industry will be discarded anyway. However, this is not the case. Leather is a profitable resource or “co-product,” not just a by-product of the meat industry, contrary to popular belief. Not to mention that the most ‘luxurious’ leather comes from new born veal calves and even unborn calves who are taken from their mothers’ wombs prematurely! If you are interested in learning more, we recommend reading our article on the realities of this profitable material.
Myth #3: Faux fur is an ethical or environmentally friendly option.
Though faux fur has been promoted as a more ethical alternative to real fur, much of it is made of non-biodegradable, chemical-laden materials like nylon, acrylic, and polyester, which are known for shedding microfibres. And, unfortunately, a scandal in the United Kingdom in 2017 demonstrated that you can’t always trust the labels on your clothes. Several high-street retailers, including Missguided and House of Fraser, were discovered to have mislabeled faux fur products made from Chinese cat fur!
This problem is likely to affect more than a few stores, as the vast quantities of fur produced around the world mean that real fur is becoming less expensive to produce than faux fur. We recommend avoiding both real and faux fur (unless it is made from clearly sustainable materials) or purchasing it second hand.
Myth #4: Genuine leather is healthier for the environment than vegan leather.
Is there a quick answer? Not all of the time. True, many fake leather products are made of plastic-based materials such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is non-biodegradable and manufactured with toxic chemicals that have disastrous consequences for both the environment and factory workers. Although polyurethane (PU), which is also widely used, is less harmful to the environment, it is still not ideal. But did you know that animal leather has a greater environmental impact than PU and is not always biodegradable, depending on how it is treated?
While leather is a timeless, durable, and ‘natural’ material that can last a lifetime, its manufacture can be extremely harmful to both people and the environment. Fortunately, there are now eco-friendly leather alternatives on the market that are far more ethical and, in many cases, more sustainable!
Myth #5: You are helping the environment and people in need by donating your old clothes.
Shoppers now consume cheap, low-quality fashion at such a rapid rate, particularly in affluent Western countries, that charities and op-shops can barely keep up with the massive amounts of clothing being dumped on them. Not only is the sheer volume of clothing a problem, but the declining quality of donated clothing means that many of them are unsellable and end up in landfills!
To make matters worse, according to a recent ABC report, a lot of this low-quality clothing ends up in local markets in countries like Ghana. It regrettably ends its journey by contributing to a “environmental disaster,” turning parts of the country into mountains of toxic landfill made from “dead white man’s clothes.”
Any environmental benefit gained from donating our old clothes is negated if we simply fill the newly freed space in our wardrobes with new clothes. Why not give your old clothes a second chance at life by upcycling them, getting them tailored, selling them online, or throwing a clothes swap party the next time you are about to donate them? If you are dead set on donating, call your local charity shops to see if they are in need of your high-quality items right now.
Myth #6: Ethical clothing is prohibitively expensive.
We are not going to pretend that spending $50 on an organic cotton t-shirt instead of $5 on a mass-produced t-shirt is a viable option for everyone. For many people, one glance at an item of ethical clothing’s price tag is enough to turn them off for good. We are here to tell you that it does not have to be that way!
Clothing prices used to be much higher, and the production of more environmentally friendly fashion is a throwback to our origins. Clothing that was changed more than a few times a year was a rarity not long ago, and the cost of clothing has plummeted to the pitiful levels we see today in just the last twenty years. There is a lot more to a price tag than just the cost of the fabric. There is also the cost of paying a living wage and protecting the environment. Many people who want to give their wardrobe an ethical makeover or who have a specific budget in mind follow the ‘cost per wear’ rule. It considers how many uses (or ‘wears’) you can get out of a piece of clothing, with the more wears equalling a better investment.
As consumers, we must move away from the culture of instant gratification and materialism, which is often associated with exploitation. Our expectations have been warped by the unrealistic and unsustainable price points that surround us, and something has to give.
Also, do not overlook the value of second hand clothing! You might just find your new favourite piece for a fraction of the original price if you devote some time to browsing through op shops, VInted, or Vestiaire Collective listings.
So there you have it—six fashion industry “facts” that we have debunked. It is a confusing and contradictory world out there, so kudos to you for taking the time to educate yourself on the latest fashion myths. (Burhan Abe)