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  • Writer's pictureHenry M Green

A case study to investigate how the fashion industry contributes to climate change.


This case study will investigate how the fashion industry contributes to climate change. Fashion is a global industry and a fundamental contributor to the economy in the UK. Fashion in the UK is reliant on sources from across the world. At best, fashion and the production of textiles are regulated by legislation and ethical trading standards. But are these standards adhered to across the globe? Greta Thunberg, a Swedish school girl, has brought climate change to the forefront of everyone’s minds and has certainly brought it to the attention of politicians within developed countries. People are becoming more aware of how households can contribute towards climate change both negatively and positively. However, how far have discussions gone towards considering ethical and sustainable fashion?

I have chosen to create a documentary on the contribution the fashion industry has on climate change. Being a topic that is not often thought of, there is a lack of awareness on the damage the fashion industry causes to the environment. With the recent spike in frustration shown by protestors and environmental campaigners worldwide. This proves the idea will be of relevance and one that will appeal to an audience of large proportion.

Fashion in the UK is big business. According to the Evening Standard, in 2018 the fashion industry contributed £32 billion to the UK economy. This staggering amount shows the vast scale of the industry, but it also needs to be considered that it makes fashion the second most damaging industry in the world. In my documentary I want to show various juxtapositions between fashion and the environment, by referencing the scale of the industry in comparison to industries in the UK. The fashion industry in the UK is almost as big as the financial sector with 890,000 jobs in the industry in the UK alone (Evening Standard, 2018). In comparison the financial sector contributes the most amount of money each year to the UK GDP (Gross Domestic Product) yet is far more sustainable.

In my documentary a crucial problem I want to emphasise is fast fashion. Often referred to as fashion’s dark side. Fast fashion is the driving force for the industry’s bad carbon footprint and un-sustainable reputation which makes it the 2nd most polluting industry in the world. Fashion contributes to 20% of global water pollution through the manufacturing of the garments (World Resources Institute 2017). The UK still spends approximately £27 billion on fast fashion alone each year and with that number rising, it provides a huge complication not just for the industry but for conservationists worldwide. (Greenpeace, 2017). With a demand that is continuing to rise year by year worldwide. Incredibly, fast fashion sales have almost doubled from $1 trillion in 2002 to $1.8 trillion in 2015. This means fashion consumption is likely to keep growing, with sales worldwide likely to hit $2.1 trillion by 2025, (according to Greenpeace in 2017). The growing demand for fast fashion garments means that the industry will have to innovate new ways of making garments in a sustainable and ethical practice otherwise the future for fast fashion and the global climate could be devastating. In its current form fast fashion has extremely bad reputation for unethical manufacturing of products and extremely unethical and damaging ways of disposing waste, with most waste products from sweatshop factories being washed into public rivers and streams in the surrounding areas of the factory causing catastrophic damage to animal life and human health (BBC News, 2018). This fact is backed up by The Ellen MacArthur Foundation 2017, which stated that of the 2,400 substances used in clothing manufacturing, researchers found that approximately 30% of the identified substances posed a risk to human health.

This seems like a small percentage overall, however when those deadly chemicals are being pumped into water ways that millions of people use to drink, wash etc, it can cause catastrophic effects. Another huge obstacle for fast fashion is the amount of water that is needed to produce each garment. Water is used at an alarming rate in which has seen in recent years, entire lakes completely dry up due to the water being used in fast fashion sweatshops and factories (BBC News, 2018). According to WRAP from statistics gathered in 2011 it takes approximately 10,000 litres of water to produce enough cotton to make a single pair of jeans.

However, there are a few brands and individuals that are looking to the future of fashion and are leading the way in a sustainable fashion future. Two great examples are the designers, Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood.

Throughout the documentary I want to portray climate change/global warming as a very real threat, that is affecting our planet everyday. However in the documentary I want to present a neutral argument between the fashion industry and climate change. I want to start the documentary by showing the art of fashion and why one would want to pursue a career. This will include the art of haute couture but also why high fashion plays a huge role in modern day society as well as being a major contributor to the UK economy. I will then go on to show the dark side of the fashion industry. This being fast fashion, and the devastating environmental impact that is caused. Concluding with who should be responsible for the poor carbon footprint of the industry. The media, the fashion houses, or the influencers.

With the target audience being a person that is unaware of the fashion industry or someone with little knowledge of the process of how and where their clothes are manufactured. I want to cover every aspect on how any person can buy clothes that are ethically sourced and that are not damaging to the environment. However I also want to show that although the fashion industry is the second most damaging in the world, I want to highlight the designers, and influences that are leading the way for change within the industry, and show the efforts that are being undertaken to improve our future.

There have been many documentaries on climate change as a potential global crisis that unless tackled immediately, will be the 6th mass extinction. This including, Before The Flood, An Inconvenient Truth, True North, etc. However there has been almost zero documentaries on educating an audience on the devastation to the environment by the fashion industry. This being only, The True Cost, that only highlights on fast fashion with a very clear bias rather than the whole of the industry. This means my documentary will have a unique selling point by describing and showing the whole picture in terms of the fashion industry including fast fashion but also the beauty and elegance of the industry. It will also show the impact the fashion industry can have on society which is a crucial reason for making the documentary. Overall there has not been one documentary that has been made that describes the fashion industry being both a positive and a negative, to the environment and culture.

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