Fast Fashion Pollution Exceeds Air Travel

Updated: Jan 3

Written by: Megan McDowell


A challenge that many companies have is waste, whether this be in time, money, or resources. Nothing can cause companies to trim excess than hard times. The fast fashion industry is in a boom right now, and the waste being created is tremendous. Market research online communities can be a great way to reduce waste as you learn to design for your customer removing guesswork and failed products.


Pollution Exceeding International Air Travel


In a recent article by Sarah Spellings for The Cut magazine entitled, “New Report Says Fashion Is Responsible for More Carbon Emissions Than International Flights,” the author looks at the waste involved in clothing production. The article is based on a new report from Dame Ellen MacArthur’s foundation which cited that fashion production currently produces 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year and is steadily rising. These emissions are greater than international flights and shipping combined, states The Guardian. The whole industry is in need of drastic reforms to keep harmful materials going into the oceans during washing, pollution from dies, and the lack of recycling with existing fabrics.


Travel to any mall in North America or Europe and you will see low cost, fast fashion mega stores. The appeal of these stores is that the clothes look good, and are extremely affordable. The third element that was typically associated within the purchase of clothes from my parent’s generation (those born between 1910-1940) was quality. Often this generation bought a few key pieces of clothing and kept them in immaculate condition and wore them for 10-15 years. Now, it would be a surprise to see a piece of clothing worn more than a year or two among most shoppers of these fast fashion stores. One reason being, fashion trends seem to change faster now than they did before, so individuals are shopping for in-the-moment trends as opposed to more timeless pieces. An interesting qualitative community research project would be to invite a grandparent, parent, and Millennial from the same family to see the different perspectives on shopping and wardrobe building.   


Sales are Up


In the past 15 years clothing purchases have increased, and the amount of time an individual keeps an article of clothing has decreased. Spellings writes, “If that doesn’t feel bleak enough, the findings also show that clothing production has doubled in the past 15 years, and will triple by 2050 “should growth continue as expected.” With the increased demand of clothing there is relatively no recycling that takes place. Spellings cites that less than one percent of material is recycled for new clothing.  This equals to one ton of clothes being wasted per second, while 500,000 pounds of plastic fibers from clothes are washed into the ocean a year.

Change is Needed


The report goes on to cite ways that things can be improved. MacArthur explained to the The Guardian, “today’s textile industry is built on an outdated linear, take-make-dispose model and is hugely wasteful and polluting. We need a new textile economy in which clothes are designed differently, worn longer, and recycled and reused much more often.” Spellings goes on to come up with four crucial steps the textile industry can do to create positive change, 1) Do away with harmful fibers. 2) make durability more attractive and hold brands more accountable. 3) Create a strong demand for recycling. 4) Make a shift to renewable resources.

Zeroing In


To see a major change within the clothing industry large retailers would have to start incentivizing customers to recycle previous purchases and then reincorporate those materials back into the fabric supply. Marketing campaigns could begin trying to create campaigns to draw attention to the problem, and to brand their businesses as part of the solution rather than a contributing factor to the problem. Market research communities could also be used by large brands to understand ways to implement recycling programs, and help with designing for the customer rather than guessing and hoping for success.


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