Today we are going to talk about fast fashion and the impact of our clothing choices. There are loads of things that we can do as consumers to have a more positive impact, but also a lot happening at the industry level. We will share some great initiatives and some concrete actions that we can all take.
How to listen? Options:
- Listen to the episode here: Google, Spotify, Apple
- In the player at the bottom of this website – click it now to read the text at the same time as listening!
- Search ‘Green Talking Fast Fashion’ on any other preferred platform.
All the useful bits to help you get the most out of Green Talking available on this page:
Good on You app for understanding the impact of your wardrobe
Swapsy app for clothes exchange
30wears website for the #30wears challenge
Other resources not mentioned in the episode:
Vinted website for reselling clothes in France
Do you have other relevant resources to share with our listeners? Tell us in the comments!
Cassie: Hi I’m Cassie
Jennifer: And I’m Jennifer
Cassie: And you are listening to Green Talking, the podcast helping you learn English for good.
Jennifer: As always, the podcast text, along with links and the key vocabulary, is available online at greentalk.fr
Today we are going to talk about fast fashion. This session, once again, links to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 12. That’s Responsible Consumption and Production. So what is fast fashion?
Cassie: Fast fashion is often defined as an approach to the design, creation and marketing of clothing that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers.
Jennifer: So that basically means buying clothes because we want to be fashionable and not because we need them.
Cassie: Yep, and an industry which is specifically designed to constantly change what is fashionable, so that as soon as we buy something, it’s already ‘last season’!
So to better understand the subject, should we have some stats?
Jennifer: Yeah! It’s time for fun facts with Cassie!
Cassie: Ok so there are a lot of facts in here so bear with me but I think it’s all really important to tell the whole story about fast fashion. So fact number one: ‘Nearly 70 million barrels of oil are used each year to make polyester, which is now the most commonly used fibre in our clothing. But it takes more than 200 years to decompose.’
Jennifer: 200 years for polyester to decompose. That means the fibres of that shiny silver t-shirt I had in the year 1999 those fibres still exist somewhere on the planet! That t-shirt should never have existed in the first place.
Cassie: Yup that Britney Spears t-shirt is still knocking about.
Fact number two: 20,000 litres. That’s the amount of water needed to produce one kilogram of cotton; which is equivalent to a single t-shirt and pair of jeans, or to put that into context the amount of water one person drinks in 5-6 years.
Jennifer: Yeah that is crazy. So more water has been used creating my current wardrobe than I will drink in my entire lifetime. Yeah wow.
Cassie: Yup. Fact number three: ‘One-in-six people work in the global fashion industry.’
Jennifer: Wow! One-in-six people work in the world work in fashion. Yeah this is a huge industry really is at an enormous scale.
Cassie: Fact number four: The apparel and footwear industries together account for more than 8% of global climate emissions, greater than all international flights and maritime shipping trips combined.
Jennifer: Yeah so once again that helps to understand the scale of this problem.
Cassie: Yup and this problem isn’t going away. So Fashion’s consumption of resources – especially water and oil – is projected to double by 2030. This is seen in the production of the raw material, such as cotton, as well as in the creation of garments in factories across the world.
Jennifer: So consumption of resources is going to double in the next ten years. So what can we do to help this? How should we be changing?
Cassie: So as we hear, cotton uses a lot of resource to manufacture. Most people probably haven’t heard of the Higgs Material Sustainability Index.
Jennifer: The Higgs Material Sustainability Index.
Cassie: Rolls right off the tongue. It’s a tool that scores the environmental impacts of materials used, with the intention to find more sustainable materials. So it’s a tool that people who are accessing fashion or creating fashion can use to compare different types of material.
So for example on thing that it is shows is that a piece of clothing made from recycled cotton will be more sustainable than one made from organic cotton. Also there are many alternatives to cotton but it’s understanding what they are and which clothes they are in. ‘Good On You’ is also an app which rates the sustainability of different clothing brands, as well as the cost. Tools like these are great because they help the consumer make their own decisions.
Jennifer: Yeah definitely and once again. We say this in many of our podcasts it’s about being informed, about having that knowledge, having that understanding. That’s a great example that recycled cotton is more sustainable than organic cotton. And I think just having those conversations and discussing those kind of pieces of information is really helpful and it’s great that there is apps to help the consumer make those choices
Cassie: Definitely and in addition to the different materials that make clothes, it’s important to think of the life cycle of clothing. Fashion brands continue to use far more virgin resources than recycled ones.
Jennifer: So this means that a raw material is created or mined and then used for the single purpose of making one piece of clothing right?
Cassie: Yup exactly so at the moment the way that the system is designed is for clothing to be used normally in quite a linear way: fibre is produced, it’s made into clothing, the clothing is used and then after use it is often sent to a landfill. Only about 1% of textile waste is actually recycled and at the moment it takes about 12 years to recycle what is created by the fast fashion industry in 48 hours.
Jennifer: So everyone is buying these products that have been made from raw materials. They are wearing them a couple of times and then they dispose of them and it takes 12 years to recycle something that is made in 48 hours. That’s… yeah that’s depressing.
Cassie: It really is. With this in mind I think it’s important to be conscience about the clothes we buy and how often we use them. There was a campaign going around Twitter called #30Wears. And this is a campaign that asks you to ask yourself- will I wear this at least 30 times? And if the answer is no, then ask yourself why are you buying it?
Another option when it comes to fast fashion is to buy second hand. And I don’t just mean charity shops and vintage shops. There are also lot of great initiatives trying to connect consumers to products. One of these in the UK is called ‘Swapsy’, it’s like Tinder, but for second hand clothes:
Jennifer: Swipe right for a sweater!
Cassie: Exactly. It connects people to different products that they could use. And ties into the way that people live through different digital means.
Jennifer: Yeah and it’s adding a fun element as well. It’s just trying to get people engaged and trying to think about things differently. Again, changing that system. And then we also have clothes swaps that are really popular. Essentially an opportunity for people to meet in person and swap clothes. And it’s something that you can easily set up yourself.
And actually there’s loads of companies, private companies that are really trying to do things differently. Patagonia, for example is well known for their advertising approach – you may remember a few years ago they had an advert that said ‘don’t buy this jacket’?. And they actively encouraged people to reduce their consumption habits, and to question whether they really need something new. Whether they need to buy a new jacket.
And even though it is still an advertisement, they are still advertising a product, it’s making people question things, and just think differently and ultimately that is what we are really trying to do, just question the system.
And Loom, a French company that are do something a bit different as well. Their products are designed to last and designed to have a really low carbon impact. They want you to buy one product and keep it for as long as possible. But they remind that you are better buying one H&M t-shirt than two Loom t-shirts. The most sustainable piece of clothing is the one you don’t buy!
Cassie: Exactly. And it’s like everything we’ve talked about, we still need to dress ourselves, and enjoy doing it. It’s just about being informed.
Jennifer: So we’ve talked about water use, we’ve talked about resource use, thinking about that cotton use, we’ve talked a little bit about marketing, and what about the actual emissions, the carbon emissions, the greenhouse gas emissions, that are produced by creating clothing
Cassie: Levi, Strauss & Co, announced a climate change action plan recently with science based targets.The company plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% across its global supply chain by 2025, which is a really ambitious target. But it is also really important that it’s not just looking at the shops or the buildings that they own but it’s looking at all elements of the process from end to end. In addition they also plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in all of their owned-and-operated facilities, which will be achieved by investing in onsite renewable energy and energy efficiency upgrades. It will be interesting to see what other brands do or if they do something similar.
Jennifer: Yeah and I think as well it’s important to think about what that means in reality and particularly with the fashion industry to keep green washing in mind and there is a lot of excellent targets that are spoken about and now we just need to see action.
Cassie: Yeah it’s really about changing the way the sector thinks about things. A sector that is so focused on the latest trend, the latest fashion, how can that be fed back into the system.
Jennifer: Yeah definitely and we do still want to celebrate those and designers and support that art and try and find a way to change the system so that it just becomes less destructive and has a more positive impact. And we are starting things being done a little bit differently, for example the Italian Ministry of Environment actually works with the UN to develop a ‘Green Fashion Week’. And this is just thinking about things differently, illustrating how fashion brands are already setting the path, already thinking about new ways of doing things and finding new business models that just have a more positive impact.
Cassie: Wow ok so I feel like we have had loads of <KLAXON> facts today!
Jennifer: Yeah there’s definitely a lot of information out there and there is a good awareness of this issue in the sector and change is definitely underway.
Personally I think we have to acknowledge that clothing is kind of essential!
Jennifer: We want to keep clothing. And not only that but it can be a form of art and expression, and of course it has the potential to provide employment. Remember 1 in 6 people in the world works in the fashion industry, it just needs to be done in a sustainable way and that is not happening at the moment. But it’s a creative industry, so we should be able to think of creative solutions. These are creative artists who are involved in this industry. What about like clothing that is designed to be repurposed, or seeing more items that are designed to be worn in multiple ways? Finding ways to make clothing cool and multi-functional and repurposable. Is that a word? Repurposable? [no it is not a word!]
Cassie: It can be.
Jennifer: It can be. Repurposable clothing. Like.. I don’t know, winter gloves that can than be changed into a summer hat or something! The industry is creative, I really hope they will rise to the challenge and I’m excited to see what they come up with!
Cassie: I’m all for repurposing clothing but there is no way I’m ever going to be wearing those trousers that also convert in to shorts with the zip off bottoms. I think that’s a trend that can be left to someone else.
I think this all comes down to the fact that as consumers we have a real role to play in this. Questioning where our clothing comes from and what has been involved in creating it is a real way we can make a difference.
So that brings us towards the end of our episode today. Thanks for joining this episode of Green Talking, the podcast helping you learn English for Good. We’ll link to all of the topics discussed today in the podcast notes but we’re really to keen to hear from you! How have you made a change after today’s podcast? What have you learned? What would you like us to talk about next? You can join the conversation on social media, we’re at @greentalkfr . And we look forward to you joining us next week!
Jennifer: Thanks for listening! And my catchphrase of the week, I know this is your favourite part of the episode Cassie, my catchphrase of the week today:
Where have you been, you should be talking green!
Cassie: Ok… I feel like we’re getting there. Bye!
Getting there? Getting better…maybe?!
Jennifer: See you next time!
cheaply => with little expenditure of money;
fashionable =>being or in accordance with current social trends;
decompose => separate (substances) into constituent elements or parts; break down; lose a stored charge, magnetic flux, or current
t-shirt => a close-fitting pullover shirt
lifetime => the period during which something is functional
apparel => clothing in general
footwear => covering for a person’s feet; clothing worn on a person’s feet
maritime => to or involving ships or shipping or navigation
shipping => conveyance provided by the ships belonging to one country or industry; the commercial enterprise of moving goods and materials
helpful => showing a willingness to cooperate;.
virgin => being used or worked for the first time;
mined => extracted from a source from the earth
landfill => the disposal of waste material by burying it “landfill sites”
depressing => causing sadness, depression
vintage => old
sweater – a piece of clothing covering the upper part of the body
swap => an equal exchange
advertising – promotion, publicity of some product or service
advertisement => promotion, publicity of some product or service
advert => promotion, publicity of some product or service
upgrades => a new version, improved model, etc.:
trend – what is popular at a given time
underway => currently in progress
acknowledge => to admit to be real or true
repurposed => to adapt or utilize (something) for a new purpose
repurposable – word invented by Jennifer!
trousers => Also called pants. a usually loose-fitting outer garment for the lower part of the body
zip => a fastener for clothes