The Environmental Injustice of Fast Fashion – Revelation 21

Fashion integrates the people of this planet to an extent that few other industries achieve; clothing is an essential good, seen on the backs of a city-worker in London and a rural villager in Accra 4600 miles south. Goods such as internet-access and mobile-phones still possess cavernous vacuums across the developing world, explaining their 53% and 68% coverage of the Earth’s 7.6bn inhabitants. In contrast, the universal consumption of fashion implicates everyone into the $1.3tn multifaceted industry, which employs 300m people along the extensive value chain.

1 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away”

But the essentiality of clothing cannot be reconciled with the market that fashion has manifested into today. An explosion of economies of scale brought about by the production-shift to South-East Asia has enabled a collapse of garment prices; consumers now can easily afford to dispose of clothes long-before they fall apart. There’s no shortage of motivation to do this, owing to the eruption in ‘trends’ that now sees 52 micro-seasons being pumped out every year. It’s easy to read this and immediately think of the ‘fashion-blogger’ that dominates your social-media feed, but in reality, the majority of consumers have become trapped in this model. Worldwide, the average number of times a garment is used has plummeted 36% in the last 15 years alone.

Unfortunately, a minimal cost for millions of textiles means a momentous cost for our one and only planet. As shown in the far-reaching Ellen MacArthur Report, the current demands on the earth’s resources present a tragedy. In 2015, the textiles industry emitted over 1.2bn tonnes of CO2, exceeding that of all international flights and maritime transport combined. Producing the fibres that make our clothes demanded over 98m tonnes of oil; colouring them to our tastes devoured 43m tonnes of chemicals.

The projections condemn our planet to a punishment of drawn-out destruction. If current trends continue, then the industry will sell 160m tonnes of clothing in 2050, 3-times that of 2017; attaining this level of fashion-proliferation will plunge society to inescapable depths of environmental catastrophe. Over 26% of our 2°C carbon-budget will be eaten up, placing a world of extreme-weather, food-scarcity and population-displacement on the horizon. Entrained within the flooding sea-water that will displace coastal-populations and diminish agricultural-fertility will be 22m additional tonnes of microplastics in the ocean, which will outweigh the fish population we rely so heavily upon.

 “Following decades of living in denial, the world is finally waking up to the monumental environmental impacts of the fashion industry”

4 There will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

While everyone would feel the brunt of this in the coming decades, there is already tangible suffering for many across the supply-chain today. In India, 50% of all pesticides are used in the nation’s world-leading cotton industry. Cotton remains the dominant fibre in the textile-industry today, contributing to nearly half of the 80bn new garments made every-year; intensive pesticide-use constitutes the only way to grow the crop quickly-enough to satisfy the incomprehensible trend-frequency of fast fashion. Yet, the marginal farmer-income generated by the fast-fashion model pushes basic protective equipment out of their reach, causing news-stories such as the 500-cases of inhalation-poisoning in one farming-town alone.

Another sign of fast-fashion’s impossible coherence with different societal objectives arises in the viscose industry. The wood-pulp based fibre has been touted as a more sustainable alternative to cotton and polyester, due to its sourcing from quick-growth regenerative trees. However, the local impacts of its production have been devastating, due to its reliance on two chemicals. Carbon-disulphide is a highly-toxic endocrine-disrupting chemical that’s been linked to kidney disease, heart attacks and strokes. Sulphuric acid is another highly-corrosive liquid required to transform the pulp into fibre, attributed to skin burns and shortness of breath among factory workers. These have been found to be 3-times higher in residential areas near to major factories in Shandong, one of the biggest textile-centres.

6 To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.

The impacts on water-usage expand these local hotspots into highly-vulnerable regions, where humanitarian aid continues to be necessary in plugging the gap. In India, over 100m people still don’t have drinking water easily-accessible; for comparative purposes, 85% of their accumulative requirement would be met by diverting water from cotton, 1kg of which requires 10k-20k litres to grow. In China, the problem is not scarcity but pollution; 25% of the population have no clean-water access due to the chemicals that have ravaged the nation’s rivers.

27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Deceit permeates the industrial supply-chains of fashion, enabling these social injustices to be played out. The manufacturing facilities in industrial-zones often cater for hundreds of different brands at any one-time. This makes attributing chemical-pollution to each brand virtually impossible, as the suppliers share communal wastewater-treatment-plants (WWTP) which don’t require the disclosure of input waste. With virtually no-oversight as well as highly-frequent overloading of treatment plants at busier times of the year, there’s hardly any motivation to take the effort. This is why over 90% of wastewater in developing countries is discharged into rivers without treatment, exposing the local population to lead, arsenic and mercury with no mercy. The fundamental problem of self-assessment flows beyond wastewater; the most common index for fashion-brands assessing their entire supply chain relies mainly upon internal accounting, which in light of the brand-concentration at every supplier, presents a seismic investigatory-challenge.

1 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away”


There is no doubting the severity and inevitability of consequences that fast fashion has imposed on our planet. In light of the growing-population and middle-class consumption in China and India alone, it becomes easy to give in and say we cannot fight this battle. But in my mind, hope emanates from those very statistics that provoke initial despair; just 15 years ago, the lifetime of the average garment was 36% higher than it was today. While many of the students reading this will have faded memories back then, it’s difficult to imagine that owning fewer clothes significantly affected the average consumer’s enjoyment of fashion. No tangible loss in quality of life is required, in contrast to cutting back on our transport and diet for green reasons. If anything, fewer garments per-capita constitutes an invaluable opportunity for the future; freeing up wardrobe space offers huge potential in a world where sustained-urbanisation and real-estate inflation continue to squeeze our living space, especially in the emerging powerhouses of China and India.


But the merits of more-sustainable fashion stretch far beyond this practical advantage; we haven’t even considered the social injustices of human trafficking in the industry, where horrific abuse of female and child-workers is rampant. A wave of environmental attention on the fast-fashion shoreline will be joined by a tsunami of outcry for these labour injustices, precipitated by the same ultimate cause: consumer demand for the lowest possible price. As attention grows exponentially to the devastating realities of this price-pressure, so too will the willingness to pay a surplus for ethical alternatives, that enables suppliers to clean up their factories and treat their human workers humanely.

Expecting this worldwide-shift to ethical consumption in the near-future is no doubt as ambitious as it is necessary. But it is possible, and the power rests with us. Luke 12:48 affirms ‘to whom much is given, much will be required’- having been born in one of the most affluent nations on earth, we escape the localised environmental devastations of fashion-production while simultaneously driving the force of its unsustainable consumption. And just as the explosion of trends provided consumers with the motivation to engage in fast-fashion, the environmental implications of ending its reign over our lives must motivate us to save our captivating creation….

Revelation 22:1

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.


Ellen MacArthur Foundation, A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future (2017)

Changing Markets Foundation (2017) Dirty fashion: How pollution in the global textiles supply chain is making viscose toxic.

Changing Markets Foundation (2017) Dirty fashion: On track for transformation            

Changing Markets Foundation (2018) The false promise of certification reportENG.pdf

Greenpeace (2012) Toxic Threads: Putting Pollution on Parade


Luke Jelleyman | 2nd year @ Hilda’s