Today’s fashion industry has become synonymous with overconsumption, a snowballing waste crisis, widespread pollution and the exploitation of workers in global supply chains. What is less well known is that the insatiable fast fashion business model is enabled by cheap synthetic fibres, which are produced from fossil fuels, mostly oil and gas. Polyester, the darling of the fast fashion industry, is found in over half of all textiles and production is projected to skyrocket in the future. Our campaign exposes clear correlation between the growth of synthetic fibres and the fast fashion industry – one cannot exist without the other. The campaign calls for prompt, radical legislative action to slow-down the fashion industry and decouple it from fossil fuels.
Synthetics Anonymous: fashion brands’ addiction to fossil fuels
This report investigates the behaviour of some of the biggest fashion brands and retailers regarding their use of synthetic fibres and transparency about doing so. We reached out to 46 brands with a questionnaire, finding that the majority of brands are dragging their feet on reducing their reliance on fossil-fuel based fibres, with some well-known brands landing in the red-zone for heavy use of synthetics or lack of transparency. No brand was deemed to be a frontrunner on the issue of synthetics. We also conducted meticulous online research of over 4,000 products, seeking to establish what brands are doing on the ground. Our findings not only expose fashion brands’ heavy addiction to synthetics but also demonstrate rampant greenwashing across their voluntary commitments and products, with as much as 59% of green claims for the products we assessed being unsubstantiated or misleading. Whilte ultra-fast fashion brands Boohoo and Forever21 used synthetics in the vast majority of their clothes, 91% of green claims by H&M, ASOS and M&S were found to be unsubstantiated or misleading. H&M and Zalando were also found to have more or almost as much synthetics in their ‘sustainable’ collections as their main collection.
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Fossil fashion: the hidden reliance of fast fashion on fossil fuels
This report reveals the hidden reliance of the fast fashion industry on fossil fuels. It demonstrates how the historical and projected growth of synthetic fibres, such as polyester, has become the backbone of the prevailing unsustainable fast fashion business model, which is driving runaway consumption and presents a major obstacle to a circular economy. It also uncovers how, in light of the fashion industry’s growing dependence on fossil fuels, the oil and gas industry are betting on production of plastic, including plastic-fibres, as a growing share of their revenue. The production of polyester alone is leading to annual GHG emissions equivalent to 180 coal power plants and this is projected to nearly double by 2030. In addition to the climate crisis, fashion’s addiction to fossil fuels is also driving the waste crisis – from ubiquitous microfibre pollution to mountains of textile waste ending up in nature, landfills and incinerators. The report calls for a considerable slow-down of fast fashion and highlights the upcoming EU textile strategy as a good opportunity to introduce sweeping legislation that should change the course of the industry.
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