PHOTOGRAPHY BY JORDAN J KAYE AND LUCILLE BONE FOR USE DAILY
WORDS BY KAYA MARTIN
Read on for some surprising (and pretty alarming) facts about fashion supply chains.
Take a moment to look down at what you’re wearing. It’s giving! But I have a serious question for you: how much do you really know about where your clothing has come from? Sure, you could tell me where you bought it.
Maybe you blew your savings bit on a chunky knit from a small boutique because you knew they had good business practices. Maybe you thrifted that leather mini. On the tag, you could find out the fabric composition and the country where it was made.
For more on slow fashion, head to our Fashion vertical.
But when we really peel back the layers, there are still a lot of unknowns about the fashion supply chain. A hard truth for those of us who love fashion is that our love of clothing has a high environmental cost.
In 2021, the World Economic Forum reported that the fashion industry was the third-largest polluter in the world, after food and construction. The fashion supply chain can be tricky to understand because of the many steps that turn a few wheelbarrows full of cotton into a pair of jeans.
But if we become more educated on the systems that create the clothes we love, it gives us the agency to vote with our dollars and encourage industry-wide change. To get you started, we did some digging and discovered some surprising (and pretty alarming) facts about fashion supply chains.
Roughly one in eight workers worldwide are employed in the fashion and textiles industry
The apparel industry is a behemoth. Out of all of these workers, roughly 80 per cent are women. Many of us rely on these fashion-related jobs for our all-important paycheques but the number on the cheques varies widely.
Less than two per cent of fashion workers make a living wage
The sad reality is that most garment workers are severely underpaid. Outsourcing labour to countries with high levels of poverty is a strategy used by big brands such as Gap and Nike to keep consumer prices low. Workers in Ethiopia are the lowest paid, with the base wage being the equivalent of just under $35 AUD a month.
Australians are the second-largest consumer of textiles in the world, buying an average of 27 kilograms of clothing per person each year
With so many innovative and exciting local labels, it’s no wonder we have such an appetite for fashion. It’s important that we remember to invest in pieces we love rather than making snap decisions on fast fashion items that will lose their shine in a matter of months.
The fast fashion business model is based on ‘planned obsolescence‘
Fast fashion retailers are aware that their clothes will not stand the test of time. They know that their garments only have to last until the next trend comes along. If you’ve ever held a Shein top in your hands, then you know what I’m talking about.
Polyester can take more than 200 years to decompose
This means that if you buy it today it will outlast both your future children and your future grandchildren. What’s worse is that it’s the most commonly used fabric. Nearly 70 million barrels of oil are used to make polyester each year.
200 million trees are cut down each year to make cellulosic fabrics, with 35 to 40 per cent coming from old-growth forests
All-natural fabrics are not always free of harm, either. Forest-based fabrics comprise five per cent of the total apparel industry and this figure is only expected to increase in the coming years. Forests in Indonesia and the Boreal rainforests are targeted for fabric production.
Some countries have banned the importation of secondhand clothes
Donating clothes to charity is more complicated than it seems. In 2016, a group of African countries announced a plan to taper off the flow of secondhand clothing from Western nations. The abundance of donated clothing played a role in the collapse of the local East African textiles industry. In Ghana, the term used for these garments translates to ‘dead White men’s clothes’.
Nearly half of all major brands and retailers have sustainable material targets – but less than one third define what ‘sustainable’ means
It’s no question that the fashion industry needs more transparency. Brands opt to simply say they want sustainability without providing information or metrics on what that looks like. Without a standard to hold them to, they continue to get away with malpractice.
For a breakdown of fashion supply chains and how they work, try this.