Environmental impacts of fast fashion

Last month, my supervisor Dr. Kai M.A. Chan was invited to talk to Global news about the environmental impacts of fast fashion. He is very busy, especially nowadays, so he asked me if I could do it. I agreed to do it and here is the result….


A few things to learn about the fashion industry:

Some of the environmental impacts of fashion:

  • Litter in landfills: Approximately 85% of the clothing Americans consume, nearly 3.8 billion pounds annually, is sent to landfills as solid waste, amounting to nearly 80 pounds per American per year
  • Water pollution: In countries like India or Bangladesh where most of the textiles are done, water pollution is a major issue. To get the colours right, pure water is needed, and often a few rounds of dying. Synthetic fibres like polyester are particularly difficult to dye. Sometimes sewage water is untreated and ends up in rivers and lakes.
  • Health-related problems: the people making our clothes are working in poor conditions and their health is often in peril. For instance, the blue dust from blue jeans is a heavy irritant to the lungs.

Read more here: https://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12940-018-0433-7

Some great things happening in this industry:

  • Brands are rethinking local systems: For example, British fashion designer Bethany Williams‘ “Breadline” collection saw her partner with UK supermarket Tesco and the Vauxhall Food Bank to create a “cycle of exchange”. Tesco donate food items that food bank users can exchange unwanted clothes for. Williams then created her collection using donated garments and Tesco-branded organic prints. The collection is 100% sustainable and 30% of profits are invested back into the food bank.
  • Fast fashion brands are committing to the environment: For instance, H&M has committed to use recycled and sustainably sourced materials by 2030, and plans to adopt a “climate positive” value chain by 2040.
  • Brands are creating sustainable materials: For example, Allbirds, a footwear brand, developed SweetFoam, a material derived from sugarcane, named one of Time Magazine’s 50 Best Inventions in 2018. Allbirds is taking its findings and sharing them with other brands to create a global sustainable production cycle.
  • The State of Fashion 2019: A year of awakening… Every year the consulting firm McKinsey & Company writes the state of fashion report. For the first time sustainability appeared as a major concern in the fashion industry. Great news! Sustainability is no longer something that the industry needs to think about tangentially, now it also makes sense for business.
  • Designers are awesome: Designers (of all kinds) are the most creative minds in our societies. Let’s work with them (By this I mean let’s gather scientists, sustainability scholars, and designers) to create sustainable designs for fashion and beyond… If we partner with designers we can come up with more eco-friendly solutions!

I have a personal journey with fashion. When I was 15 or so, I was obsessed with fashion, I knew the names of all the top models, Colombian fashion designers and many international ones. I spent many, many days watching Fashion TV (Btw, I don’t think this channel exists anymore). Additionally, I have always felt really close to the fashion industry because my sister works for this industry as a marketing expert, my brother in law worked for a Colombian brand as a logistics expert, and my cousin is a fashion designer. All of them taught me so much about this industry, and here are a few things that I wanted to share in the interview, but time was limited.


What can we learn from Denmark?


Power Samso
Summary of the Samsø project

In 1997, a project to turn the small island of Samsø into a sustainable society started in Denmark. The island has a population of 4000 people and is known for its dairy and pig farms. The island used nonrenewable sources of energy that were mainly coal and oil. However, in 1997 an initative to change the energy sources for windmills came to the island and Søren Hermansen, a teacher of environmental studies and energy expert that is also a native of the island decided to contribute and lead the project.

The work was not easy at the beginning. It needed a lof of efforts from the engineers and visionaries to change the mentality of inhabitants by showing them the opportunities and benefits from the change. By 2001 fossil-fuel use had been cut in half and by 2005, the island was producing from renewable sources more energy than it was using. Today, the total carbon emissions of the island are actually negative compared to the world’s average and the inhabitants have received incomes from the energy business and self confidence by being united into the project.

Today, this story shows us that sustainable societies are possible and achievable in a short time period. Samsø island is an inspiration for sustainable development and represents a project that is built upon trust and collaboration between neighbours. Today, articles on The New Yorker, TIME magazine, CNN and others have reported this case and the people from the island are really proud of their accomplishment.

Søren ended the conference by saying “Think locally, act locally”, and then I ask you what can you do to make the change in your local community? How could this be implemented in British Columbia?

Charlie’s new book

One of the perks of being a grad student is meeting awesome, smart and talented people. Thus, I feel it is important to share each other’s accomplishments and make more people know about the work we are doing.

Book cover downloaded from Cambridge's website
Book cover downloaded from Cambridge’s website


This week I am sharing a new read, and for those interested in the same topics that I am interested in (e.g. climate change, environment, international cooperation for sustainable development, governance) I think this is a “must read” piece.

“Trasnational Climate Change Governance” written by my friend Charlie and 9 more authors is a book that provides the first comprehensive account of the world transnational climate change governance. As some of you know, climate change has been dealing with regulations, laws and negotiations at national and international levels. However, the politics of climate change have shifted to transnational levels. This is what they wrote about. I haven’t read it yet because it came out last month, but I am super excited to read it. So, get your own copy and share your thoughts!