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08th Nov 2021

Opinion: As a fast fashion graveyard piles up in Chile, it’s time to assess our mass consumerism

Heaps of leftover fast fashion stretch across the desert.

Fast fashion is one of the globe’s top polluters. While child labour and human rights violations related to clothing factories are well known, the environmental damage caused is rarely publicised.

Images have been released that show endless mounds of clothes discarded across the Atacama desert in Chile, an odd sight in the world’s driest desert and a direct result of mass consumerism in the fashion industry.

Clothes made in Bangladesh and China typically make their way to US and Europe and, when they aren’t purchased, they are brought to Chile’s Iquique port to be sold to other Latin-American countries. But not all are sold, and roughly 39,000 tons end up dumped in the desert every year.

According to a 2019 UN report, clothing production has doubled in the past twenty years, and the industry is “responsible for 20% of total water waste on a global level”. A single pair of jeans requires 7,500 litres of water to make.

Researchers also state that clothing and footwear manufacturing accounts for eight to ten per cent of global carbon emissions and that an amount of textiles equivalent to a garbage truck is buried or burned every second.

The clothes that aren’t burnt can take 200 years to biodegrade, polluting the environment by releasing toxins into the air and underground water channels.

It’s time to assess our relationship with fast fashion. And no, I’m not here to tell you not to purchase fast fashion.

The issue with the idea of boycotting fast fashion is it places an unfair financial and moral burden on the average customer. Not everyone has the luxury of buying ethically as it can often come with a hefty price tag.

The consumers in this boat are not the problem – they are not the ones driving the demand for fast fashion.

It’s the influencers with the endless clothing hauls, the attitude of not wearing anything twice, the need to buy a brand new outfit for every occasion, and leaving it to sit in your wardrobe gathering dust.

Fast fashion advertising has convinced us that we constantly need new clothes to be relevant, attractive, and confident. Why are we giving in to this?

For those of us who have the luxury of choosing where we shop, there are so many ways to combat the industry, whether it’s purchasing one good quality jacket for winter instead of ten cheap disposable ones, supporting small businesses over giant fashion chains, or learning to up-cycle some of the garments we already own. Mindfulness is key.

Chile itself is a country that is known for its excessive consumerism, but Rosario Hevia, who founded Ecocitex – a company that creates yarn from pieces of discarded textiles – says things are starting to change.

“For many years we consumed, and no one seemed to care that more and more textile waste was being generated,” she said. “But now, people are starting to question themselves.”