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  • Writer's pictureDavid Connolly

Fossil Fashion

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 the 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.

Take-Back Trickery: an investigation into clothing take-back schemes

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Between August 2022 and July 2023, Changing Markets tracked 21 items from 10 fashion brands through their take-back schemes. Garments were donated to H&M, Zara, C&A, Primark, Nike, The North Face, Uniqlo and M&S stores in Belgium, France, Germany and the UK, or posted them to a Boohoo scheme. Despite the slogans, three quarters of items (16 out of 21 or 76%) were either destroyed, left in warehouses or exported to Africa, where up to half of used clothing are quickly shredded for other uses or dumped.

Trashion: The stealth export of waste plastic clothes to Kenya

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Currently, over two-thirds (69%) of textiles are made from plastic, and this is expected to grow to 73% by 2030.

Synthetics Anonymous 2.0: Fashion’s persistent plastic problem

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Analysis of the responses to our questionnaire signals fashion’s synthetic fibre addiction has not undergone any significant rehabilitation over the last five years. Thus, amidst an accelerating climate emergency, one in four of the largest fashion companies are recording a heavier reliance on fossil-fuel-derived fabrics.

Dressed to Kill: Fashion brands’ hidden links to Russian oil in a time of war

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Our research has linked 39 of the 50 (78%) brands included in this research directly or indirectly to the Hengli Group or Reliance Industries supply chains, illustrating how widely polyester-based clothing made from controversial fossil fuels can spread through the global fashion industry.

Licence to Greenwash: How certification schemes and voluntary initiatives are fuelling fossil fashion

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This report provides an in-depth investigation into 10 major certifications, labels and voluntary industry initiatives in the fashion sector (Higg Index and SAC, BlueSign, Oekotex, Cradle to Cradle, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Textile Exchange, The Microfibre Consortium, ZDHC, WRAP and the EU EcoLabel). It finds that the majority of these schemes are acting as sustainability decoys for brands, enabling greenwashing on a massive scale.

A New Look for the Fashion Industry: EU Textile Strategy and the Crucial Role of Extended Producer Responsibility

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The European Union is a huge market for textile products: in 2020 8.7 million tonnes of finished textile products with the value of 125 billion EUR were imported into the EU, and the average European spends 600 EUR on clothes and 150 EUR on shoes.

Synthetics Anonymous: fashion brands’ addiction to fossil fuels

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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. 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.

Fossil fashion: the hidden reliance of fast fashion on fossil fuels

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This report reveals the hidden reliance of the fast fashion industry on fossil fuels.

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.

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