Why it matters that the fashion industry is not the “second biggest” polluter

By Shira Jeczmien

Updated May 16, 2020 at 11:04 AM

Reading time: 2 minutes

From the Fast Company, the Guardian, industry leaders and countless other media platforms to documentaries, panel discussion, tweets and shares, the world has been under the impression that the fashion industry is the second most polluting in the world. However, following a New York Times investigation and an article by Vanessa Friedman, the company’s fashion director and chief fashion critic, we now know that this has been one encapsulating, relatively untraceable, perpetuating piece of fake news.

Now, we’re more familiar with fake news being used as a tool for propaganda from the right, often to exacerbate extremism or negatively influence the public—Trump comes to mind, Brexit too, alongside Fox News, Breitbart and fellow dominating partisan voices. Rarely is fake news used for causes such as addressing climate change, or to support pro-immigration policies. Which is why the revelations that the fashion industry is not the second most polluting in the world, but instead possibly the fourth or fifth, comes with a strange reception, to say the least. Because, what are the implications of this false information, when the fashion industry really is one of the most polluting and action to reduce emissions from the textile industry has only benefitted not harmed our planet?

There isn’t one person or platform that is accountable for the circulation of the fake information that the fashion industry is the “second biggest” polluter. In fact, in trying to trace back to its origin, the New York Times found itself speaking to news outlets including One Green Planet, who has pulled out this information from Eco Watch site that is quoting sustainable fashion designer Eileen Myles, who has now admitted to having adopted the false fact from a 2015 documentary by Andrew Morgan titled The True Cost, who apparently picked up the ‘fact’ from a conference in Copenhagen and so forth. Needless to say, a single mea culpa will not be coming out from the mouth of one source.

Fashion is a consumer facing industry with a turnaround anchored in four yearly season changes and the fads that evolve faster than our Instagram feeds refresh. In that light, there is no doubt that the industry is facing some serious questions regarding its sustainability and with that, more progressive designers and brands are set on creating new types of fabrics; implementing cleaner techniques for fabric dying and reshaping the communication and status quo surrounding the consumption of fashion. In that light, what’s so damaging about the “second biggest” title anyway?

“It’s so shocking, so catchy and so easy to believe.” Writes Friedman. And while the “second biggest” premise is seemingly harmless (it ultimately has encouraged positive action in putting pressure on the textile and shoe manufacturing industries to address their high levels of water pollution), in order to face the fashion industry’s highly polluting habits and lay down some concrete routes for global action, we need to know the real facts. As “only then can we really grapple with the actual problem in all its complicated, multifaceted reality.”

The word of the year by Dictionary.com is ‘misinformation’. Equally, Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year is ‘toxic’. If we want to strive for a world where fact and truth matters, for the sake of positive causes as much as for negative, those who care about the truth cannot pick and chose it according to convenience. Indeed, the hyperbolic and catchy “second biggest” has arguably been powerful in shifting the narrative around the disposable habits of how we consume fashion, but “does the end justify the means? Or does this push us further down the slippery slope of alternative facts on which we are currently sliding?” as Friedman writes. Those fighting against the extremist-inspired of fake news need to be equally careful to not fall into the same habits and pitfalls.

In a time when truth and facts are not just crucial for us to determine realistic solutions but are important for maintaining the integrity of the issue, whether the fashion industry is number two or number five makes a big difference. In regards to the fashion industry, let us take a note that it is not the second most polluting, but in the same breath, let’s also make sure it is still treated as the environmentally damaging industry that it, ultimately, is.

Keep On Reading

By Charlie Sawyer

OnlyFans models are using breastfeeding content as a loophole to bypass Instagram’s nudity policy

By Abby Amoakuh

Two Australian OnlyFans stars slammed for recruiting high schoolers for explicit content

By Charlie Sawyer

Vampire facials at unlicensed New Mexico spa have infected three women with HIV

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Dementia diagnosis for Trump? Experts weigh in as Anderson Clayton emerges as Biden’s secret weapon

By Charlie Sawyer

Kim Kardashian faces backlash for shocking two word response to Palestine protester

By Charlie Sawyer

O.J. Simpson dies at the age of 76 following a battle with cancer 

By Charlie Sawyer

Introducing Gag City, the AI universe created by Barbz to celebrate Nick Minaj’s album Pink Friday 2

By Abby Amoakuh

TikTok momfluencer Jacquelyn faces new safety concern allegations for toddler Wren Eleanor

By Charlie Sawyer

Topicals brand trip goes viral after Nella Rose claims influencers were subjected to racism and Islamophobia

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Can rejection therapy really heal your social anxiety? TikTok suggests so

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Are the Lemon Bottle fat dissolving injections taking over TikTok safe? Experts raise concerns

By Charlie Sawyer

Michael J. Fox speech at the BAFTA Awards 2024 leaves viewers in tears

By Fleurine Tideman

Travis Kelce gave both Taylor Swift and the whole world the ick

By Fleurine Tideman

PETA joins team Ariana against Tom Sandoval ahead of Vanderpump Rules season 11

By Abby Amoakuh

Ice Spice fans hit back at online trolls following no-makeup selfie hate

By Charlie Sawyer

Why did Jeremy Allen White and Addison Timlin divorce? Tracking the actor’s dating history up to Rosalía

By Abby Amoakuh

Sasha Pieterse of Pretty Little Liars discusses being sexualised in the role at age 12

By Charlie Sawyer

Rachel Sennott is working on a new HBO coming-of-age comedy. Here’s why it’s bound to be perfect

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Female students fear harassment after all-male committee form pro-life society in Manchester

By Alma Fabiani

Rebel Wilson reveals member of Royal family invited her to lose virginity in drug-fuelled orgy