Controversy exists regarding the scale of the impacts caused by fast fashion. This article aims to provide a robust basis for discussion about the geography, the scale and the temporal trends in the impacts of fast fashion because the globalisation of the fashion industry means original, peer-reviewed, quantitative assessments of the total impacts are relatively rare and difficult to compare. This article presents the first application of Eora, a multiregional environmentally extended input output model, to the assessment of the impacts of clothing and footwear value chain. We focus on the key environmental indicators of energy consumption, climate and water resources impacts, and social indicators of wages and employment.
The results of the analysis indicate that the climate impact of clothing and footwear consumption rose from 1.0 to 1.3 Gt carbon dioxide equivalent over the 15 years to 2015. China, India, the USA and Brazil dominate these figures. The trends identified in this and the other indicators represent small increases over the study period compared to the 75% increase in textile production, meaning that the impacts per garment have improved considerably. On the other hand, the climate and water use impacts are larger as a proportion of global figures than the benefits provided via employment and wages. Our analysis of energy consumption suggests most of the per-garment improvement in emissions is the result of increased fashion-industrial efficiency, with a lesser role being played by falling carbon intensity among energy suppliers. While both the social benefits and environmental impacts per mass of garment appear to have decreased in recent times, much greater improvements in the absolute carbon footprint of the fashion industry are attainable by eliminating fossil-fueled electricity supplies, and by eliminating fast fashion as a business model.