Whenever a fashion brand makes a commitment to offset its carbon emissions, it needs to explain why it matters. Whenever a journalist like me writes a story about, say, activists protesting London Fashion Week, I also need to tell you why you should care and should keep reading. After all, there are so many other worthy things that demand our attention these days. So consider the following harrowing, commonly repeated facts:
(*) Eight to 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions comes from the fashion industry, which is more than the aviation and maritime shipping industries combined.
(*) The fashion industry produces and sells somewhere between 80 billion and 150 billion garments a year globally.
(*) Nearly three-fifths of all clothing produced ends up in incinerators or landfills within years of being made.
It’s clear that the fashion industry is a big, stinking mess. But if you take a moment to ponder these facts, you realize that something is … off. An estimated range of 80 billion to 150 billion garments a year is ridiculously wide. The two most common estimates for fashion’s greenhouse gas emissions vary by a billion tons, a huge margin of error. And saying three-fifths of clothing will be trashed within “years” is a meaningless statement.
Yet I pulled all of these statistics and other common facts from reputable sources. McKinsey. The United Nations. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The World Bank. International labor unions. Advocacy organizations. And these facts have been cited by publications like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.
Not all of these highly respected experts could be wrong. Could they?
It turns out they could. Because only one out of the dozen or so most commonly cited facts about the fashion industry’s huge footprint is based on any sort of science, data collection, or peer-reviewed research. The rest are based on gut feelings, broken links, marketing, and something someone said in 2003.