Stacey Dooley's BBC Documentary "Fashion's Dirty Secret"

Stacey Dooley’s eye-opening documentary ‘Fashion’s Dirty Secret’ highlights the impact the Fast Fashion Industry is having on our Planet and its People. Whilst Fast Fashion may be saving consumers money, Dooley tells us that it’s actually “costing people their livelihoods, costing millions of people their health, in fact it’s costing The Earth”.

So, what were the most important points to take from the show and what should we be doing about them?

Fashion Is One of the World’s Most Pollutant Industries:

In the documentary, Dooley speaks with journalist and sustainable fashion activist Lucy Siegle. Siegle, author of “To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing the World Out?", tells us that “100 billion new garments are made from new fibres every single year – and the planet cannot sustain that.” The fashion industry is producing at an alarming rate, and we are consuming at an alarming rate. In the UK alone, we dump 300,000 tonnes of clothes in landfill each year. That’s the weight of a small family car every two minutes!

Just washing your clothes can damage the environment. Small plastic particles (microfibres) are released when washed. These can seep into local waterways further polluting rivers and oceans. This only adds to the pollution from the production phase and waste created by discarded garments, making fashion one of the worst polluting industries on the planet.

Aral Sea Recession Drought

Dramatic Image by NASA shows the recession of the Aral Sea

Cotton Production is Damaging Precious Water Supplies:

Dooley then travels to the Aral Sea to see first hand the devastation cotton farming has had on the region.

Cotton is a ‘thirsty crop' requiring significant amounts of water to grow. In order to support the massive cotton industry in Uzbekistan (the 8th largest producer of cotton in the world) the government diverted connecting rivers to irrigate farms close to the sea. This is directly linked to the extreme shrinkage and disappearance of the Aral Sea, which was once the fourth largest lake in the world.

As a result, other local industries such as fishing and tourism have been devastated. The dry sea bed is also linked to habitat loss, and results in huge dust storms often polluted with pesticide particles from local agriculture.

Back in the UK, Dooley asks shoppers to guess how much water is required to produce different items of clothing. Dooley revealed that a single pair of jeans requires as much as 15,000 litres of water to produce while a t-shirt as much as 7,000 litres. Unsurprisingly, most shoppers were shocked to hear the results. One participant struggled to hold back tears as she realised that the clothes she had just bought could have used precious water that others in need could have used simply to survive.

Big Companies Don’t Really Care:

In Indonesia, Dooley visits the polluted black and stinking waters of the Citarum River, often considered one of the most polluted rivers in the world. The environmental destruction of the Citarum River is attributed to local clothing factories which are linked to large high street fashion chains here in the UK. The factories are shown to disregard wastewater management and dump industrial waste directly into local waterways.

Pollution Citarum River

Polluted Citarum River in Indonesia

In the documentary, Dooley confirms that it’s no secret that this is taking place. Despite the knowledge that locals use this water for drinking, bathing and cooking, factories continue to pollute waterways with toxic chemicals.

In the end, Fashion’s Dirty Secret seems to show that fashion companies simply don’t care.

The Majority of The Public is Unaware of These Issues:

Dooley suggests that “It’s not that people don’t care, it’s that we don’t know. We’re not informed”.

Most people are aware of the negative effects of fossil fuels, plastics and heavy industry on the environment. We know we should consume less and recycle more. Yet many people are not aware of the impact of the clothing industry.

Dooley asked British shoppers how they would rank the fashion industry compared to other industries such as meat, fracking, coal and oil. More often than not they ranked fashion last. In reality, fashion is often considered the second most polluting industry in the world, just behind Fossil Fuels. The survey confirmed that the fashion industry is not on our radar as a polluting industry, but it’s time we change that.

What can we do to solve this problem?

It’s clear that the current trends within the industry cannot continue in this way. Paul Dillinger of Levi’s advised Dooley that the problem has to be solved at the top. Telling her “There will have to be a regulatory solution”.

But given the lacklustre and generic response, the Environment Secretary gives to Dooley later in the show, perhaps hard-line legislation is going to come slowly, if at all.

Dillinger also tells us, “6 out of 10 garments produced every year end up in a landfill or are incinerated”. Clearly the producers have a role to play for this wastage, but some responsibility must lay at the hands of the consumer. The companies are producing them, but we are ultimately buying them.

Fashion’s Dirty Secret clearly highlighted that much of the population is unaware of the issues of fast fashion. Documentaries like this, and the mass reach of influencers, like Niomi Smart, Susie Lau and the Halpin Sisters, who Dooley spoke with at the end of the show are crucial to help to spread the message. If you haven’t seen Fashion’s Dirty Secret yet, we recommend watching it now.

Better yet, watch it with some friends and help us spread the message.