Sustainable Clothing | An Eco Friendly Approach To Fashion
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Can the fashion Industry become sustainable in its approach?
It can take more than 20,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cotton, equivalent to a single t-shirt and pair of jeans. Up to 8,000 different chemicals are used to turn raw materials into clothes, including a range of dyeing and finishing processes. And what becomes of the clothing that doesn’t sell, falls apart or goes out of style? More often than not, it is discarded in giant landfills. How can the fashion industry become more sustainable?
Fashion’s environmental record raises more red flags: the clothing industry has been cited as the world’s second biggest polluter after oil. Its businesses churn out clothes at an alarming rate. No one wants to eat a meal laced with plastic, but if something doesn't change in our current textile economy, that could soon be a reality. Plastic microfibers, which are like tiny pieces of plastic lint that come off synthetic clothing in the washing machine, are now entering the oceans at a rate of about half a million tons every year — that's equivalent to more than 50 billion plastic bottles. Once in the water, these microfibers are ingested by aquatic wildlife and travel up the food chain where they end up being consumed by humans.
Attempts to promote sustainability in the clothing industry have focused on using eco-materials and more resource efficient production, however the scale of production and consumption has increased to levels where the benefits of technical improvements are reduced.
Creating true sustainability in the fashion industry requires reducing the material flow of clothing, addressing both sustainable production and consumption.
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Clothing producers must shift the focus of their operations from exchange value to use value, which offers opportunities to increase garment quality and reduce quantity demanded through encouraging consumers to engage in fashion through wearing, not purchasing, clothes. Because the success of this approach depends on designing clothes able to satisfy both the functional and emotional values of consumers.
In the last 50 years, the way we produce and consume fashion has dramatically changed. Fast fashion retailers have made the case that they have democratised the fashion experience – no longer reserved for the elite, fashion is available and accessible to all. Everyone can afford to wear the latest trends, and to regularly experience the short-lived high of a new fashion purchase, and the pleasure of wearing something new. For large fashion retailers “fashion democracy” has happily coincided with burgeoning sales, revenues, and profits. This has become the model that dominates the markets. On the surface it seems to suit everyone and certainly those who have buying power and thus influence in a market-driven business model.
Can fast fashion be sustainable? Let’s start with the environment. The single most effective thing we could do tomorrow to reduce the impact of the fashion industry on the environment would be to buy a lot less.
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Every garment has an environmental footprint at every stage in its production. That is why there is an inherent contradiction between the fast fashion business model – a model driven by selling lots of stuff fast – and the concept of environmental sustainability. Shifting a lot of fashion product fast – and making high margins as a result – means it makes sense to invest a lot of money in advertising, which pervades every part of our media from print, to billboard, TV, and alongside everything we browse online. As members of a consumer society, we are presented with two big messages: what we need to aspire to look like, and that we can all afford to do so.
In many ways, we have reached a stand-off between these two fashion industry camps – a stand-off that drives heated debate in every fashion industry forum, and much frustration.
Yet, the challenges of sustainability are common to all of us, to every fashion consumer and to every business owner.
Fast fashion is not going any where fast, so how can we unite the most creative minds of this industry, the pioneering thinkers and actors, towards positive solutions that unite rather than divide us? We have seen leadership amongst fast fashion retailers which can, and is, significantly increasing benefits to people and reducing impact on the environment.
It is important that we involve ourselves in sharing and building social impact
From an observer’s perspective, we hear more about the environmental initiatives of large fashion retailers, even though this doesn’t sit easily within a fast fashion model. There should be more incentives for those people behind the product. More real commitment to paying living wages and empowering workers and advertising budgets raising awareness about the value of skills and craftsmanship, and how consumers can positively influence the well-being of the people behind fashion by buying well.
As consumers and producers of fashion, we can take our own small steps toward sustainability by following these principles -
Design with a purpose
Design for longevity
Design for resource efficiency
Design for biodegradability
Design for recyclability
Source and produce more locally
Source and produce without toxicity
Source and produce with efficiency
Source and produce with renewables
Source and produce with good ethics
Provide services to support long life
Reuse, recycle or compost all remains
Collaborate well and widely
Use, wash and repair with care
Consider rent, loan, swap, secondhand or redesign instead of buying new
Buy quality as opposed to quantity
The fashion industry is setting out its transformational vision, one brand at a time. The status quo is definitely changing.
Influential people and celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio or Emma Watson are influencing the social and environmental agenda. Given the big role they play in that industry, their values, statements, and expectations on companies matter and corporations are responding to these demands.
Of course, consumer demand is only one factor, alongside others such as increasing investor pressure, as well as managing business risks associated with sourcing raw materials. But the greater the pressure is from customers, the faster businesses will be encouraged to make the changes that need to be made within their businesses.
Reforming the fashion industry so thoroughly will be a difficult task, but it is clear that it is the only option for human and environmental flourishing — and maybe even survival.
Say no more.
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