Sustainable fashion Insights
Fashion is sexy, addictive exclusive and fast moving. Sustainability is slowness, care, it is flourishing responsible.
The fashion industry until very recently has not been very sustainable. We are drowning in textiles. Sales have increased dramatically in the last 20 years. Do you know that you have 4 times the no of clothes than your parents did.
Fashion is a trillion dollar industry. Second to oil, fashion and textiles is the most polluting industry in the world. Clothes are a significant part of our lives and we take them for granted. We put them so close to our skin without realising the bigger part of our heritage. Most of the clothes are made in modern slavery. Millions of people are literally paying for our demands with their lives. The truth behind our clothes isn’t as pretty as the usage.
Sustainable fashion is about being kind to our environment, responsible with our resources and treating our fellow garment workers like human beings. This means looking at the tag, using what you have and being creative in our wardrobe choices.
Ultimately sustainable fashion is about values. We have to decide what we value, feel empowered, based on culture and life circumstances. We have to take responsibility for our choices. Ways to become more mindful lovers of fashion, to feel more connected to others
The way we shop for clothes is a complicated cultural addiction. As consumers, we know what to buy, what is convenient and familiar, at the deflated price points that we’re accustomed to, so that we can keep up with trends that change at lightning speed. This is a very fast moving industry which we have created by our own demands and consumptions – We want more and are willing to pay lesser and lesser. We come up with excuses – I don’t know where to look but we do know how to manoeuvre the internet to find the cheapest and best bargains.
Unlike fast fashion, slow fashion production ensures quality manufacturing to lengthen the life of the garment. Developing a garment with a cultural and emotional connection is also pertinent to the purpose behind slow fashion: consumers will keep an article of clothing longer than one season if they feel emotionally or culturally connected to the article of clothing.
We can actually change the system. There is nothing as strong in the world as buying power. No govt as powerful as a commercial system. Together we hold the key to change. The fashion industry does listen when we talk of inhuman treatment of rabbits for angora wool, snake skin etc, they take a stand.
Every stage in a garment’s life threatens our planet and its resources, it is wreaking havoc on our planet – soil, polar ice caps, coastal floods. 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?
“Globalization allows us to not pay very much for clothes,” “If people buy at a deeply reduced priced, they have a throwaway mentality about clothes, and that’s the one major factor that’s a problem.”
As more e-commerce sites pop up and make it easier to purchase outfits with the click of a button – and perhaps someday deliver our goods in an instant via drones – that throwaway mentality is the fashion industry’s Achilles heel. To thrive, global apparel brands will need to reinvent their business models, embrace the circular economy and creatively invite consumers to do away with throwing away. Minimise load on landfills by using biodegradable products. 1 million tonnes goes to landfill every year. More clothes in our wardrobe but are we any happier. Fast fashion has made us into passive consumers constantly chasing fantasies - Buying more will make us happy.
By 2050 we will need 3 planets to keep our resources going – we will be paralysed . It is over whelming. Start by buying initiatives – the ones that are showing progress. One making us proud and doing things differently. It is a process and will take time
Polyester has increased exponentially over the last 20 years. Polyester is polluting plastic made from fossil fuel in half of our clothing
Why is it an issue?
- Non biodegradable – every piece of polyester that has ever been produced is still there on our planet today. 150 billion new pieces of clothing being added. That’s a lot of plastic not going away
- Microplastics in our oceans and food. When you wash polyester micro plastics enter the water systems. Fish consume it and we consume fish. Recent study in fish markets – 1 in 4 fish contain these microplastics
- Non breathable – have u noticed u have been sweating more . this is not a coincidence. Polyester is non breathable. Heat trapped in body and you sweat more
- Energy intensive – polyester is extremely energy intensive to create.
The clothing industry is responsible for 10% of carbon output of the world. To put into perspective it is 5 times more carbon output than all airline travel combined.
The garment lifecycle below explains the steps a piece of clothes moves through from seed to grave.
The use of environmentally friendly materials e.g., bamboo, hemp, organic cotton. Also, garments made from one fibre (e.g., 100% organic cotton) can be respun into fibres again at the end of use. Alternatively, look for blends that use organic textiles.
Take good care of your clothes. They really don’t enjoy places like the floor, really hot washing machines and sitting in the sun for days.
Employing energy and water efficient processes for dyes and finishes – or use natural dyes.
Minimising travel for the garment – importing and exporting around the world doesn’t leave a friendly carbon foot-print. Support locally made garments.
Minimal waste in the production process and ensuring safe, clean working conditions for workers – as well as fair wages.
Designing for dis-assembly so that clothes can be taken apart and re-introduced into the garment life-cycle. Designed with ‘no waste’. Using quality fabric will help them live longer.
Reusing, re-assembling, up-cycling, op-shopping, vintage and even raiding your friends’ wardrobes!
Minimise load on landfills by using biodegradable products.
- 1 in 6 people around the world work in apparel industry. 80% are women and 98% not getting decent wage – they are locked in poverty
- No one is really winning in supply and value chain except for CEOs of fast fashion companies. Perhaps not even us – citizen consumers.
Points to ponder
- Fashion is a trillion dollar industry - Fashion is the world’s most polluting industry
- Use of water – a 5$ tshirt uses 1000l of water to survive a few washes
- Cotton is the 2nd most polluting crop due to use of pesticides.
- The social aspect of exploiting human labour globally
- We aredrowning in textiles. Sales have increased dramatically in the last 20 years. Do you know that you have 4 times the no of clothes than your parents.
- More isn’t always more. In the 60s we invested in 25 pieces of clothing – they were investments 10% of salary. Today it is less than 2 %
- Trade barriers came down brands moved production overseas. Created trend for cheaper clothing and it was somehow more comfortable so we bought more.
Room for improvement
- Fashion is very much about self not outside clothing. Think what we are wearing and why, Where they come from, where made who, Why u bought it?
- Clothes are a significant part of our lives and we take them for granted.
- We put them so close to our skin without realising the bigger part of our heritage.
- It matters what I do in life, How i think act and present my perspective to the outside world. Inactivity silences carelessness, not God
Little things matter
- The fashion industry has the capability to influence thinking, it is aspirational. It creates a desire to want something more, a new cut, fit, brand. It is not only the largest but also the most powerful. Fashion makes us look good , how it makes us feel is a conscious choice
- How we consume, what we buy and how we get rid of it. Technology innovation and creativity to make an impact
- The right fit in a sustainably produced manner. - You and I, and everyone around us makes a pivotal choice to make this happen
- We as consumers start asking questions - where is it made what is it made of – the industry will listen. Kick start a conscious changebecause it makes a difference - So many great new fibres out there
- While tailoring we generally waste about 30% - change that
- How we use – how much we use – how much causes environmental damage?
- Dry clean etc – hand wash, take woollen suit to bathroom while showering natural steaming
- Technology to recycle fibres – Take out fibres grind and make new ones – saves a lot of water. Keep separate bin for textiles – Self producing / supplying - seek garbage as a resource
- Fashion victim excesses – Stop chasing bizarre examples reconnect to reality
- Start by buying initiatives – the ones that r showing progress. One making us proud and doing things differently. It is a process and will take time
Often there is finger pointing. – consumers blame brands for paying less to outsourced workers. Brands say price is cheap because that’s what people want. Activists blame brands for following business models prioritising profits at ALL costs. Govts watch cautiously from sidelines.
So how can fashion and sustainability truly co-exist. How can players in the industry work together to effect change?
We are currently in a transition – a fashion industry based on ecological and holistic principles of closing a loop on materials that prioritise communities, values and respect for all people in supply chain. We need creative solutions, experiential and inspiring.
In order to contribute to a systemic change in the industry as a designer or activist understands behavioural change. Go to the heart of the problem and make strategies. Become a design activist!
- Design for recycling
- Chemical impacts
- Water impacts
- Potential environmental and social impact of a garment – think of Garment life cycles - Raw material – fibre – garment – shipping – wear wash – end of life
Raw material, fibre types have different impacts. Polyester vs cotton t shirt. Cotton uses huge amounts of pesticide. 1 cotton t shirt – 500 gms. Globally we produce a billion t shirts. An alternative to conventional cotton is organic cotton which is grown with no pesticide. It is often 20% more expensive.
There is a shortage of yields – demand has outgrown supply. We wear and throw into a landfill. If it has been dyed with a toxic dye, this may leak into the soil and it takes 200 years for a tshirt to biodegrade. It is complex with no single solution.
Searching for the meaning of ethical. We need to reflect on the following:
- Pictures of transparency – whether what the brand is claiming is true
- Pictures do not show wages or healthcare concerns. Important if you shop ethically
- Pictures do not show shadow factories – shadow factories have been happening in the apparel industry. Race to the bottom line. Audits and Pictures of a 5 star facility for speed and price brand is outsourcing production to another facility with lower standards
- Pictures do not show material sustainability – organic fabric and dye pollutes fresh water. Release effluents into local water supplies.
A life changing magic of tidying up – Distill the info and provide alternatives. There are no organic standards for the apparel industry
- User centred design – what can be sold – cut fit etc
- Use natural materials and work directly with suppliers to create sustainability from farm to final factory
- Open door policy with manufacturers – produce domestically show an alternative
As a citizen consumer we need to
- Check tags and understand origins, life, use etc
- Check seams for durability
- Love what u buy – we are convinced that we will like and enjoy
- Ask questions – organic / certified factory
- Think of purchase in terms of cost per wear
- Chaotic polluting and unjust system is within our hands to control. Support slow fashion. Feel better in our clothes and use our power to clean up the planet.
Sustainability and life cycle thinkers – Think of the whole life of garment
You cannot force designers or anyone to care. Sustainability asks us as humans to consider really deep questions of relationship with nature and ethics of our actions and strategy used. By creating a demand for the right product we will be forcing producers and conglomerates to produce more of the right stuff.
If you're mindful of how you're approaching your life, then you see the connection. You can’t avoid the connection, the connection between food, illness, environment - everything as a whole, so that's how one should approach life, and that's how it comes into business.