How lucky it is to be born with a brain which thinks about consequences before doing something – I missed the boat somehow, which is why I appreciate those who are that way. But knowing the consequence and taking appropriate action for the ‘greater good‘ – that is an altogether different quality; very admirable but very much lacking in humans nowadays. In my mind, that is what being ethical and sustainable is all about.
What is Sustainable Fashion?
Sustainable fashion refers to everything and anything needed to bring out fashionable products without any long term environmental or sociological problems.
Change is a very positive thing ; And in the context of fashion, when you have change and more choices, you get diversity and variety as a consumer and for the society more employment, technological development, and cultural enrichment. But on the flip side the rapid changes in fashion trends lead to so much waste and exploitation.
So what makes you ready for sustainable fashion ? You are on the way, when you know the right and wrongs happening and you decide to choose the right all the time or whenever you possibly can. This leads to a healthier planet.
To embrace sustainable fashion, you have to know why you need to revise the current decadent practices in fashion. When customers are aware, and decide to act, brands/businesses comply and big changes follow. So here they are, so that you can act.
Main Concerns that advocates Sustainable Fashion
Overburden on natural resources due to fast fashion & other demands
According to this study increase in the number of high net worth individuals, increasing disposable income among the growing population, eCommerce and advanced marketing strategies of the brands are all responsible for a big growth of the luxury market all over the world. It goes on to says that ” The valuation for The global luxury goods market is expected to reach US $ 374.85 bn by the end of 2020.” Fast Fashion is even ahead. Common consumers demand variety and fast fashion businesses are vying with each other to bring out products according to consumer demand/expectation.
As per this study “the average person today buys 60 percent more items of clothing than they did 15 years ago” and they keep that clothing for only half as long as they used to. The global fashion industry was worth $2.5 trillion in 2017 and going on an unprecedented growth sprout year after year. In US alone 20 Billion garments are purchased in one single year.
This article is a must read if you want to know the reality of what we are facing today ; it says ” With 19 million premature deaths estimated each year due to environmental and infrastructure-related risk factors linked to natural-resource use, the report suggests that better and more efficient extraction and use of natural resources could be one of the most effective, and cost-effective, ways to reduce environmental impacts, including pollution, while at the same time advancing human well-being.”
The scientists, philanthropists, social activists among us should spread awareness of what over consumption in the fashion industry is doing to the future of the world.
Textile manufacturing polluting environment
Textile/garment manufacturing is a leading pollutant of the environment, next only to oil -The dirty secret of dressing well.
“Nearly 20 percent of global waste water is produced by the fashion industry, which also emits about ten percent of global carbon emissions.” says this article and talks about the steps UN is taking to “changing the path of fashion, reducing its negative social, economic and environmental impact and turning it into a driver for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals”.
Those who wield the power and influence are a small percentage of the population but their actions impact the whole population of this earth and maybe beyond.
The environmental impact of some of the processes used in textile production is a major concern. Starting from the overuse of water, use of chemicals in the textile manufacturing and then those chemicals being dumped in the water resources, the air pollution as a result of the supply chain transportation, polluting packaging materials- there are many concerns in all the business operations related to making a garment.
More than any period in the history of the world, we are aware of the environmental concerns in all areas of life. You are compelled to say ” How dare you?” like Greta Thunberg – to yourself. Because as a consumer you are part of the chain and responsible.
Natural fabrics vs Synthetic fabrics
In their impact on environment, as far as I have read, there is no great difference between natural and synthetic fabrics – the production of textiles made of natural fibers involves a lot of processes that are almost as damaging as the production of synthetics – starting from the use of pesticides and fertilizers in the production of the fibers to the damaging dyes and finishes used on the fabric.
So there cannot be a winner there – unless you choose eco -friendly fabrics or organic fabrics as a conscious choice. They are expensive than your regular fabrics but if you are thinking of sustainable fashion they are the choice you have. Check out the most popular eco friendly and organic fabrics available here
The advantage of natural fabrics like cotton, wool, linen silk etc is that they are biodegradable. Unlike synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon, acrylic which remain indestructible for many many years, wherever you dump them.
This issue also includes the use of packaging. With the advent of home delivery packaging is a menace that is getting out of all of our hands – so much plastic covers covering all your prime deliveries. When you go to a shop you can choose to carry a shopping bag made of natural fabrics but when it comes to eCommerce and home delivery do you have a choice?. Even the organic vegetable delivery to my home comes packaged in plastic.
Search the internet for “Great Pacific garbage Patch and other plastic waste and their effect on the marine life” if you do not know about it and you will see the effect of plastic pollution-there are so many seen and unseen consequences. Synthetic fabrics are in a way plastic and all the clothes you discard are ending in landfill and polluting earth like the one mentioned above. Do you want to add to it?
Use of animals or rather misuse of animals
Have you seen a Passenger Pigeon/wild Pigeon, Carolina Parakeet, Stephens Island Wren, Health hen, Eskimo Curlew or Great Auk or even a Labrador Duck? Well, they were all killed so ruthlessly for their plumes that not even one bird of these species exist now on earth. During the 19th century millions of birds were killed for their feathers to decorate the hats of the beauties in European courts. And many other countless animals like Tigers, Leopards, Beavers, Elephants, Foxes, Seals are ruthlessly killed for their skin, fur, husk, teeth, oil (whale hunting) even now and are facing extinction.
In the concern for the effect of all things on humans, we tend to ignore the other occupants on our planet, who has as much rights as we do to live here, harmoniously, peacefully, fearlessly.
Not many are concerned about animals but those who do, are very vocal; They have been instrumental in bringing down the violations and cruelty against animals to a degree. Today wearing a fur coat is considered as shameful in many circles, not the pride it was earlier, due to their efforts. But is it enough?
Misuse and exploitation of human labor
Even if you have never read about the Rana Plaza collapse tragedy in a Dhaka garment factory (Bangladesh) you must already be aware about this issue – the exploitation of poor in many developing countries for cheap labor.
When there is poverty and hunger, people will work for anything that will keep them alive – and there will always be money hungry businesses who exploit the situation to meet their own ends – they are concerned only about their balance sheets and will do anything to increase their profit margins – even going as far as to commit gross human rights violations, as long as if it goes undetected.
Child labor, not providing minimum facilities in the work place, not following basic safety precautions for emergencies like fire or exposure to chemicals in the factories / farms, not complying with labor laws applicable, not providing minimum wage and other allowances are all part of human rights violations that are common in the fashion industry.
When consumers are aware of these and commit to not buy from brands with these kind of reputations maybe things will start to change.
Sometimes big corporations become a part of these crimes unknowingly because they did not do the due diligence with regard to their supply chains. Some contractors they hired may be responsible but the brands get associated with the shame and has to bear the brunt of these misdeeds.
This has to do with the use and misuse of the great deal of information and data most businesses have about their customers – the use of these data in the wrong way ( or by the wrong hands) has lead to irrevocable damages to many customers – emotionally as well as monetarily.
In the fashion Industry this is very much applicable as it is a thriving industry with a daily consumption of more than 200 million units every single day. A lot of data go forth this way and that way including financial data and confidential information like phone number, address of millions of customers.
If a big company with all their infrastructure and technology cannot assure their consumer that the information these brands have about him/her would not be used in the right way without their consent the business do not deserve that customer. Fair enough.
This has more to do with the attitude and beliefs and the way a society’s ideals are shaped – Customers are demanding actively that their favored brands support their favorite social causes. This is already happening around the world with big brands supporting good causes as part of their brand building efforts – for eg. Levi’s supporting the LGBTQ + community through their new collection.
Today there are many ways that people get to know about the attitude of a brand – through their social media handles, through the attitudes of their brand ambassadors, their marketing statements etc. There have been instances of large hues and cries and a steady decline in a brand’s popularity when popular social causes are denigrated by them.
If a brand is found to be supporting a cause which is demanding something bad from society, consumers will eschew that brand and buy from brands that support and encourage good things in the society – this reason is enough to motivate the businesses for supporting good socially uplifting causes.
Every fashion lover knows that there is only one thing that changes as frequently as fashion – and that is change itself. Fashion changes – along the whims and fancies of the top fashion designers, new innovation, business dictates, new inventions, social change, climatic conditions. In all these changes, where do you find a balance? Balance between a quest for beauty and variety and the natural order of things on earth leading to a Sustainable Fashion Culture.
Are you, as a consumer, ethical enough to embrace this balance?. As a dweller of this earth what can you do to make big companies to take decisions that support sustainable fashion?. When big corporations make small changes it has a major impact and could benefit millions of people today and tomorrow.
Learn more about how fashion is affecting our environment here
Interesting site on sustainable fashion: ecowarriorprincess.net
Book to read – Elizabeth L. Cline, author of the book Overdressed