Of all the pollutants on earth, the Fashion and Textile industry is known to be the second largest contributor (next only to the oil industry). Staggering estimates show the industry has grown to USD 3 trillion and that our consumption of fast fashion has grown by over 500% since the 1960’s. This industry alone is said to contribute more than 10% of the world’s total carbon footprint (much more than all the airlines put together flying across the globe). Trade barriers have come down and therefore brands in the pursuit of offering cheaper products have moved sourcing and production to developing nations such as India, Srilanka and Bangladesh (China still remains at no.1 position). Do we wear all the clothes we buy and a sufficient number of times before we discard them ? Well, unfortunately the answer is NO!
Each year mountains and mountains of clothes end up dumped in landfills. What’s wrong with that you may ask?
The use of man made fibres like Polyester has increased dramatically since the 60’s. Polyesters break down into micro plastic components and chances are every single polyester garment ever made is still on the face of this planet. These non- biodegradable micro plastics from shredding, fill up our oceans and food chains because they are consumed by one in four fish. Energy required to produce these polyester (and Nylon) fibres (from our already depleting fossil fuels) is really high. Comparatively, natural fibres such as Linen and Wool fare much better. In much of the developing world, energy used to produce these fibres and in turn the clothes comes from highly polluting ‘Coal’ and therefore the impact on the environment is ginormous!
Textile dye houses are considered the second most polluting agent with untreated effluent dumped into our fresh water ecosystems every single day.
Whose making our clothes?
Labour: one in six people around the world , possibly 80% of whom are women and a vast majority of whom are not entitled to a minimum living wage. Not to forget all the child labour involved from picking cotton in countries like Uzbekistan to operating machinery in factories. Sounds too harsh to be true? Sadly, it is.
Apart from the far from sufficient daily wage, the harsh reality in developing counties such as Bangladesh is a total lack of health care facilities, no access to education, labour forced to work insane number of hours each shift and the lack of safety audits in garment factories that led to the infamous Rana Plaza tragedy on the 24th of April 2013.
What can we do as responsible citizens?
- Check garment tags and labels. Be curious, be involved and open to doing background checks on brands and see if they’re revealing what they produce, what kind of labour they employ and how they source their raw materials. Is it ethically sourced leather or was it sourced clearing up large chunks of the Amazon rain forests? Do your bit of research. It could be an eye opener and will help you make more informed decisions.
- Not every brand that says they are ‘Fairtrade compliant’ is actually sourcing their produce by means of being fair (both to their labour and to the raw material). Beware of thug brands. Look for third party certifications.
- Pick natural fibres over non bio degradable man made fibres. Both your body and the environment will thank you for it in the long run. Try and look up brands that address the farm to product link locally. Today there’s a truck load of them you can find at the click of a button.
- Consume smartly! If it’s not something that’ll last you at least thirty washes it’s a waste of investing in. Question your buying at every stage. Am I going to wear it at least thirty times? If not, am I going to donate it to the needy as opposed to chucking it in the bin?
- Try shopping second hand. We’re serious! We often oversee the fact that a tiny button popping off or a minor stain somewhere doesn’t mean the entire garment needs to be discarded. There are plenty of people out there who’ll be happy to wear! Plus, if you look hard enough you might even end up looking worth a million bucks. Second hand doesn’t mean rags.
- Upcycling is the next big trend and you could contribute your used clothing to make wonderful products that go back into the market.
- Keep an inventory of your wardrobe to ensure you don’t repeat unnecessarily. For e.g. if you have too many clothes in your wardrobe, you tend to forget and pick repeats when making impulse buys. More than 80 billion new garments get produced each year so it’s human to have some repeats. Maintaining an inventory really helps.
- The moment consumers demand accountability and transparency, brands will be forced to deliver. As a responsible consumer you need to seek more data.
- Would you be willing to pay 1 to 3% more for brands that take the ethical route versus those that churn out 52 seasons of unethically sourced fast fashion each year? Think of the cost of purchase each time.
- Love what you buy! Think of each buy as an investment. Invest in quality versus quantity so it’ll last you longer.
If “fashion is a reflection of our times”, we live in poor times and there’s hope only if we rethink our buying.
(Quote from an Anna Wintour interview. She is the Editor in chief of Vogue USA)