It is time for all of us to take notice and carefully consider their fashion choices, says Preetika Soni
In the glamorous world of fashion, it is slowly becoming fashionable to be sustainable. According to the UN Climate Change Website, with a net worth of 2.5 trillion USD in 2018, this industry is considered to be one of the top polluters as it accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions and 20% of global waste water, with 85% of textiles disposed off instead of recycled.
The need of the hour is for the industry to reorient itself towards a circular fashion economy. And for any significant change to take place, the consumer too needs to consider the impact of their every choice and action. As more and more people move towards a sustainable lifestyle, how can our fashion choices not follow suit?
Fast Fashion: The reality of today
Buy, wear and throw – that is the reality of fast fashion today. Mass-produced and costing as little as Rs 200-300, these clothes are made to last a single season, so they can’t be donated and therefore end up in landfills taking hundreds of years to decompose; unlike a few years ago when there used to be only two major fashion seasons, we now have 52 micro seasons in a year. All of this is contributing to an environmental crisis.
Decoding Fashion Sustainability
When we talk of sustainable fashion, it is not only the end product we have to consider; the entire value chain needs to work towards sustainability. There is a growing demand for transparency in the supply chain from consumers; around 42% of millennials want to know how their product is made and what goes into it, while 37% of Gen Z are asking similar questions.
* Raw Materials: It takes around 2700 litres of water to produce the cotton needed to make one T-shirt. The leather used for your shoes, bags and other accessories is estimated to clear one hectare of the Amazon Rainforest every 18 seconds. It becomes important to understand the bigger picture, where the raw materials are produced or procured from, and how ethical and sustainable the process is.
* Workforce: More people are asking #whomademyclothes and it is important that we ask this. The labour that toils to make our clothes are often underpaid and work in terrible conditions, sometimes, even children are involved.
* Production Process: Now, we move to the part where the raw materials are first converted to fabric and then tailored into our clothes. Dyeing and bleaching of fabrics releases harmful chemicals and heavy metals into our lakes and rivers, thereby affecting the marine ecosystem. Synthetic fibres like nylon and polyester are made from petrochemicals, release harmful greenhouse gasses during production and are non-biodegradable. Rayon or viscose is made using wood pulp – it’s estimated that nearly 70 million trees are cut every year to make these fabrics.
* From factory to store: Finally, one has to take into account all the travelling that even a single pair of socks does, sometimes right across the globe, and after racking up all those carbon footprints, it still needs the alluring plastic packaging before it heads out to be displayed in the stores.
As conscious consumers, we may have a lot of questions about the supply chain process and answers to many are not easily available yet, but we should keep asking, nevertheless, to build a case – whether it’s addressing suppliers or manufacturers or brands – to bring about much required change in this industry.
Policy changes for global impact
At the G7 summit held last month, 32 companies and nearly 150 brands signed a fashion pact to fight climate crisis and protect biodiversity and the oceans. While the pact doesn’t have any legal binding, it is still a first step towards sustainability for large, global fashion houses.
On March 14, 2019, in Nairobi, the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion was launched to help the fashion industry become more eco-friendly and contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The unfortunate Rana Plaza tragedy in 2013 sparked a global movement, the Fashion Revolution that focuses on bringing about positive change and transparency to the fashion industry. Every year, April 24 is now marked as Fashion Revolution Day in homage to all those who lost their lives making our clothes.
Individual brands are also making the effort – H&M has banned the use of Brazilian leather in all its products due to the Amazon Forest Fires, Adidas and Nike are making their products out of recycled plastic and Zara’s parent company Inditex has pledged that by 2025, 100% of the cotton, linen and polyester they use will be more sustainable, organic or recycled. With all these positive changes that are happening, there is hope that we will see the fashion industry take more serious note of their impact on the environment even though reports suggest that the implementation in reality is slowing down.
What’s happening in India?
Mckinsey reports that one of the top 10 trends in the fashion world in 2019 to look out for is that India is on the rise—its growing middle class, powerful manufacturing sector, and increasingly savvy tech have made it an essential destination for fashion companies.
The Lakme Fashion Week held in August 2019 witnessed The Circular Changemaker’s showcase, India’s first investor showcase for circular and sustainable fashion start-ups. A first-of-its-kind, that programme aims to give visibility to innovative solutions that lack access to funds; it received over 70 applications out of which 6 finalists were chosen.
Furthermore, Project SU.RE was launched by Union Minister for Textiles Smriti Irani, in association with The Clothing Manufacturers Association of India (CMAI) and IMG Reliance at the Lakme Fashion Week too. With a 5-point agenda, starting from understanding how companies currently impact the environment to moving to a more transparent and sustainable supply chain in the future, this project will focus on fashion that is good for the environment; 16 Indian brands have signed on till now.
Of course, there are smaller designers and brands that have moved over to slow and sustainable fashion – Priyanjoli, LataSita, OnnyoRong, No Nasties and Desi Hangover to name a few. There is a growing demand for eco-friendly clothing in the Indian market but there is the downside that it can also be expensive, which makes more suited for a niche audience rather than a mass market. Which is why for this movement to work at scale – even for the average consumer – we will need a whole range of initiatives, from big to small, from government to you…
A step at a time…
The facts have been laid out and we know which path to take; it is up to us consumers to keep the pressure on the brands to make those changes, to become more eco-friendly, to produce less and to treat their workers well. In fact, consumers want to support brands that are doing good in the world, with 66 percent willing to pay more for sustainable goods.
As an individual consumer, if you are concerned about how to get started, here’s a quick guideline that could help you make your next purchase more eco-friendly. And buying isn’t the only option – You can swap, share and rent as well.
Choosing to be sustainable is a journey in itself; taking the first step is going to be your choice.
Preetika Soni is a freelance content writer. With 10 years of experience in different media sectors from news production at NDTV (Mumbai) to teaching at the SCM Sophia (Mumbai), she has acquired a varied set of skills from technical to theoretical that allows her to understand and adapt to the needs of any project that she undertakes. She is particularly interested in exploring sustainable ways of living, from DIY projects to writing on sustainability.