Although the fashion and textile industry is one of the biggest polluters on the planet, after oil and gas, consumers are largely unaware of its true impact on our environment. In fact, the fashion industry is the second largest cause of industrial water pollution in the world accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions compared to international flights and shipping combined. It’s time to persuade high-street fashion brands to adopt a more sustainable approach to clothing production.
In the UK alone, consumers purchase an average of 26kg of clothing each year. But even though the impact of this clothing production is a real problem on our planet, fashion brands continue to ignore the root cause of the growing environmental problems they cause.
The decades-old and highly polluting traditional method of dying and adding features like wicking and waterproofing is one of the most damaging facts of the clothing manufacturing process. The total amount of clothes we buy globally creates 553 billion tons of CO2 and 8.3 trillion of dye-polluted wastewater each year – from the dyeing process alone. If we do not change the way of dying clothes, CO2 emissions are predicted to reach 2.5 gigatons by 2050.
Many synthetic fibers commonly used in mass-produced clothing are technically highly polluting forms of plastic, such as polyester, nylon, and acrylic. Such fibers are not only polluting for production but also contribute to microplastic pollution in the oceans during their life cycle.
Unlike fast fashion, sustainable fashion emphasizes low-emission clothing products that are made to last. Sustainable fashion, also known as green fashion, emphasizes the importance of environmental and social sustainability. Sustainable fashion brands, for example, may produce clothing that is less polluting, use locally produced materials, or use recycled materials.
How brands are embracing sustainable clothing production
In practice, sustainable fashion brands to cut their carbon footprint, engage in a wide range of practices. For example, US brand Everlane produces jeans using only 0.4 liters of recycled water, compared to the 1,500 liters of water used for most jeans.
Nowadays, more brands are moving forward to include sustainable clothing and they are making it with a stylish twist based on the ongoing fashion trends. Fashion retailers and clothing manufacturers are opting for nature-based fabrics. The use of chemicals in processing and dyeing fabrics has been reduced considerably.
Cleveland-based fashion line Found Surface has launched a new collection, featuring four casual, everyday wear pieces made entirely from sustainable materials. The clothes are made from Texas-sourced organic cotton, plastic bottles and recycled cotton. The goal is to operate every aspect of the company with sustainability in mind.
Most recently, fashion designer Stella McCartney showed the ‘world’s first luxury bag made from mycelium’ in her SS23 line at the Paris Fashion Week show. Stella McCartney has been a pioneer of environmentally responsible fashion for over 20 years, committed to circularity and protecting the planet for tomorrow.
Another luxury fashion brand Pangaia’s climate-positive strategy focuses on minimizing waste, and increasing efficiencies, with a particular focus on reducing their water footprint. Recently, in this month, the brand announced its latest capsule collection which garments have been dyed with food waste ingredients to minimize the use of chemicals as an alternative to reactive dyes.
In addition, some high-end designers have paved the way for change by appointing celebrity ‘sustainability ambassadors’ in the hope that famous faces will promote sustainable behavior among consumers and spark positive change.
Fast fashion giant Boohoo announced their partnership with reality TV star Kourtney Kardashian Barker in September. Its 45-piece collection will be made from recycled cotton and polyester. However, this isn’t a big enough change, as the collection only represents a tiny proportion of the 40,000 annual styles released by the company.
PrettyLittleThing have focused on reselling, launching celebrity-endorsed resale platforms where consumers can sell their unwanted clothing in exchange for a discount on their next purchase on the brand’s website.
Sustainable fashion means sustainable supply chain
In modern times, Sustainable fashion is considered by being sustainable at each stage of the supply chain i.e. design, material collection, processing and production, transportation, distribution, end of life, and understanding of company initiatives. The impact on nature should be assessed especially in the production process- how intense the water use, pollution and carbon emissions are during processing; ensuring proper waste management at pre/post-consumer stage, are all important aspects.
For example, Liva, a natural liquid fabric, is ethically derived from natural, renewable resources and manufactured through a strict eco-friendly process that can be traced back to its source, contributing towards a greener environment. Fibers sourced from certified sustainable forests help increase the fluidity and softness of the fabric. These fabrics save 6-7 times more landfill than cotton and consume 3-4 times less water.
Is the sustainable option more expensive?
It is often thought that choosing the sustainable option is more expensive, but this is of course not always the case. Rather, brands are saving considerable energy and water when the cost of energy continues to soar by adopting energy-efficient and sustainable dyeing methods. At the same time brands are saving the environment. The working conditions are also far cleaner, safer, and less damaging than using dye baths full of chemicals.
Studies have shown that 470 billion tons of CO2 and 7.9 trillion liters of wastewater could be saved from environmental damage every year if textile dye houses around the world adopted waterless dyeing systems.
It’s all about long-term thinking. If fast-fashion giants really want to show their commitment to sustainability, they will invest in cleaner manufacturing solutions and produce more sustainable clothing, and encourage their suppliers to do the same.