Importance of Sustainable Fashion
Sustainable fashion is a term describing products, processes, activities, and actors aiming to achieve a carbon-neutral fashion industry, built on equality, social justice, animal welfare, and ecological integrity. Sustainable fashion concerns more than addressing fashion textiles or products. The word 'Sustainability' in the context of fashion most prominently refers to the environmental impacts of making (raw material creation, processing and manufacture), wearing and caring for (use) and the disposal of clothing (end of use). It addresses the entire process in which clothing is produced, consumed and disposed of; who, what, how, when, where and the expected useful life of the product before entering landfill. The sustainable movement looks to combat the large carbon footprint that fast fashion has created by reducing the environmental impact of fashion such as air pollution, water pollution and overall climate change.
Sustainable clothing refers to fabrics derived from eco-friendly resources, such as sustainably grown fiber crops or recycled materials. Historically, being environmentally conscious towards clothing meant (1), making clothes last long by caring for them, repairing and patching them, (2) inheriting and using hand-me-downs within one's extended family and community, (3) buying clothes from thrift stores or any shops that sell second-hand clothing, or (4) donating used clothes to shops previously mentioned, for reuse or resale. In modern times, with a prominent trend towards sustainability and being 'green', sustainable clothing has expanded towards (5) reducing the amount of clothing overproduced, incinerated or discarded to landfills, and (6) decreasing the environmental impact of agro-chemicals in producing conventional fiber crops.
HARMFUL EFFECTS OF FAST FASHION:
1. The global fashion industry uses 93 billion cubic meters of water every year — enough to meet the consumption needs of five million people.
2. Around 20% of sewage water worldwide comes from fabric dyeing and treatment industries.Nearly 87% of cloth waste is incinerated or disposed of in a landfill.
3. The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions, more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. Approximately 1.7 billion tons of CO2 is used by the fashion industry.
4. Every year a half a million tons of plastic microfibers are dumped into the ocean, the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles. The danger? Microfibers cannot be extracted from sea water and they can spread throughout the food chain.
Why is Sustainable Fashion Important to Planet Earth?
Sustainable fashion uses regenerative fibers, recycled fibers, that require less energy and also very less or no chemicals in the manufacturing process from the cultivation stage till finished goods, thus reducing the carbon footprint at every stage.
Chemical-free dyeing, finishing and printing process methods are the new future of sustainable fashion. Renewable energy utilization at all stages of manufacturing right from cultivation to fiber extraction, spinning, weaving, dyeing, finishing, printing that can prevent the depletion of fossil fuels.
Here are some reasons why sustainable fashion is important and should be adapted:
1. SUSTAINABLE FASHION SAVES NATURAL RESOURCES
A study from 2015 shows that 97% of what goes into making clothes are new resources, with only 3% of it being recycled materials. This adds up to an annual resource input of 98 million tons – including oil to produce synthetic fibers, fertilizers to grow cotton and an endless list of chemicals needed to dye & finish fabric.
Recycled fibers have proven to be a much more sustainable option, as they reduce pressure on virgin resources and tackle the growing problem of waste management. As a reference, for every 10,000 tons of ECONYL® raw material used for our swimwear, 70,000 Barrels of Oil & 57,100 tons of Co2 are saved compared to the production of virgin nylon.
2. SUSTAINABLE FASHION REDUCES YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT
The global fashion industry emits a hefty amount of greenhouse gasses per year, thus contributing massively and actively to global warming. One of the reasons is that the vast majority of our beloved clothes are petroleum-based and made from fossil fuels, including polyester, acrylic & nylon (check your clothing labels, you may be surprised). These materials require significantly more energy in the production phase than natural or recycled fibers.
Sustainable brands on the other side often use materials from natural or recycled fabrics that require significantly less to no chemical treatment, little water, less energy and no fertilizers or pesticides to grow. Most organic fabrics such as linen, hemp, organic cotton & TENCEL™ (made from sustainable wood pulp) are even biodegradable. These environmentally-sound fabrics go easy on the planet and are amazing sustainable alternatives.
3. SUSTAINABLE FASHION SAVES ANIMAL LIVES
This may not be news for you, but the fashion industry loves to kill for fashion. A common misconception is that leather for instance, is a by-product of the meat industry. However, this is not always the case. It’s estimated that the leather industry alone is slaughtering and killing over 430 million animals per year. Not going into more detail here as it’s a topic for itself, but if wish to educate yourself more on animal suffering in the fashion industry, follow this link. PETA has a plethora of articles on this topic.
Sustainable fashion brands have started to increasingly embrace the use of cruelty-free alternatives, and there’s one for nearly every piece of fashion materials - polyester made with trash from the oceans (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?), bags created from recycled seatbelts, plant-based compostable sneakers, silk created from yeast, and bio-fabricated vegan wool. But one of the most demanded leather alternatives these days comes from pineapples. The fabric is produced using the leaves of pineapples in the harvesting process, giving by-product waste a new purpose.
4. SUSTAINABLE FASHION REQUIRES LESS WATER
Water is a major resource for the fashion industry. It is used in the dyeing and finishing process for nearly all of our clothes. It takes an incredible amount of 2,700 liters of water to produce a single T-shirt. Cotton in particular is highly dependent on water, but is usually grown in hot and dry areas where water is a scarce resource already.
By contrast, organic cotton reduces water consumption by 91% as opposed to conventional cotton. However, only 1% of global cotton production to date is organic. This is mainly due to the much higher cost of non-GMO seeds, which often require additional investments into materials & machinery, which farmers only use for their organically grown crop.
Other sustainable fabrics that require little to no water during the production phase include linen, hemp, REFIBRA™ & recycled fibers like recycled cotton.
5. SUSTAINABLE FASHION SUPPORTS FAIRER & SAFER WORKING CONDITIONS
Believe it or not, but modern day slavery does exist. Minimum wages (if at all), endless working hours, unacceptable health & safety conditions and the prohibition of workers unions is what reality for most garment workers in the fast fashion sector looks like. Moreover, verbal and physical abuse are still common practice in many parts of the industry. A few informative documentaries exist on the social injustices of the fast fashion industry. Check out “The True Cost” or “Fashion Factories Undercover” to learn more about it.
Eco-ethical brands advocate for providing humane working conditions, health care and fair wages for their workers, which are typically above average. Generally, they show a larger purpose towards creating economic opportunities for those in need to end poverty. We all want to feel great about our clothes, and that includes feeling great about knowing under what conditions they were made.
6. SUSTAINABLE FASHION IS HEALTHIER FOR PEOPLE & PLANET
Fast fashion items often undergo a long and intense chemical process before ending up on our hangers. Around 8,000 different synthetic chemicals are used to dye, bleach and wet process garments. Those chemicals often cause diseases or even deaths among farmers and inflict serious birth defects on their children.
Some of these chemicals pose a real danger to our health as well, as our skin absorbs anything we put on it, including the chemicals in our clothes.
7. SUSTAINABLE FASHION TEACHES US HOW TO LOVE OUR CLOTHES AGAIN
It is just so easy to look at a gorgeous, finished piece of clothing in a store and forget that there’s a story and lifecycle behind it. Truth is, we are detached because the industry encourages us to be so. But being aware of all the downsides of this industry will hopefully lead to more conscious consumerism. One that is planet, animal & people friendly.
It’s time to recognize the impact of our buying decisions. Not as an inconsequential part of our modern lifestyles that changes with every season, but as an environmental and human responsibility that could greatly affect the future of our planet. At the end of the day, we can choose if we want to be part of the problem, or part of the solution and to quote Anne Lappe “Every time you spend money you cast a vote for the kind of world you want”.
If the textile industry is to move towards sustainable fashion, then there are a lot of big changes ahead for businesses. Every aspect of the production chain needs to transform, from sourcing raw materials and treatment of workers, to shipping and the attitude of consumers. With the world evolving and changing, people are starting to change with it, and sustainable fashion is the next step in the industry.