Why We Believe That There is No Alternative to Sustainable Fashion
Our planet Earth, unlike the clothes in our closet, is only one.
What goes through your mind as you browse a fashion site? Maybe it’s “oh, that's beautiful.” Or “I got to have that for the holidays.” “That looks like something [cue favourite actress' name] has worn!” Most likely, you would hop into the Sale section, just in case one of your favourited items gets a discount – and it does – and there would be gasps. There would be daydreams. This will look good on me on Annie’s wedding day. Making the decision is easy: it’s a quick press to Add to Cart, and, since time is running out as well as stocks, you proceed to the big, red Buy button that glares temptingly at you, and you give in.
Soon, you get a notification: Congratulations, you just bought new clothes, and it’s heading for you from the other side of the world! Now, that’s something to be excited about; new clothes, being on trend, feeling beautiful – we are drawn to the feelings of happiness and satisfaction, and we constantly look for ways to successfully obtain it. After all, don’t we deserve a treat? But, here’s the catch: if we take the time to check our closets, will we be able to get the same fulfillment from the clothes we previously bought as “treats?”
University of Manchester's Patsy Perry wrote this on the Independent UK: “It’s tough to love our clothes and keep wearing them for longer when we are faced with a tempting array of newness on offer in the shops.” Newness beckons. Fashion, like seasons, is ever-changing. The industry won’t settle down; it would constantly upgrade, overhaul, revive and remodel. Trends make the standard, and the abruptness of these phases – coupled with the low prices set by the fast fashion industry – has nudged people to keep on consuming. It's an addictive cycle; according to World Resources Institute, the average consumer now purchases 60% more clothing items compared to 2000. But the more dreadful fact is that they keep the garment only half as long.
That's not the only concern. On a 2017 article, The New York Post reveals that fashion industry has ranked up its carbon emission compared to some airlines. Generating 1.26 billion tons of greenhouse gasses a year, this is more than the amount created by many international flights and shipping combined. The report, taken from MacArthur Foundation, unleashed far more eye-raising concerns as outrageous as the mustard-yellow suits and feathery fringe dresses many people shy away from.
- Every year, more than half of fast fashion is thrown away
- A piece of clothing is worn by only 36%
- Less than 1% of used material is recycled
- Each second, a truckload of clothes is wasted
These figures, and more, invite everyone to rethink their fashion choices, and it’s not about the visual aesthetics.
Pick your clothes wisely
Traditionally, fashion has two cycles per year. The first spans from January to June (Spring/Summer), the next, from July to December (Fall/Winter). But fast fashion changed the industry, dramatically shrinking fashion cycles to as many as 50 micro-seasons. Skipping the conventional, customers can now get garments from a designer in a matter of weeks. That seems like a boost in the industry, but is fashion positively affecting resources outside its market?
The world is all about speed, and fast fashion responds to that by focusing on cheaper, trendier items delivered in short amounts of time. Vibrant colours, stunning prints and glossy finishes drape store windows and fashion websites, but these, however, come with consequences.
Making a garment is “environmentally intensive,” as disclosed by textile expert Clara Vuletich, PhD via ABC News Australia. Textile supply chains are among the most complex in the manufacturing sector. If you are a person picky about what you eat, or what goes into your skin, it's about time to consider how your clothes are made.
Accounting to 33% of all fibres, cotton is one of the world's common fabric. Producing it, however, is labour-intensive. A machine harvests cotton and processes it through ginning, separating the fibres from the seeds. The soft material is then submitted to various levels of combing and carding to smoothen the cotton before it is ready to be spun into yarn. But that's not all; the world's cotton, mostly grown from India and China, heavily relies on fertilisers, pesticides and heavy irrigation. It requires, on an average, about 2,700 litres of water. That's the same amount of water you drink for two and a half years. Cotton farming is also accountable for 24% of insecticides (and 11% of pesticides) around the world.
Polyester, another popular fabric, can be accounted for almost half of the world's fibre production, amounting to 63,000 million tonnes a year. To make this fabric, elements from petroleum are liquefied under high pressure and are squeezed into tiny holes. The result solidifies as fibres. These fibres are then drawn out and are spun into a thinner quality to be woven into fabric. Other processes such as crimping, dying and dulling, are involved in these stages. The good thing about polyester: it's synthetic. Polyester fibres are made from non-renewable materials, some of which are recycled, thus reducing the need for fossil fuels. However, the problem exists outside the manufacturing phase. Whenever you wash this fabric, it sheds microscopic fibres that stream into waterways, which end up in our ocean. It is digested by tiny planktons, then by fish. In this way, plastic gets into the human belly.
Fast fashion also uses renewable materials such as bamboo, viscose, lyocell and rayon, which are all derived from cellulosic fabric. But Australia's Textile Exchange stated that being renewable doesn't make it best for the environment. Transparency is suggested to ensure that these fibres are not manufactured from endangered forests and habitats, as it could affect the people who thrive within the surrounding environment.
But it's not only about fabric production – it is also about dyes. The dyeing process uses a large amount of water; each shirt requires about 18 litres. During the colouring process, 20% of those pigments are flushed out, an amount that sums up to 50,000 pounds that seeps into the water system. These toxic materials contain chemicals and carcinogens which harms the earth, animals and humans. There's no surprise why dyeing accounts for 36% of greenhouse gasses emitted by the fashion industry.
Greenhouse gas, it must be said, is 300 times more damaging than carbon dioxide.
The increasing appetite for newness, and the fervent desire of retailers to produce it results to a consequence that will scar the planet. Since 2000, the world's production of clothing has doubled. As retailers venture out on an international scale, wardrobes in developed nations are becoming fuller. Younger generations with busy lifestyles find it more convenient to buy new items than to mend what they already own. Street fashion and regular seasonal sales drive consumers back into the stores. The old becomes disposable. In the USA, 85% of those end up in a landfill. China, the largest producer of the world's garments, has been dealing with pollution left by the industry for decades.
In Asia, fast fashion has triggered fast spending. Credited to consumers entering the global middle class, there's now an increased demand for goods that represents middle-income lifestyles. By 2030, more than 5 billion people reaches this rank. By 2050, should we proceed with the same pace of consumption, we will require three times as many natural resources. That latter part, however, seems bleak. Fast fashion is not a sustainable industry.
Save a garment, save the earth
£4000 – that's the entire value of clothes in every home in the UK. This is equal to 100 pairs of jeans over a thousand bathtubs of water, with emissions similar to driving a car for 6,000 miles. And, if you're wondering about the waste, only 30% of these clothes are worn each year. Does that mean you shouldn’t shop for clothes from now on?
Of course, you not; but now that this comes to light, you have the knowledge to make better options. In this vision, Ellen MacArthur Foundation has recently unveiled a circular, invoking a “redesigning” of fashion in a new textile’s economy. Here was an ambitious yet necessary take to overhaul the fast fashion culture. But radical changes need to be set, including the phasing out of “substances of concern” to create better, safer material cycles. Moreover, instead of luring consumers to buy more every season, brands should make durability more attractive. Prolonged utilisation of clothing should be part of their commitment. Textiles are to be renewable.
Piñatex from Spain has successfully derived leather fabric from waste pineapple leaves and is half the cost of the common cow hide. Not only is this a clothing alternative to vegans, but you get a durable garment out of organic, discarded items – that's what recycling is all about. Another ground-breaking discovery is by Modern Meadow, who discovered new means to create leather-like skins that will be available in 2020. Colours will be bereft of heavy dyes that require lots of water. Silk, enforced with water repellent and moisture-wicking features, may be the next fabric for athleisure.
It must be noted that a lot of retailers are making that huge jump, emphasizing sustainability on their products. Around the world, industry officials are now taking a closer look at fashion production and supply chain, cutting down what could be, in order to save what was left of their natural resources.
Take for example Edun, a brand founded by Bono and Ali Newsand, on a goal to boost Africa's economy as well as opening eyes for more eco-friendly practices. The Los Angeles-based fashion house Reformation emphasized on in-house, locally based sustainable sewing methods; showing off complete transparency with their RefScale. This page measures how much water and carbon dioxide were minimized in the making of a garment. Stella McCartney has followed suit; after being a voice in animal-free couture, McCartney's London stores are highlighting sustainability with renewable energy and resources.
And there are more. Amour Vert, “green love” in French, screams of zero-waste aesthetics, which promotes made-in-the-US garments clad in non-toxic dyes. And more: for every tee purchased, the company will plant a tree. Global brand H&M is now picking up the sustainability pace with H&M Conscious, a branch that emphasizes earth-friendly styles paired with today's fashion trends.
At Radice Sleep, it has always been about the environment. Silk, an organic protein that beautifully returns to earth in its due time, has been the soul of our brand. Not only does it indulge the wearer in a lustrous, luxurious feel; it also gives back. These pyjamas reward one with protection against skin allergies and inflammation, at the same time, giving it natural nourishment during sleep. But creating silk garments require a lot of work. Our sister company in China ensured that no harmful chemicals were used in nurturing the silkworms that produce the threads. And, in our goal to be in line with Fair Trade Practices, we pay attention to the efforts given by our employees by paying them justly. Our garments are then sent to us, reflecting the beautiful patterns made in-house with our designers in Germany.
The truth is environmentally-conscious clothes costs more than fast fashion. However, it is, for the longer run, more practical to the consumer, and to the planet.
In the UK, the environmental audit committee of the House of Commons are exploring the impact, use, and footprints of clothing throughout its life cycle. “Fashion shouldn't cost the earth,” said committee chairman Mary Creagh MP. “But the way we design, make and discard clothes has a huge environmental impact.” While its high street experienced a new low, UK's fast fashion sector has been booming. In 2009, the industry has contributed £21bn to the national GDP. Recently, in 2015, it has given £28.1bn. This, however, is not without the expense of the environment. According to Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the landfill cost of textiles amounted to £82m – and that’s not cheap.
Cheaper isn’t better. In fact, you may be supporting industries that offer unfair wages to labourers in developing countries. Fast fashion's global market is huge; in 2012, it was estimated to be worth Us $1.7 trillion, employing around 75 million people. Most of their factories are set in China, South and Southeast Asia, where many of the impoverished accept any means of living to feed their family. The result of its affordability equates to a compromise on someone else’s livelihood.
Clothes that come fast go fast. Your temporary joys could bring irreparable wounds to the environment, and to other people. It’s about time to make a change.
What can you do? Simple.
Wear your clothes for longer. If your household spends £1700 for clothes each year, think about how much you can save if you stretch out wearing them for at least for 50% more. Imagine, £800 stays in your pocket! Now, wouldn't that be enough money for a grand holiday?
Don't want it? Then give it away. Instead of dumping your old clothes into the landfills, you can give them new life by donating them. Each season, make compassion be a part of your home as you tuck away unwanted – but still usable – garments in boxes for charity. You can also sell them away! Take advantage of online platforms and apps where you can sell old clothes. That way, you cut down your carbon footprint while putting money in your pocket.
Instead of driving, shop online. An analysis revealed that a clothes' garment impact is caused by the time you drove to the store and try different things on. Instead of driving, walk. Another option: shop online. Your delivery service is, according to Racked, “like public transportation for your clothing.” Multiple studies have already stayed how shopping online has lower environmental impact compared to the good ole brick-and-mortar store. If you want to trace the brand's planet-friendliness, try apps like Good On You, which gives you and overview of the company's labour policies plus clothing recommendations. If you're using a browser, check out DoneGood, which notifies you whether the site you're on is ethical or not. It gives you links to sustainable brands and highlights its better practices which could help you learn about the company.
Check the certifications. Fair Trade, for one, shows that the company's labourers are paid with at least them minimum wage, and that their working conditions are safe. If you're a regular tree hugger, the Forest Stewardship Council tells you if the fabrics were sustainably derived from trees. OEKO-TEX, an independent test for textiles, offers multiple certifications, the basic of them is if the product is free from dangerous dyes. GOTS is another certification for garments that contain at least 70% of organic fibres.
Shop smart. If you must buy polyester – that fabric that seeps into the seas – then pick the ones which were recycled, to support the industries that remove plastic waste from the ocean. You can buy alternatives to the common textiles. Tencel, for one, is similar to rayon, only it was made from sustainably-sources trees of eucalyptus, in a process that ensures no toxins get through the water. Low impact textiles, such as silk, linen and hemp, are better organic choices.
Buy recycled. Charities have found a way to make use of the one-fifth of clothing given to them: selling pounds of fabric to textile recyclers. One example is the Stubin family of Brooklyn, who has operated Trans-America Trading since 1942. Every year, the company processes more than 12 million pounds of recycled textiles in its 80,000 square foot facility. Clothing are categorized in fibre content, size and colour, where they are turned into absorbing wiping rags, insulation, upholstery and even paper products. 45% of discarded textiles can continue their life as clothing instead of being thrown in bins.
Love pre-loved. The west produces millions of second-hand fashion which many local shops resell, at least, by 20%. On a good day, it could go up to 75%. If you're a fashion enthusiast who yearns for the thrill of a new parcel hitting your doorstep, buying pre-loved is your better option. You help prevent the production of toxic or unethical clothing, and it keeps textiles from being shipped overseas, which consequently uses a lot of energy.
Treasure what you already have. Instead of heading off to find a new maxi dress or a handsome blazer to match your Fall wardrobe, why don't you re-examine your closet? You might be surprised to see a still-tagged piece of clothing that you've already forgotten. When shopping, choose the classics. Stick to your colours and favourite prints. It's good to be experimental once in a while, but it’s wiser to invest in the ones that will stay with you for a longer time. Choose those which you can easily mix and match. An edited capsule wardrobe filled will versatile pieces will serve you better purpose and will maximize each garment’s use.
Care for your clothes wisely. The way you launder, iron and preserve your clothes impacts its life. Delicates are to be handwashed. Elastics have their shelf lives, too. To prolong them, use them in rotation. Stains should be washed immediately with the right kind of detergent; thus, looking at the tags is essential, as there are no one-size-fits-all kind of laundry. Pants don't need to be over-washed; denims can be used a few times before thrown into the laundry. And, last but not the least, know when to hang, and to fold your clothes, as this will help keep their shape.
As the industry realizes the effects of fast fashion, these small transformations make an impact. Your choices help the preservation of our environment. The next time you are lured by the sheer delight of shopping for new things, think about its real cost: is it bought at the expense of the planet? How much energy was used? Was it ethical? Humane? Your decision – a swift Yes or No – is a shift to a better, or a worse world.