In light of Earth day last week, we thought we’d put the spotlight on one of the world’s largest polluters; the fashion industry.
Many of us have heard the facts. According to the UN Environment Programme, it would take thirteen years to drink the water used to make one pair of jeans and a T-shirt. The industry also generates a lot of greenhouse gases due to the energy used during production and global transportation. When you throw harmful chemicals, plastic packaging and textile waste into the mix, it is not a pretty picture.
Of course, the fashion industry is not alone, the agriculture, transport, food and fuel industries all play their part. As the devastating effects of the climate crisis are ever present in the media, consumers are putting pressure on companies to be proactive about their environmental preservation. Therefore, companies tie the environment into their marketing campaigns, in order to appeal to their audience. This is particularly evident within the fashion industry, where ‘environmentalism’ itself has become trendy.
Pioneering the changes we need to see is Stella McCartney, BoF’s Professional Summit: Closing Fashion’s Sustainability Gap’s keynote speaker. She has partnered with the UN, detailing sixteen commitments for the industry to reduce its negative environmental impact. Some companies are addressing another shocking statistic; less than half of returns go back on sale, as it’s cheaper for retailers to send them to landfill. Brands that are making an effort to reduce their textile waste include: E.L.V Denim who create clothing from rejected materials; Mulberry, releasing a ‘made-to-last’ manifesto; Alexander McQueen, donating surplus materials to fashion students; ASOS, barring serial returners from their website and deactivating accounts that return huge loads.
The list goes on, there are endless brands who are joining the sustainability hype. The question is, is it just that, a hype? Are buzzwords like ‘sustainability’, ‘eco-friendly’, ‘eco-conscious’ being used as nothing more than a green-sheen? No doubt about it. The responsibility then, falls on both retailers and consumers. Designers and fashion businesses owe it to their consumers to be transparent, provide facts and figures, not just words, be communicative, and make decisions based on what things will be like for people and the planet in years to come.
It’s also up to consumers to do some digging. We can peer behind marketing, check out the company’s website, look out for certifications and invest in brands with sustainability at their core. Most importantly, we must strive to put a stop to our throw-away culture. As fashion users, we must consider how we purchase, use and dispose of our garments. For change to occur, we need to rethink our behavioural patterns that led to this unsustainability.
It is all too easy to feel helpless when examining the fashion industry’s impact on the environment, but we can also feel hopeful. There are solutions out there, with inspiring companies leading the way. If brands and consumers work together to change how we relate to the Earth, fashion could be a catalyst for an exciting and crucially important transformation. If we rethink our throwaway culture and connection to the environment, sustainable fashion could be here to stay.