Sustainability in Fashion
The fashion industry is the world’s second largest polluter, as it consumes mass amounts of water and emits out 10% of our total global carbon emissions. As a result, there has been a shift in consumerism, as more people begin to ask, ‘where did my clothes come from?’ and ‘how are my choices impacting the environment?’
We want to take a look at what it means to be sustainable within the fashion industry, and what really is the difference between conventional clothing and that made from organic and recyclable fabrics.
Impact of the fashion industry on the environment
Since 2000, clothing production has doubled, as the ‘fast fashion’ movement has taken hold. Consumers want to purchase more frequently and at lower costs. Many labels and major companies have increased the number of collections they release each year to keep up with the ever-growing demand for new styles and changing trends. But despite the cheaper retail prices, it has come at a significant cost to the environment.
According to Business Insider Australia, consumers purchased 60% more garments in 2014 than they did in 2000, but they only kept the clothes for half as long. 85% of garments have ended up in landfills each year – enough to fill all of Sydney harbour.
Additionally, as more collections and garments are being produced, they are being produced using cheaper lower quality materials synthetic fibres like polyester. In fact, that’s true for 72% of all our garments. And even if consumers weren’t throwing their garments away after a single season, the average of lifetime of these lower quality pieces is only 3 years. This is a huge disparity considering they take up to 200 years to decompose.
Water Consumption and Water Pollution
The production of these garments also consumes mass amounts of water.
Huge quantities of fresh water are required for the dyeing and finishing process, as it takes up to 200 tonnes of water per ton of dyed fabric. The production of cotton is also a huge water waster. According to WWF, it takes more than 20,000 litres of water to produce just one kilogram of cotton. That equates to about one t-shirt and a pair of jeans.
Cotton farmers also typically use many hazardous chemicals and pesticides on their crops. The Pesticide Action Network estimates they collectively spend $2.6 billion USD each year. Unfortunately, these pesticides contaminate the water and the runoff from the crops affects the biodiversity of animals and plants in nearby rivers, lakes, wetlands and underground aquifers.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The cycle of fashion on a whole – from its production to manufacturing to transportation – releases a significant amount of greenhouse gases into the earth’s atmosphere. Synthetic fibres are all made from non-renewable fossil fuels. This process is both emission intensive and environmentally degrading.
What Sustainability Really Means in Relation to the Fashion Industry
Terrified and overwhelmed by all this information? Yep, we get it. So now, let’s take a look at what it really means to be sustainable within the fashion industry and how we can actively reduce our environmental impact.
According to the UN, to be environmentally sustainable, is to act in a way that ensures future generations have the natural resources available to live an equal, if not better, way of life. What is needed within the fashion industry is more efficient manufacturing processes; the production of higher quality and durable garments; and a greater focus on fabrics that are both organic and recyclable.
Many manufacturers are beginning to engage in more sustainable efforts. In fact, there has been a surge in organic cotton growing. The difference between conventional and organic cotton, is that organic cotton is produced and certified to organic agricultural standards. It uses natural processes and does not allow for the use of toxic chemicals, pesticides or GMOs. Overall, it uses 88% less water and 62% less energy. It is also 88% rain-fed. You can actually feel the difference as well – organic cotton is softer and much more durable. It has longer fibres that have not been weakened or broken by harsh farming techniques.
Brands are also wanting to make commitments to reduce their footprint on the earth. Many are starting to invest in organic and recyclable fabrics; host sample sales (rather than sending their old stock to the landfill); use recycled/recyclable packaging; and offering a ‘made to order’ or ‘pre-order’ service.
Here are some examples of how brands and their producers are leading the sustainable fashion movement:
From its beginning, Lacausa has been committed to honest and ethical manufacturing. They recognise the fashion industry as a major polluter and therefore, manufacture all their garments in their own LA-based factory. Here, they also prioritise a low waste design process.
Their most recent collection, FLOW, is made only from recycled tech (RPET) and organic flex. RPET diverts post-consumer water bottles from landfills and spins them into super comfortable and moisture wicking recycled tech fabric. Organic flex is made from organic cotton, and as mentioned previously, it is insanely soft and reduces water consumption by nearly 90%.
Jen’s Pirate Booty
Jen’s Pirate Booty is focused on the artisan process, partnering with a number of small family owned workshops and factories in a select five countries. The main collection is designed in LA and produced in Mexico. All the garments are carefully designed and selected based on their beautiful textiles, specialty materials and local artisan techniques. As they are individually handmade, this ensures that no two garments are the same nor are they mass produced.
This decreases the amount of waste and excess in market. Jen’s Pirate Booty’s ethos is based on the ancient artisanal processes that do not damage the environment in production.
Recently, Jen’s Pirate Booty has adopted the use of eco-friendly vegetable dyes free of pollutants and allergens that are derived from completely natural sources. This is another way the brand is reducing their carbon footprint whilst producing beautiful garments for their customers to wear.