Fashion and Sustainability can co-exist?


By: Amrita Mitra



“Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak”, says Rachel Zoe.

 

The question raised in the previous article was whether fashion and sustainability can co-exist, and the answer is yes! To make this possible, let’s understand about sustainability. Sustainable fashion addresses the whole system of fashion, rather than only the products. It addresses the social, cultural, ecological and financial systems. Sustainability is when resources are maintained at a certain level, be it environmental or social.


In today’s era, where there is a desire to possess more and more, fast fashion is taking up the front stage, where people buy more and make the goods last for a lesser amount of time. All of these are because of the availability of cheap goods. But do, we stop and think, at what cost we are increasing our wardrobe day by day. Sometimes, we do, we do think about sustainability, we have the desire to do something for the environment, but we do not want to compromise with our shopping spree as well. The average consumer today purchases 60% more clothing than 20 years ago. Each garment is kept half as long, and about 40% of clothes in the wardrobes are never worn as estimated by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. Of the two opposing forces, the desire to be sustainable and the desire for fashion at low price, which one is set to win in the long term?


According to an article in Forbes, Fashion industry, which is a 3 trillion dollar industry, is responsible for up to 10% global carbon dioxide emissions, 20% of the world’s industrial waste water, 24% of insecticides and 11% of pesticides use. The planet is suffocating and our hunger for fast fashion is destroying the habitat.

Moreover, the horrendous working conditions and illegally low wages at factories have not stopped company’s profits from growing, or consumers wanting their fast fashion.

The future depends on the sustainable work we do today. Sustainability is a tectonic shift in fashion. People are now realising the importance of it and coming together to figure out ways to save the environment and the society.


At G7 Summit in August ’19, French President Emanuel Macron unveiled the Fashion pact, a set of shared objectives for the fashion industry to reduce its environmental impact.

According to Susan Rockefeller, film maker and activist, positive outcome of sustainable fashion will not be only a cleaner planet and better working conditions but a flourishing human creativity and individual style.  When people own who they are and what their own style is, they don’t need to be seasonal. Thus, would lead to the eradication of unnecessary additions to the closets.



When we learn about sustainable fashion, we understand there are many forms to it, namely:

On demand & Custom made, Green & Clean, High Quality and timeless design, Fair & Ethical, Repair, Redisgn& Upcycle, Rent, Lease & Swap, Second hand & Vintage.

Now- a- days, second hand buying and renting has become quite common, it helps the prevention of buying or addition of even more fashion waste.


There are many companies and start-up which are working towards sustainable fashion, coming up with innovations and initiatives to contribute to the well-being of the planet. One such initiative has been highlighted in the documentary, “Made in Forest” which speaks about the way a designer uses eco-friendly fabric to create high-end fashion clothes and how the consumer perceives it.

There are companies which are using wood based fiber from woodchips, also innovating with fabric from mushroom & oranges. Silk like fabric is being made from spider web DNA. Food wastes are being recycled into yarn. Algae based fabric is being developed which doesn’t require extra water.


Apart from innovations in fabric to provide an alternative to synthetic fibers which are difficult, almost impossible to break down and decompose, there is a promising market- based approach pursued by New York based Glasgow Caledonian University, which is known as Fair Fashion Center, it acts as a research and action center for 35 CEO’s representing 242 brands in the fashion industry. They have undertaken a No Carbon Dioxide initiative, with a grant from Rockefeller foundation & collaboration with GRIPS Energy AG. The basic concept of this initiative is to provide impetus to replace costly energy with clean energy for the factories. It aims to accomplish this through a blended finance model that also involves consumers who will be able to round up their e-commerce purchases in support of the initiative. So, in a scenario where initiatives are being taken for the sustainable change in the fashion industry, we, as individuals should also change our relationship with fashion. We should take a stroll in the slow lane and experience the change which our wiser decisions would make for the environment and society.

There are brands, which are taking a step forward in the sustainable direction, Alternative Apparel, Eileen Fisher, threadUP, Patagonia, People Tree, Athleta, H&M Conscious, Columbia.Sustainability is a shared responsibility. We are told that we are wreaking havoc on our planet, but we feel powerless about resolving these issues. But we actually have this power and it resides in our clothing. With the eradication of trade barriers, countries moved their production overseas, which led to the development of cheaper clothes with the use of cheap labour.


So, we are buying more and more as clothes have become cheaper now! All of us have an experience of fast fashion, but all the cheap clothing has a huge impact on the society. We need to stop and think what exactly do we need, and that we need to but better and ethical! Shopping ethical doesn’t mean to buy from brands which just uses terms like ethical or sustainable in their tag lines, but when there is a transparency, i.e., brands are willing to be open about the factories they are working with and allow their customers to know about the conditions in which their clothes were made. Also, we need to be aware of the term, shadow factories, which is when brand show that they are working with five star factories, conducting proper audits, but in order to meet their price range, are outsourcing from different factories where there is no audit or proper working conditions, which is where actual production is taking place. There is a very informative short film, “ Blood, Sweat & T-Shirt” which can inform more about the scenario of the industry.


We, the citizen consumers, hold the power to clean up the planet and can change the industry. To start with, check the tags; understand where your clothing is coming from and what it is made of. Ask questions about certifications, about vendors, materials! Check the seams of your clothes, whether they can be long lasting or not, buy quality clothing. Most of the fast fashion clothing does not have quality to last for a long time, thus leading to more disposals. And lastly, love what you buy. Do not buy to dispose after one or two wear.   Think of your purchases as investments. The industry will perform according to the requirements of the consumer, so we should use this power to bring about the change.


To quote, Vivienne Westwood, “Buy less, Choose Well, Make it Last!” 

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