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Sustainable Fashion: Important Things to Know About the Industry

by | Jun 21, 2022 | Sustainability




Let’s be honest, our environment is getting worse each day. The earth is faced with an irreversible climate change, global warming, water scarcity and air and water pollution. And on top of that, changing consumer behavior, increase purchasing power, and economies of scale have given rise to consumerism resulting in an unprecedented amount of garbage.

Since the Industrial Revolution, the textile industry is culpable for nearly 1 billion tons of the planet’s waste each year. It is the second most polluting sector in the world after oil and gas. Also, the industry contributes to all the crises the earth is facing. And we are faced with one of the worst calamities on earth called fast fashion.

It’s fair to say that the fashion industry is very unsustainable. We are drowning in clothes and textiles. Clothing sales have increased dramatically in the last 20 years. Nowadays people have four times the amount of clothes in their wardrobes than their parents have. Buying clothes has never been easier since hundreds of billions of apparel are manufactured every year.

However, most of these products end up in landfills. Fast fashion allows consumers to buy more than they really needed. What’s worst is that they are wearing these garments less often and disposing of them at an unprecedented rate. Have you ever thought about the effect your fashion choices and the impact your purchases have on the environment?

Problems with fast fashion

Fashion is inherently unsustainable. The industry is one of the largest polluters in the world and its negative impact is increasing by the day. Some of the ways it damages the environment are by producing greenhouse gases, deforestation, water pollution, soil degradation, high water usage and waste accumulation.

Fast fashion is a threat to this planet. It has turned us into passive consumers and is constantly fooling us that buying more clothes will make us happy. The global fashion industry contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. The UN estimates that the industry accounts for around 10% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

The clothing industry’s greenhouse gas emissions is more than the aviation and maritime shipping industries’ combined emissions. In other words, it is a major contributor to the increase in pollution in the atmosphere. On top of that, fashion waste account for 4% of global waste.  

Each year hundreds of billions of items of clothing are produced globally using thousands of different chemicals. Yet three out of five items or 60% end up in landfills within 12 months. Clothing brands released new designs collection every 2 to 3 weeks. Nowadays, people bought 60 more clothes than in the 2000s and the lifespan for those clothes is half as clothes become outdated extremely fast.

Fast fashion has become a trend. One day a design is trendy, the next day it’s not. And when an item of clothing is outdated, it is removed from sales and the inventories that retailers haven’t been able to dispatch goes to waste. It is estimated that nearly 35% of all brand new garments end up in incinerators within a year of being made. And 93 million tons of used clothes go to landfills every year.

The clothing industry is fed by your insecurities and forces you to believe that it is impolite to repeat clothes. It bombards you with discounts to force you to buy in excess. They can easily make you believe that fine clothes, expensive apparel, and fancy shoes can make you a winner. 

They also use heavy marketing campaigns backed by celebrities to make you buy more and expensive products. There are influencers ready to sell you the latest trend every day. Thousands of articles and videos schooling fashion daily. There is a dress code for every event.

The production of apparel and footwear is expected to rise by 81% by 2030. Online shopping is also booming, the global e-commerce apparel market is expected to be worth over USD 941 billion by 2028. The business model of the fashion sector is designed to keep everyone shopping while the planet and you pay the bills.

Companies use a very large amount of water and also pollute water in return. It takes 594 gallons or 2248 liters to produce all the material used to make a single T-shirt. This amount represents the amount of water a person drinks in two and a half years.

It takes 20 000 liters to make one kilo of cotton which is enough to make only one t-shirt and a pair of jeans. The garment industry uses 93 billion cubic meters of water every year. In Uzbekistan, cotton farming has dried up an entire stream of water called the Aral Sea.

Water is also needed to dye the cloth and the byproduct is then released into river streams and oceans. All the microplastics and chemical water end up contaminating the habitat of fish which then end up on our plate. Currently, an estimated 35% of all microplastics in the ocean come from washing clothes.

bird eye view of an excavator in a landfill
Photo by Tom Fisk: pexels.com

The clothing industry is the second-largest consumer of water in the world. Cotton fields use 11% of the world’s pesticides. What’s even worst is that usually garment factory doesn’t pay for the water and the cost is not added to the products to maintain the price of clothes low. The production of these garments is detrimental to the environment.

We purchase nearly 150 billion pieces of garments every year. Companies choose the cheapest material to produce their garment. The cheaper the clothes, the more pollution they caused. Most of our clothes today are made up of polyester as it is cheap. However, it is also extremely polluting as it releases 2 to 3 times more carbon than cotton. It also does not dissolve when in contact with water.

Can the fashion industry become sustainable?

Fashion and sustainability are two very different things. Fashion is sexy, addictive, exclusive, and very fast-moving. Sustainability, on the other hand, is about slowness, care, flourishing, and responsibility. However, during the past years, sustainable fashion has started to gain interest among many people.

So to follow the trends, brands started to claim that they will change their business model to a more sustainable approach. Sustainable fashion became the new trend within the industry. Today they are offering ethical fashion, vegan fashion, recycled fashion, organic fashion, eco-friendly fashion and sustainable fashion.

Zara claims that it will make its clothes 100% sustainable by 2025. H&M says most of its clothes are already sustainable and that by 2040 its operation will run on 100% renewable energy. Prada and Adidas say it is reusing plastic in their nylon apparel. Levi Strauss says it will cut greenhouse gas emissions in its facilities by 90%.

However, a lot of them lie about being eco-friendly to make your shopping experience guilt-free. The industry already knows that most of us are not even aware of our carbon footprint or let alone taking the necessary time to check their claims. They also know that we will blindly pick a garment or a bag.

The EU Commission found that 42% of green claims by fashion companies are exaggerated, false or deceptive. Companies say they’re sustainable without saying how and what they are doing to be eco-friendly. Fast fashion companies also don’t disclose the factories and countries their clothes are made.

Oftentimes they don’t disclose this information because the factories are not up to code and the garment workers are put in danger or don’t have basic employment rights. The people who usually make the clothes are often working in quite far countries with poor working conditions without protection against all the chemicals.

These workers don’t receive any physical safety, work overtime, and also do not make living wages. These factories aren’t always in the best conditions and are unsafe for workers. In 2013, a factory called the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh collapsed, killing over 1000 workers. These people were making clothes for brands from the US and the UK.

This is why brands will try to hide this information from customers. And this is why a lot of production is done overseas in countries like China, India or Bangladesh. It is difficult to trace exactly where that garment is coming from. The garment industry thrives on over-purchase and overproduction. Companies make money only if they make more and cheaper clothes.

clothes in hanger with a 70% discount tag
Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

Because of this, our planet is suffocating. Our increasing desire for fast fashion and the industry that supports it is pushing some species to the brink of extinction. We are also destroying the habitats that provide us with clean air and polluting the rivers that give us fresh water. The way things are going in the garment sector, the situation is far from resolved.

At present, we’re producing and consuming much more than our planet can stand. And if we continue down this path there won’t be any new land to talk about at all. So we need to build a better system that can meet our needs. Some companies are stepping up to develop new ways to make their lines more sustainable.  

There is some hope as we’re currently in a transition to a new type of clothing industry based on ecological and holistic principles of closing the loop on materials that prioritizes community, values and respect of all the people in the supply chain.

What is sustainable fashion?

Fast fashion is one of the biggest polluting industries and has become an environmental curse for Planet Earth. To combat the growing problem, major clothing companies are turning their attention to sustainable fashion during the entire process, from production to post-sale. Sustainable fashion can be defined in many ways. Also, some are more environmentally friendly than others.

The aim is to mitigate the damage caused by the clothing industry. It helps in reducing the number of harmful chemicals that are used in the production of clothing and promotes reuse and recycling. While the concept of sustainable fashion is a new term, it is already being used in a number of industries.

A great example involves buying secondhand clothes and reusing them. Sustainable fashion is not all about recycling. It also means choosing products that are made from recycled or sustainably sourced materials. Using eco-friendly fabrics is one of the easiest ways to reduce carbon emissions.

Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash

Some brands use recycled polyester, which emits up to 50% less carbon than virgin polyester. However, this method is limited. Once a garment has been recycled, it usually ends up in a landfill. The microfibers left behind by recycled material are harmful to the environment and the food chain.

By buying secondhand, you’ll be avoiding the need to use new water or a landfill as well as reducing carbon emissions. Like mention before, a shirt that is made from cotton relies heavily on water and emits a lot of greenhouse gases. If you afford a second-hand one, this will reduce your water usage and help the environment.

While it may sound like a simple change, the impact of this kind of fashion is far-reaching. By investing sustainably, you’re investing in the growing fashion industry, as well as helping the communities that are behind it. If you’re able to wear eco-friendly clothes, you’ll be promoting good health and the well-being of your community.

Why sustainable fashion is important?

A major concern for many people is the environmental impact of fashion. Most clothing is made from plastic and the microfibre problem in our oceans is worsening because of this. So, sustainable clothing is essential if you want to make an eco-friendly choice. When shopping for clothing, look for products made with recycled materials.

Upcycled clothing will tell you the fabric and dyes used in the manufacturing process. Organic cotton and other materials will be kinder to the environment. The sustainability of a brand’s products can also be measured by its reputation. Sustainable brands constantly improve their processes to make sure they are creating quality products while minimizing their environmental impact.

Many eco-friendly brands are committed to transparency and ethical sourcing. It’s important to feel good about your purchase and sustainable brands are all about feeling good about your selection. By purchasing eco-friendly clothing, you’ll help protect the environment and support fair labor practices.

In addition, some brands are even using pineapple leaf fibers and other natural resources to create their fabrics. In fact, some companies have even started to use B Corp certification. Sustainable clothing is not necessarily organic or handmade, it also is made from recycled materials or sustainably sourced fabrics.

If you’re looking for sustainable fashion, look for textiles made from cellulosic materials such as Tencel and lyocell. Those made from recycled fabrics are ideal. And if you want to be even more environmentally friendly, look for clothing made with recycled materials and upcycled fibers.

These brands are not only of better quality but also have fewer problems than those with fast-fashion chains. As an alternative, you can purchase sustainable clothing by mending your own clothes. This will reduce overall consumption and provide you with a unique opportunity to recycle your clothing. This can also create a sharing economy.

Using recyclable materials reduces the need to waste resources and it also encourages consumers to buy items that can be reused or recycled. One way to do this is to purchase fewer but better quality garments and repair damaged ones instead of throwing them away. By doing this, we’ll be contributing to a more circular economy and a less harmful planet.

Ethically conducting business is one of the foundations of sustainable fashion. Some of the significant components are fair wages for garment workers, a safe environment for them to work, fair trade of materials and fabrics and brand transparency. Being a green consumer has never been easier, as online platforms are rushing to provide sustainable and circular approaches to clothing.

Future of sustainable fashion

Sustainable fashion is about a whole host of things. It’s about recycling and reusing, but it’s also about reducing the environmental impact of the clothing industry. To achieve this goal, we have to create a more circular economy, which includes the production and consumption of recycled goods.

In addition, we need to make changes to the manufacturing process, supply chain, and workers’ rights. The future of sustainable fashion depends on these changes. There are many ways to reduce emissions and create a more sustainable clothing industry. The most obvious step is more conscious buying and disposing of clothes less often.

Second-hand fashion is the fastest-growing segment of the fashion industry, but it can be tricky to make it sustainable. Using a circular product lifecycle model helps the fashion industry reduce its environmental impact and increase efficiency. It also results in significant financial gains.

The use of regenerative farming practices would also help the industry achieve its goals. Regenerative farming techniques could effectively sequester all the carbon in the world. For example, the CEO of Patagonia said that the company could produce all its clothes using regenerative methods.

Creating a circular economy would also help improve the quality of life and create jobs in the industry. Circular fashion is a must for the future of sustainable clothing. Whether it’s reducing emissions, reducing waste or making products that are 100% recyclable, there are many ways to make a positive difference for the environment and the planet.

While the challenges faced by the industry are daunting, it’s important to note that it’s already making major progress. Currently, the industry has achieved more circularity with the increased number of online platforms than it has ever seen in its history. But it is still a long way from net zero. And while it’s a start, it’s already a big step in the right direction.

The future of sustainable fashion is exciting and getting better all the time. But it’s not just about changing manufacturing processes, it is also about changing consumer behavior. We need to make our clothing more valuable and use it as much as possible. We need to stop the cycle of overconsumption and waste. By doing so, we can help the environment.

In addition to this, we can do our part by buying eco-friendly products. Meanwhile, we can work together with brands to improve our lives through fashion. To make an impact on the global environment, we have to change our lifestyles. And we can’t just stop buying clothes. It’s also important to stop buying new ones. We can also make them last longer.

Sustainable fashion is about rethinking the way we consume and make our clothes. The most important thing is to think about the different stakeholders’ priorities. The “green” imperative can cover up other problems like social exclusion and systemic labor exploitation.

Market-driven sustainability can only address some of these issues and many of these initiatives will contribute to damage. The key to creating a sustainable fashion industry is to make it appealing to all consumers. The environmental impact of the clothing industry on the planet is colossal and the human race isn’t realizing what it is doing.

To tackle the throwaway culture brands and consumers need to change their behaviors. Industry pioneers are proving that there are viable business opportunities in selling less, others need to follow suit.  From manufacturers of fabrics to brands and consumers, we all have a role to play. It’s time for people to take action in their own lives and make some little changes.