Updated: Jul 17, 2020
One important question regarding sustainability and our consumption habits is the one regarding the clothes that we wear. In an area of fast fashion and ever changing trends, the circulation of clothes; especially in the western world and amongst young people, has reached an incredible speed. According to the Worlds Resource Institute we are currently purchasing 60% more clothes than 20 years ago and each garment is worn less before being disposed of.
The textile industry produces 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 per year which is more than international flights. In response to the climate agenda, the British fashion council have launched ‘the fashion switch campaign’ which aims for all fashion retailers to switch to green energy in their offices and retail stores in the UK. However, this doesn't have a desired effect on the industry as whole since the main producing countries, China and India, are still reliant on coal fueled power plants to power their factories. Again, I am stressing the importance of us, as consumers to make active choices when purchasing clothes. Be critical, especially to the large supply chains.
A building at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh collapsed. Over a thousand people died of which more than half were women working in the textile industry. The women repeatedly reported the building as a safety hazard, but were continuously ignored. Image Credit: TrustedClothes.com.
Consuming fast fashion impacts climate change, biodiversity and the access to clean water. This is a fact. However for now, I want to stress an equally important concern. I want to talk about human rights; the rights to a decent standard of living, good health and female empowerment. I want to make you aware that your opportunity and empowering privilege to express your identity with fashionable, yet affordable, clothes has a huge impact on humanity. Female labourers in producing countries such as Bangladesh are working many hours without earning a living wage to cover their most basic needs. According to cleanclothes.org, about 80% of textile workers are women, and their employers are taking advantage of stereotypical cultural gender norms. Plenty of these workers are not only subject to hazardous chemicals from the dyeing process or cotton dust (which can threaten to cause fatal explosions), but sexual harassment and physical abuse is also a major problem. The clothes you regularly wear can have been produced by a woman who has no other choice than to sacrifice her health to earn less than a decent living wage in a sweatshop. Female empowerment in the west would not have reached this far without having women supporting each other, and we need to think about how our choices affects our sisters in less privileged regions of the world.
What follows are my thoughts on shopping and how we can be more aware and ethical in our choices.
I love vintage and retro clothing which is highly beneficial because this encourages me to buy a lot more second hand. This not only benefits my own wallet, but often supports other great causes like cancer research for example. Second hand shopping is however challenging and takes a lot of time and planning for you to put together an ideal wardrobe. While it allows you to truly express your own unique style, I do realise that there is a limitation to what second hand items can offer. It often doesn't speak to the majority. Something that many people often don't think of as well, is the impact even pre-loved clothes can have, did you know that polyester clothing for example releases micro plastics with each wash? Another issue is that if we completely ditch newly produced fashion - will people loose their jobs? Perhaps then, the solution is textile innovation and fair trade.
There are a lot of new textile innovations available on the market today. One example is hemp fibre which is extremely versatile, robust and antimicrobial. In addition, the plant gives back nutrients to the soil in which it grows instead of exhausting it. According to FashionUnited.uk, hemp fibres are on the rise and large brands such as Patagonia already uses it. However, there is a stigma since the hemp plant is commonly associated with cannabis and thus the production is for now mostly located in China - where hemp fibres has been utilised for a long time and the labour is fair.
A farmer from a farming collective in the Philippines is hang drying pineapple leaf fibre which will later become the sustainable, vegan leather alternative Pinatex. Image Credit: Ananas-Anam.
Another project that really interests me is the Ananas Anam which uses the newly developed pinatex, which is developed as a sustainable and vegan alternative to leather. It is made from the leaves of the pineapple plants, thus it facilitates produce that would otherwise go to waste. The projects work directly with farming cooperatives in the supply chain to make sure that they have fair earnings. They are also part of the fashion revolution which is commonly referred under the hashtag #whomademyclothes. Several well known fashion brands are alreadyutilising pinatex and a full list is available on their website.
My last message for you for this time is that both Fashion Revolution and the Clean Clothes Campaign are great initiatives. I urge you to use information from their websites in order to make responsible choices out there in the fashion jungle.
For further information, you may be interested in:
Beeco Guide on the Sustainability of Clothing Fabrics
World resource institute - environmental impacts of the fashion industry:
Clean Clothes Campaign - Gender: Women workers mistreated