The fashion industry is categorised by trends and transformation. We have seen it all over the years. From tailored suits to bellbottoms, shoulder pads to velour tracksuits and tiny sunglasses. One of the only constants of fashion is change. But when an entire industry built on change, there are consequences. Over time, mass manufacturing and cheap overseas labour have created ‘fast fashion’ and a culture of over-consumption. Fashion has become infinitely more accessible and infinitely more harmful. The industry is built on exploitative practices that harm people and the planet.
In the past decade a new movement has begun to take hold. Slow fashion is actively working to combat fast fashion.
Conscious consumers are taking a stand with their dollars against unsustainable and unethical practices. Companies big and small are beginning to take notice and implement change. Sustainable fashion is transforming the industry at the seams.
So, why does sustainable fashion matter?
What is the problem?
In a recent article, we uncovered the environmental impacts of the fashion industry. There is no doubt that the industry as a whole has a severe impact on the planet.
A quick recap on just some of the environmental problems caused by the fashion industry:
- Fast fashion is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions.
- The hazardous chemicals used to produce garments are responsible for 20% of all industrial water pollution worldwide. It is estimated that 190,000 tonnes of textile microplastic fibres are going into the ocean each year.
- Only 15% of the clothing we throw away is recycled or donated. This means the large majority goes directly to landfill. It is estimated that more than $500 billion of value is lost every year due to clothing underutilisation and the lack of recycling.
- 10-20% of pesticide use occurs in the textile industry.
- The fashion industry is the second-biggest consumer of water. It is estimated that 1.5 trillion litres are used by the fashion industry each year.
- Sourcing materials rayon or viscose can cause environmental impacts like deforestation.
Beyond the environmental impact of fashion, the industry can seriously harm human and animal life. Some sobering statistics:
- The vast majority of brands are not paying garment workers a living wage.
- 80% of garment workers are women who are only 18 – 24 years old. Women are routinely paid less than their male counterparts.
- Billions of animals are used as the source materials for fashion garments. The industry also impacts animal habitats and biodiversity.
- Much of our clothing is made in places with unsafe and inhumane working conditions.
- Significant issues include modern slavery and child labour.
What is sustainable and ethical fashion?
Sustainable and ethical fashion is a movement that involves both brands and consumers. For brands, the challenge is to produce, manufacture and market fashion items and garments in an environmentally and socially sustainable way. Brands must create fashion items in a way that is considerate of humanity and the environment. A sustainable brand will evaluate the raw materials used. It is crucial to know where and how garments are produced. Furthermore, a sustainable brand understands what impact the entire process and supply chain has on the natural environment. It also must take into consideration the impact on human and animal life. It is a movement that requires accountability and action. The aim is to lessen impacts and mitigate harm.
For consumers, sustainable and ethical fashion requires rethinking our consumption. Consumers must understand their values and support brands and businesses that operate in sustainable and ethical ways. Fundamentally consumers must aim to buy less and be more conscious about the purchases that they do make to ensure that they get use and value out of every item. In addition, consumers should be aware of waste. This means being open to repairing, repurposing or recycling materials, buying second hand and resisting the urge to engage in trends. Consumers should be conscious and mindful.
It is time for a makeover
According to The State of Fashion 2020 by McKinsey: “The global fashion industry is extremely energy-consuming, polluting and wasteful. Despite some modest progress, fashion hasn’t yet taken its environmental responsibilities seriously enough.”
The time for change is now. Many brands are now taking action to transform for the better. Consumers are becoming increasingly conscious about their purchases. While for some brands sustainability is just another trend, there are many that are leading the way with pioneering techniques and decisive action. The fashion industry is having a makeover and it is sustainable.