Having completed week two of the Fashion and Sustainability course in conjunction with Kering and London College of Arts, I’ve reflected on the seven, often interconnected, issues raised and how you can look to mitigate some of them in your every day lives.
It is important to remember that everyone’s priorities and financial situations are different and therefore their steps towards sustainability will be different. So this list of suggestions will hopefully help to help identify your own priorities and how you can actively avoid adding to the problem within your own means.
1. Climate Change
The Situation: The majority of the free world, minus (crucially) the leader of the free world Donald Trump, has a grasp on what climate change is and the effects it has, for example, extreme weather events, sea level rises and displacement of people. Climate change has been caused, partly, due to increased CO2 emissions since the start of the industrial revolution and decreased number of trees and plants able to convert the CO2 into oxygen. Worryingly, despite the global concern over the threat of climate change, the fashion industry is expected to increase 60% in the next 12 years. CO2 is produced throughout the supply chain, but particularly during extraction of raw materials, manufacturing of textiles and everyday care.
Actions you can take:|Consider airing clothes that aren’t really dirty rather than washing| Don’t use electric airers |Reduce ironing |Buy or swap clothes rather than buying new | Buy items made from organic natural fibres (e.g. cotton, bamboo, flax, wool) or GOTS certified clothes | Don’t throw textiles into bins that go to landfill
2. Water Stress
The Situation: The fashion industry has a huge impact on the availability of water around the world and it is expected that by 2025 two thirds of the world will have a water shortage. Sadly, areas in which production takes place is often in those that are already under severe water shortage meaning the remaining clean water is being used to make cotton rather than satiate the people living there. It takes c. 2017 litres of water to make a single Tshirt, which could otherwise provide drinking water for one person for 3 years. Making clothes is highly water intensive particularly in fibre production (such as cotton and silk), manufacturing and every day care.
Actions you can take: | Reduce the amount you wash your clothes, jeans and knitwear need very little washing | Make your clothes last longer to reduce their water footprint, even 9 months longer can reduce it by 5-10% | Choose clothes made from less-water intensive fibres such as monocel-bamboo, flax, recycled polyester and linen
3. Hazardous Chemicals and Pollution
The Situation: Synthetic chemicals, pesticides and insecticides are used across the supply chain from crops to manufacturing. It is said that 8000 chemicals will be applied to some garments from cradle to crib. We see 1/5 of all global water pollution due to the fashion industry in textile processing, reducing aquatic life and access for people and animals to clean water. Air pollution comes through not only from CO2 during manufacturing and transport but also nitrous oxide emitted by synthetic fibres which is 310x more damaging than its CO2 cousin. Furthermore, micro plastics are flushed into water ways through washing synthetic materials, potentially as many as 19,000 microfibres during the lifetime of a polyester garment.
Actions you can take: | Use a Guppybag which prevents microfibres coming out in the wash | Buy from GOTS certified or organic brands | Buy or swap secondhand | Avoid synthetic materials like polyester, rayon, nylon, acrylic or viscose
4. Land Use and Biodiversity Loss
The Situation: Climate change will threaten 25% of all land species by 2050 and added to that, the fashion industry is directly linked to habitat loss and land use through cultivation (e.g. cotton), over-harvesting of trees for cellulose to make viscose and over-grazing for fibres such as cashmere. Desertification, literally the turning of certain lands into barren, desert like areas where nothing can grow, decreases fertile soil supplies and biodiversity, increases greenhouse effect and reduces (already limited) food resources.
Actions you can take: | Buy from GOTS certified, organic or fair trade labels | Buy less and choose well | Buy and swap secondhand | Avoid low-quality cashmere blends that encourage farmers to increase goatherds and instead invest in sustainable cashmere brands
5. Diminishing Resources
The Situation: Oil is used in great quantities in the fashion industry, particularly in the fibre extraction part since 50% of all fashion is made with polyester, the synthetic fibre derived from oil. The supply of oil is finite and the use of it to power the fashion industry is highly polluting. Human resources such as artisanal and native techniques such as embroidery, spinning and dyeing are starting to die out due to preference for faster manufacturing techniques.
Actions you can take: | Avoid synthetic materials | Buy from brands supporting artisanal techniques across the globe | Buy less, choose well and make it last
6. Consumption and Waste
The Situation: The U.K., China, U.S and Europe are the biggest consumers worldwide. We now consume 400% more than we did 20 years ago, keep things for less time and many designers now produce 5/6 collections a year instead of 2. Some high street shops have new items in every week! Globally, just 20% of textile waste is recycled and the rest sits in landfill.
Actions you can take: | Buy from brands using ‘deadstock’ (fabric lost in factories and then resold to make new products) | Try a capsule wardrobe to see how versatile your items are | Only buy clothes that you can see yourself wearing 30+ times | Mend your clothes | Read the care label to ensure your items last as long as possible | Buy and swap secondhand | Consider renting your wardrobe from sustainable brands such as Wear The Walk
7. Modern Day Slavery
The Situation: Modern day slavery includes forced labour, people trafficking and child exploitation. Many cannot leave their jobs because of the risk of threat, punishment or coercion. Shockingly, the Ethical Trading Initiative found 71% fashion companies believed modern day slavery could be involved in their supply chain.
Actions you can take: | Buy from sustainable/ethical brands, often smaller ones, who really know their supply chain | Buy or swap secondhand