With climate change and sustainability high on the list of global concerns the fashion industry is coming under increasing pressure to take not only responsibility but action. I was surprised to learn that the textile industry is in fact the second largest polluter worldwide with the top spot going to oil (Ditty 2015 : Sweeny 2015). Take a pair of jeans for example, a single pair of jeans takes a staggering 7000 Liters of water to produce (Chung 2016) ! Not to mention the toxic nature of the chemicals used to grow the cotton to produced the jeans and again the chemicals used in the dying process (Chung 2016). With 2 billion pairs of jeans per year being produced globally (Chung 2016) the environmental consequences of textiles as a whole are of serious concern.
Image Source https://inconspicuousconsumptionblog.wordpress.com/2014/07/14/dying-to-get-your-hands-on-the-latest-trends-you-may-want-to-think-again/
With consumers increasing awareness about environmental issues and the effects of our ‘fast fashion’ culture what can be done to provide a more sustainable alternative? Although consumers may identify themselves as being concerned with the environmental impacts of their buying habits this does not necessarily translate into practicing sustainable consumption as “Sustainable products are often difficult to find and may have different levels of style, quality and price than unsustainable apparel products” (Hill and Lee 2015). Major fashion retailer H&M has been on a mission to clean up their act and present greener image to the world. They produce an annual collection made from recycled and sustainable sourced materials, use organic cotton (Hill and Lee 2015) and encourage their customers to drop off any unwanted clothes to then be recycled and used in production. Of course this all sounds great and surely they are doing better than many other major fashion retailers but there are questions around if these efforts are genuinely making a difference to the company’s massive impact on the environment or whether it is more about public perception and marketing (Bain 2016).
So does the answer to a more sustainable fashion industry lie with smaller more local brands and retailers? One positive example would be SWOP Clothing Exchange, a Brisbane second hand clothing store intent on slowing down the ‘fast fashion’ culture. SWOP purchases all of its stock from peoples unwanted clothing collections for either cash or store credit creating a cycle where customers are encouraged to swop their otherwise discarded clothes with one another. Another small business with a fierce commitment to sustainability is New Zealand based Offcut Caps. The company founded in 2015 uses material off-cuts destined for landfill to produce caps which are made locally by hand. On top of that the company have partnered Trees for the Future and have committed to planting one tree for every cap sold to aid in “improving the livelihoods of impoverished farmers by revitalising degraded lands” (Offcut Caps 2016).
Image Source https://www.instagram.com/offcutcaps/
So let’s hope that consumer demand on global fashion brands and support of smaller environmentally friendly brands can bring change to the sustainability of the fashion industry and do so soon.
Bain, Marc. 2016. “Is H&M misleading customers with all its talk of sustainability?” Accessed 2 October 2016. http://qz.com/662031/is-hm-misleading-customers-with-all-its-talk-of-sustainability/
Chung, Shuk-Wah. 2016. “Fast Fashion is Drowning the World: We Need a Revolution” Greenpeace Accessed 2 October. 2016 http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/makingwaves/fast-fashion-drowning-world-fashion-revolution/blog/56222/
Ditty, Sarah. 2015. “Europe in the World: The garment, textiles & fashion industry” Eco Watch Accessed 2 October 2016. http://www.ecowatch.com/fast-fashion-is-the-second-dirtiest-industry-in-the-world-next-to-big–1882083445.html
Hill J. and H Lee. 2015. “Sustainable brand extensions of fast fashion retailers” Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management, 19(2), 205. Accessed 2 October 2015. http://search.proquest.com.libraryproxy.griffith.edu.au/docview/1675831655?accountid=14543
Sweeny, Glynis. 2015. “It’s the Second Dirtiest Thing in the World—And You’re Wearing It” Alternet Accessed 2 October 2016. http://www.alternet.org/environment/its-second-dirtiest-thing-world-and-youre-wearing-it