Just a couple of years ago, we will not see the word fashion in the same sentence as social justice and integrity. These days, however, those words are repeated over and over by designers Top 20 Sustainable Brands in 2020, editors, consumers and even fashionistas. Sustainable fashion has been on everyone’s lips for the last decade, although the movement has been around, albeit on a smaller scale, since the 1960s History of Sustainable Fashion
What is sustainable fashion? Sustainable fashion is all about producing the world’s current needs while making sure the way it is done has the earth’s future interest in mind as well. If we are to go deeper, sustainable fashion is also about ensuring all those people involved through the fashion supply chain benefit in the process, too. We are talking about right from the start; farmers, designers, factory workers, consumers and also those working in the end-of-life facilities such as recycling centres or factories.
In 2013, Rana Plaza Garment Factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing 1,134 people. This tragedy piqued interest in the fashion world – condition and predicament of garment factory workers around the world came into the light. Rana Plaza was a building that housed several clothing factories, despite the fact that it was not meant for factory set-up. The building’s architect mentioned that the building was designed for shops and could not handle the weight and vibrations of factory machinery. Primark, Zara, Mango, Benetton and Accessorize were some of the brands that have their pieces manufactured in Rana Plaza.
Further investigations revealed that the workers at Rana Plaza Garment Factory were not fairly paid, worked in bad conditions and what was worse is that, prior to collapsing, the owners had been warned of the deteriorating building; cracks were seen. However, due to the no-production-no-revenue situation, workers were forced to continue working; with threats of withholding their salary. The Rana Garment Factory is just one of the many that exist, just to feed the world’s demand for high street fashion.
Fashion itself has such a significant impact in our future. Take climate change for example, and if we’re going to tackle the real threat of it, the fashion industry needs to urgently address its unsustainable practices. The fashion industry is one of the biggest contributors to pollution on earth, with 100 billion products being manufactured out of factories every year.
Consumers are at liberty to buy and dispose of clothes even more prevalent now than it has ever been. It is not surprising waste is one of the most, if not the most pressing problem in the fashion industry. Fashion wastes are burned or sent to landfills – totally polluting, unsustainable and inefficient. While some brands have announced their target of becoming 100 percent zero-waste in the next decade, the question still lingers whether or not it is possible to be circular by then.
While we are at the topic of waste, let us look into water consumption in the fashion industry. Cotton, in particular, requires a huge amount of water; it takes almost 3000 gallons of water just to produce one cotton t-shirt. What about viscose, which is causing deforestation and affecting endangered species and trees, while polyester is made from non-renewable resources like oil? How long can we keep on using these resources before we have none left? Something needs to change. Unsustainable resources and wastes, be it for fashion or not, is our responsibility together and it needs to be addressed immediately.
Sustainable fashion has started to be on roundtable discussions in many nations, with ideas and innovations being developed as we speak. However, the question still remains whether or not regulation and legislation will be introduced. Fashion is a multi-billion dollar industry – to change it we need more companies to come forward and address this pressing issue collectively. More awareness campaigns need to be done. Brands need to involve the consumers; bring them together in a new era of a more elevated and conscious consumption.
Fashion can be seen as something that is facetious or superficial but it is one of the major economic players, which affect the world and environment in a huge way. It is important to understand the industry and how it has changed over the years in order to be in line with what is ethical or otherwise.
Infinite growth of material consumption in a finite world is an impossibility.