Clothing is an everyday necessity because it reflects an individual’s culture, personality and preferences. Yet, in the current unsustainable model of society, clothes could be described as the elephant in the room. Today, less than 1% of the materials used to make clothes are recycled each year. This means that thousands of tonnes of textiles end up in the landfill.
The concept of sustainable fashion and ethical clothing is the latest must-have fashion trend. The textile industry is creating chaos in the environment among the whole process of making clothes and the waste when it gets tossed, creating interest from brands and consumers to improve these issues.
There are multiple fashion brands working diligently to tackle the sustainability of clothing over the years. Different brands focus on combating various issues in the fashion industry- some just one, while others are tackling multiple, such as Adidas testing out fully recyclable running shoes and H&M announcing that in 2019 57% of the materials it now uses are created using recycled or other sustainably sourced fibres.
Sustainable fashion is often referred to as ‘slow fashion’ while ‘fast fashion’ describes clothing that is intended for short term use and frequently cheaply made. Slow fashion considers the full lifecycle of the clothing item, from the initial design, gathering and manufacturing process, whilst also analysing everything affected by it, from the planet to the workers and society where it is produced and to the consumers who purchase it.
Developing sustainable fashion is a complicated matter and there isn’t one brand that isn’t capable of tackling the sustainable issues, there are 4 main issues that must and are being addressed in the fashion industry:
Once clothing has run their course there needs to be a way of creating less trash and making the products useful again. H&M have a garment collecting programme, overall it uses 57% recycled or sustainably sourced fibres, with a goal to reach 100% by 2030. This programme has been going on since 2013, they have recycling boxes in their stores around the globe. Once clothes are collected they’re organised into 3 categories;
- Re wear: wearable clothes are marked as second-hand clothing
- Reuse: if the clothes or textiles aren’t suitable for re-wear they’re turned into other products as remake collections or cleaning cloths.
- Recycle: All other clothes and textiles are shredded into textiles fibres and used to make insulation materials, for example.
Although we never think that water usage is an issue because the earth is covered in water, most of it is unusable salt water or it has been polluted. Yet, the demand for fresh drinking water and agriculture is far striking than what’s available. Accordingly, some brands are now exploring how they can cut back on the usage of water in their production process. Levi, for example, known for being the biggest player in the denim industry, focus on the finishing process to remove as much water as possible as it can take over 2000 gallons of water just to make one pair of jeans. But with Levi’s Water<Less collection, says it uses up to 96% less water. Steps like this can have an impact, imagine if all brands considered a step like this.
The production process of clothing can be dangerous for the workers and those who live in the areas where it is produced, as chemicals are released when dyes and finishes are applied to the products. Therefore, fashion brands are now focused on coming up with new ways to reduce this impact such as considering no dyes and including finishes like water-repellency and wrinkle resistance. Columbia, for example, has produced the Outdry Eco jacket which is made from recycled water bottles, uses no dye which helps to save over 24 gallons of water per jacket and has a water repellent finish without the PFCs that are known to be harmful to the environment.
Pesticides and treatments are often used to produce natural fibres such as cotton and linen, but these can be harmful to the farmers, workers and wildlife in the area. However, there are now more options for organic cotton and other fibres, which also uses less water than conventional growing methods. Also, brands are focusing on being organic throughout their production process, not just the growing of the crops. Fashion brands like PACT entire manufacturing process follow organic guidelines and all their cotton garments are certified organic.
The tackling of sustainable issues may seem difficult for brands to process but once they educate their consumers on the theory behind it, it becomes a more achievable prospect to include in their brand and the world will become a better place. So next time, you’re spending your well-earned money on purchasing your next outfit, consider the 4 main issues and is the brand addressing them.