Did you ever think the concept of a sustainable wardrobe would enter your home, let alone your mind? We all thought sustainability was about environmental matters. Well, yes, but we are all part of the environmental system. We are all in this ‘give and take’ concept of using resources, and often without thinking about the long-term impacts, or even the immediate term impacts.
Fashion, style, clothes, personal image are all aspects of the fashion industry that appeal to us in one way or other. But we need to go further than the top layer of “looks” and delve into the sustainable clothing industry.
Our fashion market has been revolutionized moving from minimal, natural fiber cloth, naturally dyed for colour variety, practical style and functional design to what is now referred to a “fast fashion”. Now our wardrobes, drawers, closets, bins all bulge with an extensive array of garments. Garments that tell the silent story of the cheap labour force that works in far away lands in abysmal conditions stitching, stitching, and stitching endless clothes for a throwaway society that does not seem to care.
Numbers give more detail to the picture. The fashion industry produces 100 billion garments annually. The last time I looked at the global demographics, there are 7.9 billion people on the planet, The story is simple math of 100/8 right? Wrong. Of the global population, a good 2 billion people do not partake in the fashion market. The math gets easier: 100/6 and we could make it simple: 100/5.
As well as casually buying endless clothes throughout the year, people discard clothing at an equally unsustainable rate. It is estimated that 40 million tons of textiles are sent to the landfill or the incinerator each year. This in turn is contributing to the global greenhouse gas emissions. And greenhouse gas means changes in the climate we experience.
So we buy a lot of clothes each year. We can afford to. We have worked hard and earned the cash to do so. But what does it take to produces these garments. Again, numbers tell the story. It takes nearly 3,000 litres of water to make one cotton t-shirt and 3, 800 litres to make one pair of jeans. This is from the watering and irrigation of the land where the cotton is grown, to the processing of the natural fibers to the dying of the clothe with toxic chemicals.
The processing of the fibers and the treatment of the fabric with chemicals and dyes has its impact on the environment too. Because all these dyes are chemical substances. They are toxic to our natural environment and very harmful to the health of the workers labouring in the clothing industry.
Crops, especially cotton farming requires heavy irrigation along with fertilizers and pesticides which are also used excessively. The runoff waters carry residues of both the fertilizers and pesticides. It is carried across the soils, infiltrates the soil, and eventually enters the waterways. This contaminates both the lands and water sources.
Not all clothing is from natural fibers. Today, because of fossil fuel industry, we have developed the technology to transform oil derivatives into synthetic fibers. More chemicals used in these processes leads to further environmental pollution. And as we wear and wash these garments, synthetic fibers and microplastics are released into the washing water which is released into the wastewater system that eventually reverts back to the ocean sources.
It is estimated that about 60% of all clothing these days is of synthetic materials. This in turn may account for 35% of marine microplastic pollution. Microplastics measure less than 5 millimeters in length. It is now known that microplastics are in all levels of our global ocean waters.
The last fact regarding fast fashion is that an estimated 40 million people work in slave-like conditions working in unacceptable working conditions for unacceptable lengthy workdays to produce endless garments for a sector of the globe that already has bulging cloth closets. A significant portion of the workforce is made up of children, deprived of an education and any possible dreams of a better future.
So what can you and I do about our lust for fast fashion. Educate ourselves more and learn more about the sources of our clothing. Begin to appreciate what we have and desire less. This might mean buy better quality to last longer rather than less quality that has a much shorter wearable lifespan. Research company brands for the sourcing of their materials and the manufacturing standards that are maintained for the work environment of the labour force.
Consider recycling garments, i.e. passing the clothing to others who have a need. Identify a repurposing of clothes industry. Discuss the issues raised in this article and raise the awareness of “fast fashion” as a harmful route in our precious world. And say “No” to more clothes.
Start today on a journey that takes you away from “fast fashion” and adopt a more sustainable fashion instead.
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