As far as environment protection goes you are literally what you wear. This is true of a world where influencers urge you to wear- discard-and-buy as frequently as you can. Indeed, ‘fast fashion’ may be the buzzword for the smart set but for the environment it is like a death knell.
As things stand, the textile industry contributes around 10 per cent of global carbon emissions, which is more than all the international flights and maritime shipping put together! So, what can we do to limit this damage? No, you needn’t say goodbye to clothes, but you can be choosy about what you wear and how many clothes you pack into your wardrobe.
In recent times, fast fashion —inexpensive clothing produced by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends which keep changing by the minute — has been identified as the main culprit causing a worldwide clothes explosion. In the last 20 years clothing production has more than doubled, touching 100 billion items of clothing per year. A mind boggling 85 per cent of these end up in landfills because they are cheap, of indifferent quality and quickly disposable. It is estimated that with every passing second the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burnt.
As environment conscious citizen we must curb our urge, as well as that of our children, to order online to be mindlessly trendy. It is estimated that the number of times a garment is worn has declined by 36 per cent in 15 years. Several people have extended arguments in favour of the fast fashion industry — that it creates jobs, helps textile workers, gives consumers many more choices and keeps the economy buoyant. Several companies have announced how they have shifted to eco-friendly packaging of the clothes they ship. But these arguments don’t pass muster.
For instance, we know that textile workers hardly get a minuscule fraction of the money a consumer pays to buy a dress. Most of them do not even have benefits such as provident fund, gratuity, or a health allowance. In fact, almost 90 per cent of the textile workforce comprises women and a majority of them live in poverty. This is even as the fashion industry, with all its fancy brands, profits in crores and ignores norms and laws of just production and business practices.
And though fast fashion may enhance consumer choice, there are other ways of achieving the same results. A few cities have already begun lending libraries for clothes where one can rent a garment for a party, wedding, or any special occasion.
The third argument is of eco-friendly packaging, well that’s the least any company selling products can do. But that is not enough and cannot in any stretch of the word be called ‘sustainable fashion’. A pertinent point to take note in this context is that a green package may contain clothes that are by no stretch eco-friendly!
So, then what exactly is ‘sustainable fashion’ that we need to support and opt for? It starts from the seed itself and the way cotton is grown to how it is woven into fabric. It also includes the treatment meted out to animals sheared for their wool, and the wages and working conditions of workers. Remember, the infamous sweater shops operating in our part of the globe? These too make garments far from sustainable.
Take for instance, the t-shirt and jeans you often wear. According to estimates it takes 2,700 litres of water to produce the t-shirt and 7,571 litres to produce a pair of jeans. In fact, the fashion industry generates 20 per cent of global wastewater. Just washing clothes releases half a million tonnes of microfibres into the ocean every year. The prognosis is this: if nothing is done about it, then by 2050 the fashion industry will use up a quarter of the world’s carbon budget.
Discerning consumers are now moving towards garments of organic cotton. The plant uses almost 91 per cent less water, reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 45 per cent and there are no pesticides used in its growth. Of course, organic cotton is far more expensive and does not appeal to those in need of cheaper clothes. But the green argument is that it is better to have fewer good quality garments that last years, instead of less expensive ones that one would discard rapidly.
While we can discuss in detail in the next column how with innovation you can turn your wardrobe green over time, when it comes to buying clothes online or from branded stores, here are a few tips: Choose brands that are known to be ethical and those that have signed the 2018 Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action to help reduce the sector’s impact on global warming. And you will be happy to know that a lot of your favourite brands have opted for the charter, including Adidas, Decathlon, Gap Inc, H&M, Kmart, Levi Strauss, Nike, Otto, Puma, and some others.
There are some small and ethical companies too who are using organic, going in for sustainable and ethical practices, and waiting for the conscious customer.
By choosing sustainable brands that provide good quality garments, take back old ones for recycling, manufacture products from recycled material, and strategise to reduce CO2 emissions, you will reduce your own waste and save your money as well.
The writer is a senior journalist who writes on environmental issues