Fashion sets the trends and/or trends are reflected through fashion and here I will refer to trends as patterns that we are seeing in our modern world. One of the most predominant patterns is our changing climate and this is why from both a business as well as consumer perspective it is essential to consider both what the fashion industry is doing to the climate as well as what climate is doing to the fashion industry. The industry provides jobs for 300million people – unfortunately a part of those jobs don`t exist after the pandemic crisis impact. The fragility of the supply chain has been exposed and just in Asian countries wages worth of 6 billion USD has been lost between March 2020 to May 2020 and just on Bangladesh and Pakistan 5 billion USD worth of orders had been cancelled another chain reaction from shrinking retail.
The past decade had shown us the link between fashion and climate through many statistics which are often referred to at various platforms and fashion has been pointed the finger at. Under the auspices of UN Climate Change, fashion stakeholders worked during 2018 to identify ways in which the broader textile, clothing and fashion industry can move towards an holistic commitment to climate action and the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action which contains the vision to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. (The Fashion Industry Charter was launched at COP24 in Katowice, Poland, in December 2018.)
Now more than ever, the fashion industry is heeding the call to sustainability. Its environmental impact is significant and growing—among other statistics, the fashion industry accounts for 20 percent of wastewater and 10 percent of carbon emissions globally. Much of this impact occurs at the raw materials stage in the production process, where brands have little to no visibility. This is an industry wide problem, where supply chains are highly fragmented and with missing transparency. Many organizations and brands have been trailblazers in an effort to collect and surface data that can lead to better sourcing decisions, but gaps in the data continue to persist due to its complexity, global nature and the human greed for sole economic growth.
It’s hard to visualise all of the inputs that go into producing garments, but let’s take denim as an example. The denim and jeans market is around 90billionUSD and approximately 2 billion pairs are produced every year. Today the denim used in the production of jeans is designed with a blend of fibers however most still contain cotton as a major component. According to multiple studies a kilo of conventional cotton production requires about 7,500–10,000 litres of water. That’s about 10 years’ worth of drinking water for one person and cotton is frequently grown in countries where there is already fresh water scarcity. There are ways to make denim less resource-intensive and not just on the raw material and the industry has been working on process development using technological advancements, digitalization, design for purpose, waste-management, less hazardous dye and finishing methods and updating infrastructure. Unfortunately, some of the most popular types of jeans are still the hardest on the planet. The stretchy elastane material woven into variety of the popular skinny fits are derived from plastic, which reduces recyclability and increases the environmental impact further. Levi Strauss estimates that a pair of its iconic 501 jeans will produce the equivalent of 33.4kg of carbon dioxide equivalent across its entire lifespan – about the same as driving 69 miles in the average US car. Just over a third of those emissions come from the fibre and fabric production, while another 8% is from cutting, sewing and finishing the jeans. Packaging, transport and retail accounts for 16% of the emissions while the remaining 40% is from consumer use – mainly from washing the jeans – and disposal in landfill. Many manufacturers are currently working on biodegradable alternatives to polyester based elastane but currently around 70 million barrels of oil are used to make polyester fibers in our clothes while the equivalent to 3 million barrels of micro plastics are dumped into the oceans. A shirt made from polyester has double the carbon footprint compared to one made from cotton. A polyester shirt produces the equivalent of 5.5kg of carbon dioxide compared to 2.1kg from a cotton shirt. Imagine on top all this daunting information that %40 of the clothing purchased is never used.
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the average number of times a piece of clothing is worn decreased by 36% between 2000 and 2015. In the same period, clothing production doubled. These gains came at the expense of the quality and longevity of the garments. But tackling the underlying reasons for why we over-purchase, yet underuse, clothes could also help. In a consumerist society, people are trained to find fast fashion pleasurable and addictive. Most fashion shopping is done on an impulse rather than being need-based and the growing online shopping opportunities provide more ease at the fingertips of the consumers.
It would be insolent, naïve, ignorant to think that we will be back to how things were. First of all, we need to be audible about the current status that fashion is creating and involve consumers in this dialogue as they are active change agents. We need to build the climate literacy around fashion`s impact on climate and work on the many layers of transforming businesses NOT based on singled products or collections but as a system. Sustainability dashboard of a company should become its brand value and should be lined as a measure of profits and not just credibility.