Creativity and Glamour. Two words immediately associated with the fashion industry. They are also important for a brand to thrive. However, regarding sustainability the industry is short of creativity. Despite the increasingly number of great small initiatives on developing new fibres from sustainable sources such as recycled plastic, banana leaves or recycled garments, responsible production it’s still in its infancy.
Fashion industry generates 10% of global GHG emissions, more than international flights and maritime transport, according to the UN Environment. Regarding water usage, another scarce resource, it is reported as only second to the agriculture industry. UN Environment also reports that currently, humans buy 60% more than 15 years ago keeping garments for 50% less than before. What it remains to be seen is the cause of such drop. Is it due to a reduction in quality? Or to the desire to be seen as fashionable the fashion industry has triggered in consumers? The increased success of fast-fashion retailers in the last decades suggests that many consumers want to be seen as fashionable at an affordable price. Perhaps in the quest of acceptance in a society whose values weren’t sustainable.
The World Bank estimates that at current consumption behaviour, considering the estimated population growth, fashion consumption is expected to increase by 64.5% in 2030. The UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion mentioned that every year 21% of the value generated by the fashion industry is thrown into landfill, without the garments ever reaching the market, as. Apparently, 87% of the fibres inputs to make apparel end up wasted, too. About 2,700 litres of water are needed to make a cotton t-shirt. If you think about how many people buy and stamp t-shirts for a single use, the waste generated is not a surprise. Think for example on those groups that create t-shirts to be used for one event such as hen or stag dos, in their quest of momentaneous belonging, to be never worn again. What are we doing to our Planet and to ourselves?
Considering the high waste generated and the scarce resources intensity this industry consumes, it is very disturbing to see so much greenwashing. A few decades ago, a luxury brand advertised on its high-street shops windows it donated a percentage of its benefits to the homeless. Back then sustainability and CSR were not big words as nowadays. I decided to support that brand and bought a few garments, whose fabrics were excellent and design very different from what I was used. I loved the cause but when I emailed them asking what % were they donating, I never got a reply. Consequently, I stopped buying full-price of that brand. Soon they stopped saying that, eventually changing their brand name. I assume more like-minded people asked the same, so they wisely stopped with the greenwashing.
Greenwashing in the fashion industry has been frequent, as corroborated last year by Vogue in an article appealing to its end. According to the FT, a retail analytics company reported a 400% raise in the number of products labelled as sustainable in the American and British online segments, between 2016 and 2020. As consumers’ criteria have changed, they demand more sustainable products, as indicated by different surveys done in the past years, including during Covid-19. Yet, a recent study by a well-known consultancy firm, suggests that fashion industry will not meet the needed 2030 decarbonisation targets at the current slow pace.
It is time to rethink consumption and production behaviours and take bolder actions. A responsible behaviour means:
- Reusing the clothes more often, combining them in different ways not to get bored of the outfit and to increase its lifecycle.
- Repairing creatively what gets damaged extends a product lifecycle.
- Recycling those garments, so they can be worn again or transformed in new inputs.
- Remanufacturing creatively, allows clothes to be transformed and worn again. A small gossip from me to you. I remanufactured a skirt my mum had from the 70ies, and the skirt was transformed in a unique piece that I loved and worn for some seasons more.