How Sustainability is Improving the Fashion Industry
Times of India — Clothes were once used until they fell apart — repaired and patched to be re-used, ending their lives as dishcloths and oil rags. Not today. In high-income countries, in particular, clothing, footwear, and upholstered furniture are increasingly frequently bought, discarded, and replaced with new fashions, which are themselves soon discarded and replaced.
The proof is there in the data. In 1995, the textile industry produced 7.6 kilograms of fiber per person on the planet. By 2018, this had nearly doubled to 13.8 kilograms per person — during which time the world’s population also increased, from 5.7 billion to 7.6 billion people. More than 60 million tonnes of clothing is now bought every year, a figure that is expected to rise still further, to around 100 million tonnes, by 2030.
‘Fast Fashion’ is so called partly because the fashion industry now releases new lines every week when historically this happened four times a year. Today, fashion brands produce almost twice the amount of clothing that they did in 2000, most of it made in China and other middle-income countries such as Turkey, Vietnam, and Bangladesh. Worldwide, 300 million people are employed by the industry.
But incredibly, more than 50 billion garments are discarded within a year of being made, according to a report from an expert workshop convened by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), published in May.
“Fashion” is a system that puts value on what is new because it is new, making it synonymous with “change.” Rather than being a style, it is a process according to which styles replace each other. So how do we harness the power of something that has such a strong relationship with time? The fact remains that the acceleration in the design and marketing of fashion requires innovation in the way clothes are made to keep pace.
The change in direction towards sustainability may well be the solution. The definition of sustainability comes to an all-encompassing consideration of the factors that constitute modern and future fashion. In contrast to ethical fashion, which typically focuses on socioeconomic factors, sustainability balances the industry’s economic, social, and environmental concerns. The population’s knowledge of the vulnerabilities we face has led to reconsideration by existing and upcoming brands, as well as consumers, especially among the younger market segments.
Leading campaigns in the industry have led to brands making responsible choices and encouraging others to join in on the effort. Responsible material sourcing has been a very vital element in this process. With purchase and production using environmentally friendly fabrics with less chemical dyes and printing, trims that are made with recycled materials rather than new minting, and more durable fabrics that require fewer washes, we can achieve a reduction in the carbon footprint that fashion consumption causes. Sustainable fabrics and their respective yarns have characteristics that make them versatile, and this innovation changes the very foundation of the production segment.
The blend of textiles allows their use in fashion and lifestyle accessories to create a more expansive market than we’ve ever seen, with just as much creative competition in designs between brands as ever. The remainder of the responsibility lies with the system. Ethical and fair practices in fashion, especially in third-world countries where labor is considered to be less expensive, are of paramount importance. The application of sustainable materials will also lead to less injustice in manufacturing departments where there are toxic chemicals, long work hours, less pay, and unfair wages. The direct-to-consumer model in terms of design, marketing, and product development can also help in more affordability.
A step in making sustainable fashion affordable is to re-evaluate the distribution of the costing and profits in garments. Within a certain price, even with markup considered, if it is common practice that a factory worker or tailor gets paid a fair and substantial wage, the high prices of garments already reduced due to conscious consumption will be reasonable in the population’s eyes. Cost reduction and waste management by the use of recyclable or biodegradable packaging serve to uphold sustainable standards. Even large brands that would like to keep up with the latest trends can opt for changes such as reducing the speed at which they replace retail collections or stitching on demand from catalogs. It is also key to mention that ethical and sustainable fashion is also about buying less in the first place, wearing what we have more, second-hand use, and upcycling pre-existing clothes.
The importance of instilling sustainability in the fashion industry goes in hand with creating and following new methods to do so and will be understood with the implementation of new policies at every level. We can lean on fashion to foster growth and innovation because as said before, fashion evolves over time.