Updated: Jun 19
We all know that the fashion industry is the second-largest polluter in the world. From rainforest destruction to water consumption, water pollutions, chemicals and effluents, there’s a whole lot of ways in which the garment manufacturing and consumption cycle affect the environment in negative ways. Unfortunately, the clothing industry is a dirty one and a significant contributor to environmental & human damage. But the good news is that sustainable fashion addresses many of these issues significantly and in ways, you may not expect.
WHAT IS SUSTAINABLE FASHION?
Sustainable fashion refers to clothing that is designed, manufactured, distributed, and used in ways that are environmentally friendly. Ethical fashion, a related term that is also prevalent in the conscious consumerism world, refers to clothing made in ways that value social welfare and worker rights. A combination of sustainable and ethical manufacturing is the way forward for the clothing industry, combined with rational consumption, better quality, longer-lasting clothes, timeless designs and active recycling industry. Naturally, this is not for one company, or a government or a country but what all people should strive for and make into an essential industry standard.
Here are 10 reasons why sustainable fashion matters.
1. MAKES MORE COMMERCIAL SENSE
Let's face it, profits do drive companies and with customers worldwide demanding more sustainable clothes, for fashion brands, it is an opportunity to differentiate and survive commercially in the long term. People are willing to pay a premium for organic and sustainable clothes and several brands are already seeing the commercial advantage of going completely sustainable or at least moving a significant chunk of their product line towards environment-friendly products.
2. NECESSARY FOR SURVIVAL
The movement to make the fashion industry ecologically sustainable has been ongoing for a while now. But, with the COVID outbreak, the demand for the industry to adopt sustainability as a whole and not just in parts, has accelerated. Sustainability will evolve as the central driving factor and not just an additional element and is necessary for the survival of the human species as well as the world at large.
3. USE OF NATURAL RESOURCES
The fashion and textile industries use vast amounts of natural resources - water, oil and land throughout their entire lifecycle, from the production of fibres, manufacturing, distribution, consumer use (imagine all that washing, drying, ironing and dry cleaning) to the clothes' end-of-life at disposal. A study from 2015 shows that 97% of what goes into making clothes are new resources, with only 3% of it being recycled materials. This adds up to an annual resource input of 98 million tons – including oil, to produce synthetic fibres, fertilisers to grow cotton and an endless list of chemicals needed to dye & finish fabric. Recycled fibres have proven to be a much more sustainable option, as they reduce pressure on virgin resources and tackle the growing problem of waste management.
4. REDUCE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT
According to the 2020 McKinsey Fashion On Climate report, “research shows that the global fashion industry produced around 2.1 billion tonnes of GHG emissions in 2018, equalling 4% of the global total. This is equivalent to the combined annual GHG emissions of France, Germany and the United Kingdom. Around 70% of the fashion industry’s emissions came from upstream activities such as materials production, preparation and processing. The remaining 30% were associated with downstream retail operations, the use-phase and end-of-use activities.”
But the good part is that "Sustainable Brands" often use materials from natural or recycled fabrics that require significantly less to no chemical treatment, little water, less energy and no fertilisers or pesticides to grow. Most organic fabrics such as linen, hemp or organic cotton are even biodegradable. These environmentally sound fabrics go easy on the planet and are amazing sustainable alternatives.
5. SUSTAINABLE FASHION SAVES ANIMAL LIVES
This may not be news for you, but the fashion industry loves to kill for fashion. A common misconception is that leather, for instance, is a by-product of the meat industry. However, this is not always the case. It’s estimated that the leather industry alone is slaughtering and killing over 430 million animals per year. Not going into more detail here as it’s a topic for itself, but if wish to educate yourself more on animal suffering in the fashion industry, PETA has a plethora of articles on this topic. Sustainable fashion brands have started to increasingly embrace the use of cruelty-free alternatives, and there’s one for nearly every piece of fashion materials - polyester made with trash from the oceans (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?), bags created from recycled seat-belts, plant-based compostable sneakers, silk created from yeast, and bio-fabricated vegan wool. But one of the most demanded leather alternatives these days comes from pineapples. The fabric is produced using the leaves of pineapples in the harvesting process, giving by-product waste a new purpose.
6. SUSTAINABLE FASHION REQUIRES LESS WATER
Water is a major resource for the fashion industry. It is used in the dyeing and finishing process for nearly all of our clothes. It takes an incredible amount of 2,700 litres of water to produce a single T-shirt. Cotton in particular is highly dependent on water but is usually grown in hot and dry areas where water is a scarce resource already. By contrast, organic cotton reduces water consumption by 91% as opposed to conventional cotton. However, only 1% of global cotton production to date is organic. This is mainly due to the much higher cost of non-GMO seeds, which often require additional investments into materials & machinery, which farmers only use for their organically grown crops. Other sustainable fabrics that require little to no water during the production phase include linen, hemp, REFIBRA™ & recycled fibres like recycled cotton.
7. SUSTAINABLE FASHION SUPPORTS FAIRER & SAFER WORKING CONDITIONS
Believe it or not, but modern-day slavery does exist. Minimum wages (if at all), endless working hours, unacceptable health & safety conditions and the prohibition of workers unions is what reality for most garment workers in the fast fashion sector looks like. Moreover, verbal and physical abuse is still common practice in many parts of the industry. A few informative documentaries exist on the social injustices of the fast fashion industry. Check out “The True Cost” or “Fashion Factories Undercover” to learn more about it. Eco-ethical brands advocate for providing humane working conditions, health care and fair wages for their workers, which are typically above average. Generally, they show a larger purpose towards creating economic opportunities for those in need to end poverty. We all want to feel great about our clothes, and that includes feeling great about knowing under what conditions they were made. The well-being of people involved are just as valuable as the environment and animals, don’t you think?
8. SUSTAINABLE FASHION IS HEALTHIER FOR PEOPLE & THE PLANET
Fast fashion items often undergo a long and intense chemical process before ending up on our hangers. Around 8,000 different synthetic chemicals are used to dye, bleach and wet process garments. Those chemicals often cause diseases or even deaths among farmers and inflict serious birth defects on their children. Some of these chemicals pose a real danger to our health as well, as our skin absorbs anything we put on it, including the chemicals in our clothes. Make sure to always wash new clothes before putting them on for the first time and check for garments with chemical content certification labels such as OEKO-TEX®, GOTS, or BLUESIGN®.
9. SUSTAINABLE FASHION DOESN’T SUPPORT CHILD LABOUR
Around 170 million children are engaged in some form of garment work according to recent statistics from UNICEF, which is defined as “ “work for which the child is either too young – work done below the required minimum age – or work which, because of its detrimental nature or conditions, is altogether considered unacceptable for children and is prohibited”. This is a massive red flag and the thought that children are sent to factories and conduct work that resembles modern-day slavery to meet the fashion demands of the western world is simply unacceptable. Brands that truly follow sustainable & ethical practices are transparent about it and provide details on the factory, working conditions and manufacturing process.
10. SUSTAINABLE FASHION TEACHES US HOW TO LOVE OUR CLOTHES AGAIN
It is just so easy to look at a gorgeous, finished piece of clothing in a store and forget that there’s a story and lifecycle behind it. Truth is, we are detached because the industry encourages us to be so. But being aware of all the downsides of this industry will hopefully lead to more conscious consumerism. One that is planet, animal & people friendly.
It’s time to recognize the impact of our buying decisions. Not as an inconsequential part of our modern lifestyles that changes with every season, but as an environmental and human responsibility that could greatly affect the future of our planet. At the end of the day, we can choose if we want to be part of the problem, or part of the solution and to quote Anne Lappe “Every time you spend money you cast a vote for the kind of world you want”.
BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD
At The NoName Company, we’re committed to contribute towards a better world and use organic sustainable fabrics in the clothes we make and are passionate about ensuring they are made in factories that are safe and provide healthy working conditions with no child or slave labour. We seek to reduce pressure on resources in order to restore the balance between people & planet with regards to fashion. We encourage fashion startups as fashion brands to choose to buy sustainably.