Updated: Jun 19
As a fashion designer or brand owner, I am sure you have been inundated with information persuading you to go towards sustainable and organic fashion, at the same time also highlights how difficult it is and the rampant practice of greenwashing by many of the biggest fashion brands. At NoName, we promote organic sustainable fashion but today let’s take a realistic look at why fashion can not suddenly become fashionably sustainable and definitely won't go that way alone. Here’s our take on why sustainable fashion is important but doesn’t happen and how it can.
All human activity causes pollution & leaves a carbon footprint! Industries like energy, transport, and agriculture cause a much higher environmental impact than fashion. And all industries are intertwined in complex supply chains that make it impossible for any one industry to be sustainable unless they are all driven by a common objective.
The challenge of sustainable fashion
Cotton grown on a farm using less water and no pesticides get transported in a truck using poor quality diesel to a mill that runs on electricity made with coal and.. you get the drift.
At the end of the organic fabric manufacturing process, you get a certifying agency demanding stiff fees to certify that cotton is organic and a buyer refusing to pay the extra cost for the product that is now at least 2-3X higher than the regular non-organic variety. In which universe will a farmer be able to afford to take less money home because he had to pay for the certification that was required to prove that he had produced less on his field than what he could have done using pesticides and freely depleting the water resources, even though he fully realizes the impact it has on his own and his family/community’s health?
It is extremely naive to expect the farmer to compromise his already fickle financial position for the sake of the environment while the rich people and countries continue to live a life of excess and of environmental depletion. It is also very selfish to force him to do so by choking the supply chain and leaving him helpless.
The dyers who use toxic chemical dyes are expected to spend more to buy chemical-free dyes and then prove that to the labs by spending good money, getting a certificate, and then being confronted by the brand which can’t pay more because the market is competitive. The same logic holds true for every element of the supply chain - the factory that is dependent on generators as they do not get enough electricity off the grid, the transporter who has to negotiate pennies to the kilometer to be competitive, and so on.
Picture credit: The Considerate Consumer
Therefore, irrespective of the noblest intentions and the desperate need for all industries to become more sustainable and all humans to try reducing their carbon footprint, the journey is fraught with problems and counterarguments. Politics/Economics have a louder voice than Sustainability which is left largely to scientists and NGOs who do not have the influence and power to effect tangible short-term change, leading to the ever-increasing race to the bottom for the earth and for humanity as a whole. While we all realize that this way of life and industry is not possible for the earth to sustain and will surely lead to an environmental disaster in the not-very-long term, we still can’t even agree on things like the Paris Agreement which is laudable for having laid out a clear target for a "net zero" world by 2050 even though it does not contain specific details on how to reach it. The acknowledgment is important and even more so is the need to track progress on a regular basis.
So, is there hope at all?
‘Hope is never mere, even when it is meager. When all other senses sleep, the eye of hope is first to awaken, last to shut.’ (Gil-Galad, The Rings of Power, Season 1, Episode 5)
We face a very real and immediate challenge as a species and may well be responsible for the extinction of humans and maybe all other species as well in the not-too-distant future. The hope to avoid this almost certain future rests on the following key pillars:
1. Make A Better World: As long as there is poverty, hunger, inequality, and lack of access to basic services such as water, sanitation, and sustainable energy it will not be possible to make a sustainable world in any industry and in any pocket. When the Polar ice caps melt, they don’t ask if the greenhouse gases come from China, Bangladesh, Europe, or America!
2. Tax Unsustainability: There is ample argument that a carbon tax or recycling tax will cause a burden on a fragile economy and not really help the cause of sustainability. While I am not an expert on economics but I find this argument deeply flawed as the cost of not doing so is humungous and non-quantifiable. On a dead planet, what will be the use of economic welfare and politics for votes?
But taxing any and every industry that causes pollution or greenhouse emissions will actually make the sustainable choices more economically viable and therefore lead them to be even more popular. Why then would you choose an unsustainable product or service in any industry?
3. Make sustainability a lifestyle: It is not enough for sustainability to be fashionable and fashion to be sustainable! Any tenable advance will only come about when we start making conscious choices that are sensitive to the environment like buying less (less greed), investing in our choices - buying quality products for keeps, taking care of your possessions, repairing things, and reusing, make local, buy local farm produce rather than exotic foreign stuff.
While these may seem alien to the culture in most societies as they develop, they are natural in an underdeveloped/developing economy. Therefore the question is what exactly do we call development - blindly aping the west to become like them, is what has caused several societies and countries to a precipitous edge.
This planet is our only home and will be our home forever (if we survive). It is worth fighting to save it by making sustainable choices and that needs a focused integrated global approach to combat this menace which is not restricted to any one country or region.
But if you are like us - a small agent of change fret not, as the ocean is made of millions of tiny drops of water, none more or less important than the other. While sustainable fashion alone will not make us sustainable nor save the planet alone, we would rather be the drop in the ocean that made an effort no matter how small.
NoName is a garment manufacturing company that works with hundreds of small and midsize fashion brands across the world and helps promote sustainable fashion by using fabrics like organic cotton, linen, bamboo, and hemp. If you too wish to join us on this journey as a fashion brand, get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be delighted to meet you whether we do any business together or not.
Share your brand story at nonameglobal.com/forum and let your voice be heard by others in the industry and by all those who care.