Opinion | April 5, 2021
Will the Fashion Industry Ever Truly Be Sustainable?
Will the fashion industry ever truly be sustainable?
This question has launched me into a whirlwind of research, sparking a quest to fully understand the clothing industry’s impact on the environment. I wondered how I could make a change.
It is hard, and conflicting, to love and work in an industry that persistently places a negative impact on the environment. The clothing industry is the oldest in the world, yet the meaning and need for it have changed drastically since the industrial revolution, and even more so since the 1960’s when fast fashion was first introduced to the world. Since then, fashion truly has become increasingly about a quick means of self-expression, as opposed to simply clothing our bodies.
Nonetheless, the need for clothing will never cease, and consumerism is not likely to subside anytime soon. So what do we do now? How do we address sustainability in a fast-paced consumer world? My first instinct was to tap out of the fashion world entirely. I thought: if I stop production entirely from my end, I am at least not creating any waste, or encouraging unnecessary buying. I quickly realised the naiveté of that thought: in a vast industry, my production of 100 pieces was hardly going to change the world. People will never stop buying clothes, so I suppose then the solution, rather, would be to give people better alternatives to what they are already buying. And so deeper into my research I delved.
Deleting the footprint
One of the first things to come up in research was the concept of the carbon footprint--the total amount of greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide and methane) generated by our actions. I looked into how to reduce this and, instead, was introduced by a friend to the idea of carbon offsetting. This allows you to take actions that would, in a sense, delete the footprint you initially created.
It was important to combat and consider the issue from several angles, as it can be easy to neglect part of the process, mostly because it's hard to find a solution. A bit of a pickle. From managing and reducing waste during the prototyping stage, to production, all the way through to the packaging, so many details need to be considered. As with anything complex, step-by-step is the way to go. I thought, perhaps, it was best to be minimal: create essential pieces that won't really go out of fashion, something that can be worn for years and still keep its merit. But this also implied higher quality garments. The path was riddled with obstacles to keep processes ethical and sustainable. Is there child labour? Underpaid workers? Inhumane work conditions? Questions I needed answers to ASAP before I could even ask about the sustainability of the process. What good is a green garment with an unethical background?
Eventually I needed to ask questions about the cotton, and further understand the relation between cotton and water consumption and how cotton is perhaps not really sustainable at all--unless it's recycled. Which is what I ended up opting for. What a beautiful thing; cotton made of other bits of factory scrap and second-hand cotton clothing. Full circle. Ethical production, check. Recycled cotton, check. Now it comes down to shipping, which is where most of the carbon footprint comes from and why we really need to care about carbon offsetting.
An apology to the environment
So back to that. How can we make an exchange with the environment, send an apology letter for all the factory and shipping gases we just created and released into the air? What does the world need for all the living beings on this planet to be healthy, living beings? The answer is so simple. Trees. Plant more trees. An essential link in this whole production. The way to close the whole loop. If I can get a consumer to choose this product instead of a similar, less sustainable product, then I will plant one tree on behalf of each person, to offset the impact of each product.
It all sounds great and logical. However, getting the message across was harder than I had anticipated. Regulations about advertising charitable causes locally, and with the online payment gateway, meant the message had to be spread through word of mouth, and engraved deeper in the branding of the item rather than simply being talked about. Just another challenge to go through and overcome. I can't say for sure that this is the perfect approach, I mentioned earlier having felt naive, thinking I could change the industry by stopping my own small production. I also mentioned how conflicted I feel towards the whole cycle. And still do. Perhaps always will. It's a matter of putting the effort in and moving further and further along a more sustainable path.
So here we are. For the sake of the earth, the planet and the greater good: we talk about it, we educate, we inform, and we hope that in return it all amounts to something for the environment.