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How can you make the fashion industry more sustainable?

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I’m sure you’re aware of the environmental burden that flying, energy use or the meat industry are producing. But have you ever measured how big an environmental or ethical footprint your wardrobe has? And even further, how much emissions and pollution your clothes are producing when in use?

Fashion is a very unsustainable and unethical industry, and it definitely has its own share on the climate change crisis. Especially if you shop for new clothes regularly, actually the emission and pollution footprint of your clothes might be even bigger than, let’s say, your food consumption. In 2014, the number of garments produced annually exceeded 100 billion for the first time: nearly 14 clothing pieces for every person on earth.

Going vegan to prevent climate change, and shopping weekly in a fast fashion store don’t really go hand in hand, do they? But what are actually the problems of this industry, and how the heck have we gotten into this point? And more importantly, how can we get away from it? Let’s start by laying down some facts.

  • The textile industry is destroying the planet. Textile production produces more CO2 emissions than international flights and maritime shipping combined. The industry is responsible for almost 20% of the world’s wastewater. And the textile industry is known to be one of the most polluting ones in the world, especially when it comes to clean water.
  • Textile workers’ living conditions and human rights are being violated. In the countries where most of the textile production happens, the minimum wage paid for the textile workers is significantly lower than an actual living wage. For example in Bangladesh, which has a high capacity in clothing production, the minimum wage is under 30% of the country’s estimated living wage.
  • Continuous consumerism is driving the industry. About 80 million new clothing pieces are being consumed every year. An average American generates 82 pounds of textile waste in a year.

The easy answer would be to stop consuming, or boycott fast fashion, right? Or would it? Even if a handful of consumers would stop consuming and boycott fast fashion, there would still be the most of the crowd who would continue consumerism like in the good old days. These problems are super complex and I don’t believe the solution is to only stop consuming or boycott fast fashion, as it’s an extremely hard thing to achieve on a larger scale. Even if all the consumers would stop consuming fashion (totally unreachable scenario on its own), what would happen to all the millions of textile workers in low-income countries? Probably they would lose even the small that they have.

Instead of just a total boycott of a handful of people, I think we should reach a point where consumers are educated to demand brands to compensate for the environmental impacts they’re making and increase the working and living conditions of their workers.As consumers, we need to internalize that these two changes will not happen with €5 shirts. We need to be ready to take responsibility in exchange for better working conditions and environmental compensating. This being said, this is also a super ideal solution that requires a change in consumer behavior, as well as in the legal requirements of companies and the market structure of the whole industry.

Instead of a total boycott, we should reach a point where consumers are educated to demand brands to compensate the environmental impacts they’re making and increase the working and living conditions of their workers.

So is the problem in the brands, consumers, governments or just the infrastructure? It’s in all of them, and to fix the industry, we need also all the players involved. I identified three of the most pressing problems which all include all of the players. I think these problems are at the moment standing in the way for a more sustainable and ethical industry.

  • Rise of the “single-use” culture: clothes have become too cheap mainly due to fast fashion. The low prices have been achieved by paying too low wages for textile workers and using unsustainable raw materials. This has created a similar effect for the fashion industry as has happened with the meat industry, consumers have been accustom to extremely low prices, which cannot, in reality, be achieved with sustainable actions. (Remember though that high price doesn’t guarantee sustainable production and compensation. The key is transparency from the brand to consumers!)
  • Lack of transparency: companies are not taking responsibility and compensating the environmental baggage they are producing, nor are they taking responsibility in the living conditions and human rights of their textile workers. One of the reasons behind this is the way the supply chains in the industry are built. For long, the customers, or the brands, have not been aware of what kind of environmental baggage the clothes produce or how unethically they’ve been produced. Lack of transparency has been the norm for the fashion industry for way too long. This has also given a possibility for brands to hide behind the fact that not the brand nor the consumer really know what is going on.
  • The unsustainable pace of trends: consumers have been taught to extremely rapid cycles of fashion in the last decades. Have you ever wondered why so many of us are buying new clothes every month, and even every week? We are not buying other textiles and durable goods that often, are we? The increased cycles of fashion, trends and today’s consumerism have taught us to do this. Clothes have become disposable, single wear goods.

And the problems don’t stop there. But looking at things through a bit more brighter lenses for a while, every one of us can do their part for the more sustainable fashion industry.

  • Invest more in sustainable and long-lasting clothes instead of one-time-wears. The key is to find a balance. You shouldn’t shop fast fashion in case you’re only going to wear a shirt once, but in case you’re going to wear it for ten years, it’s not the worst choice.
  • Demand brands for transparency, better actions, and compensation. This you can do in social media, via emails or in-store. One consumer feedback might not be a big deal, but thousands of them are already a whole different scenario. This action is one of the fundamental pillars of the Fashion Revolution movement.
  • Develop a new fashion cycle for yourself. Do you really need new clothes every month? Learn to love your existing clothes, modificative and repair your clothes, and shop second-hand. As a pro-tip regarding new styles; follow styles and trends that interest you and express them through your existing clothes. Today’s trend cycle is one big merry-go-round, and the same trends recycle from year-to-year.

And one action is even more important than all of these. We need to speak up more about the horrible human right violations and environmental baggage this industry, that so many admire as a glamorous world, is responsible for. The simplest thing you can do is just to speak with your friends and bring out the conversation about it.

Source: nua.ac , immago, euobserver

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