Among the list of most energy consuming industries, fashion industry ranks in the top three after oil and paper. Ms. Sandhya Shekar writes about the importance of slow fashion and how it is good for the planet.
While the year flew in the bat of an eyelid, it’s time to slow down and look back at some of the practices affecting our planet. 2019 has seen a surge in the awareness of man-made global warming and means to reduce the carbon footprint, but we have barely scratched the surface. Among the list of most energy consuming industries, fashion industry ranks in the top three after oil and paper. Fashion industry is a thirsty business and relies heavily on water at various stages of its production. 90% of waste water from the textile industries containing toxins such as lead, mercury, arsenic etc. are dumped into water bodies without being treated, contributing to 20% of industrial water pollution. In addition, it takes at least 20,000 liters of water to produce 1 kg of materials like cotton. In countries where there is already a scarcity of water, 85% of the daily use of water can be covered by the water used to cultivate cotton. Clothes indeed separate us from animals, but at what cost? To keep up with higher demands and ever changing trends, these fast moving cheap clothes are usually imported from third world countries where workers (mostly women) are made to toil for close to fourteen hours a day in poor working conditions for a pay less than $4 a day. Cotton industries often employ child labour to pick cotton. Although these serve as employment options to overcome poverty, the workers and children are subjected to harmful working conditions affecting their overall health and general well being. So, how can we reduce the load on the planet, remain ethical and be trendy at the same time? Enter, slow fashion.
What is slow fashion?
Slow fashion, an analog of slow food, advocates principles such as good quality, longevity, clean environment and fairness to both consumers and producers. Fast fashion, on the other hand, are the designs that move quickly from catwalk to consumers at cheaper rates and in large quantities made from synthetic fibers. Everytime a synthetic garment is washed, about 1,900 microfibers are released into the water that ends up in oceans and into the bodies of fish and other aquatic creatures. They also take about 200 years to decompose. Slow fashion which is part of the sustainable fashion movement, consists of durable products made using traditional production and techniques, time-less and season-less designs that are not mass manufactured. Slow fashion benefits consumers, producers and the environment. It encourages the employment of local designers, labourers and manufacturers thereby increasing their wages and job opportunities. Consumers get high quality and durable products made of sustainable and environmental friendly materials. From an environmental point of view, the clothes lasts long, can be easily recycled without the use of toxins and do not end up in landfill.
Image courtesy: Why We’re Celebrating the Slow-Fashion Movement in July
The above graphic effectively portrays how slow fashion is an amalgamation of ethical, eco and lasting fashion. Ethical fashion ensures that local designers, artists and labourers are employed providing them equal opportunities and fair pay rates, and may also refrain from using animal products while making apparels. The manufacturers are transparent about the procedures and the labourers involved in the making of their products. Eco fashion concerns the impact of production on the environment such as using locally available materials rather than importing, sustainable materials, reclaimed fabric, recycled and vintage pieces. Lasting fashion, as the name suggests, are products made of high-quality materials to increase longevity thereby reducing consumption rate.
Organic cotton, certified by Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) has replaced conventional cotton thereby reducing the load on water consumption. Recycled polyester and nylon have replaced synthetic polyester(derived from petroleum) and Pinatex, fine fibers from pineapple leaves has replaced conventional leather. Cashmere, obtained from Cashmere or Pashmina goats are linked to over-farming of these goats causing overgrazing leading to severe degradation and eventual deforestation (as these goats pull the grass from its roots preventing regrowth). However, Alpaca wool from Alpaca fleece are considered an effective alternative as they produce more wool, consume little water and food, and do not uproot the grass while grazing. Linen, derived from the flax plant, is a strong, long-lasting material that uses less resources and pesticides as it can grow on low-quality soil unfit for crop cultivation. Khadi, which has been prominent since time immemorial is a key to sustainable fashion and also to the country’s economy (especially in India). Other futuristic and innovative fabrics include Tencel, Econyl, Qmonos etc.
Another alarming trend that needs to be brought into sustainable fashion is “circular fashion,” to eliminate waste and encourage restoration.
Image courtesy: What is Circular Fashion? The Sustainable Shopping Revolution
In this model, the materials flow in a circular fashion than in a straight line thereby efficiently recirculating the raw materials to produce new goods rather than getting discarded in landfill. The fashion industry must reinvent itself to implement this model by coming up with new and effective methods to use better recyclables materials, designs dyes, cut and sew them. This model could also help make sustainable clothing affordable as cost still remains a crucial factor for making the shift. As sustainable clothing are made to last for years and endure varied washing practices,they are made of high-quality materials and hence are more expensive to create. The costs also shoot up as the products are manufactured in smaller quantities and most of the designing and manufacturing involve manual labour as opposed to it’s fast moving counterpart. Hence slow fashion is considered a shift in the mindset rather than a practice. The higher the demand of sustainable and slow fashion, the cheaper they become, making them mainstream. Drawing the example from the organic food industry, consumers paid a premium of 9% in 2014 which reduced to 7.5% in 2018, as most of the certified organic food products increased in demand and became mainstream over a span of four years.
Rental fashion sites have become increasingly popular in the Western countries and are gaining momentum in the Asian countries. One can rent clothes via an app and return them within the agreed time for a price, as simple as booking a house on Airbnb or a cab on Uber.
It’s time we made conscious efforts in changing our mindset and our practices. A Weight Watcher’s survey showed that 55% of clothes in an average woman’s wardrobe and 45% of a man’s wardrobe are never worn and about 11% of them refuse to give away redundant clothes. Fast fashion stems from the cliched “nothing to wear” attitude. We are in constant seek of cheap novelties and the industries cater to our needs. Next time, look for local and sustainable clothing options online or in your local malls and boutiques before making a purchase. Analyze and reconsider the need for buying new clothes if your closet is filled to the brim.Choose quality over quantity and do not hesitate to question or read about the brand’s manufacturing processes and the labour involved. If we as consumers create a snowball effect of slow fashion practices, all the major brands will be forced to manufacture sustainable products and make them mainstream and affordable. This is a small price to pay for a better environment.
As an additional reading do checkout this wonderful guide on Sustainable Fabrics at beeco.green