You may not know it, the public may not know it, but we’re rapidly approaching a very problematic scenario. Our current system of creating and distributing clothes is poisoning our world. That is in no way a hyperbole. The fashion world is in dire need of a shake up.
When you think of industries that pollute the planet, most people imagine oil, mining or agriculture, but the clothing industry is the second biggest polluter. Companies use hundreds of thousands of gallons of water per day making simple garments that are sold for very little which directly contributes to water pollution. It doesn’t matter what fabric you use, there are always dangerous and toxic chemicals used to make what we all wear.
Of all the cropland on planet Earth, just 2.4% is dedicated to cotton. Those cotton crops consume 10% of all agricultural chemicals and 25% of all insecticides sold on the market. Our cotton supplies are already saturated with chemicals before they’ve even reached the factories. There are variations of the cotton crop that are genetically modified and immune to both herbicides and insects, but they only make up 20% of the world’s cotton.
We may live in a small world, but rampant globalisation means that any piece of clothing may have travelled halfway round the world just to get to you by using antiquated means via fossil fuels. Carbon emissions, and in extension, cumulative carbon footprints are a real and concerning issue facing the human race today and we must all start claiming responsibility.
Companies that create extreme demand for cheap clothes should not be allowed to do so. Their disregard for the environment creates a contagious detrimental attitude that directly correlates to our planet being harmed. We can’t shift all the blame to manufacturers though. We must wash our clothes in a way that does little harm, and dispose of clothes in a way that helps others, be that through donation or recycling.
Workers employed by clothing manufacturers often suffer from health problems (respiratory and nervous system ailments) due to their exposure to heat, pesticides, stress and long working hours. Most of these workers barely earn enough to escape poverty. There is an epidemic of suicide going on between Indian farmers right now, with almost 300,000 already opting for suicide. This issue, however, has eluded most Western minds.
With more and more customers asking where their food is coming from, it’s only natural that their curiosity spreads to other industries. Demand for free range eggs and organically sourced food has spread to the fashion world with consumers rightly pushing for Fairtrade cotton and ethically sourced fabrics. This fervid need for transparency and a clean conscience is not only profitable but positive.
Customers are also demanding a level of trust when it comes to pricing. Showing potential buyers how much things cost and where they came from is a free way to entice shoppers to purchase your wares, along with improving your company's image.
The digital age is here and now, and with more clothing companies emerging online, the overheads to keeping a business going are reducing. This cost-effectiveness is allowing a lot more start-up clothing companies to invest into higher quality fabric with more ethical sources.
1.1 million tonnes of clothing is bought in the UK every year. Out of that, 350,000 tonnes of wearable quality garments are sent to landfills, with 80,000 tonnes sent to incinerators. With 5% of the UK’s total annual expenses going on clothing, it’s clear that the nation needs to rethink what fashion means to them.
Suggestions of recycling cotton clothes are valid, but the actual method is difficult. To create new pieces of clothing from old, the worn material has to be cut up, and its fibres manipulated. This produces a negative effect on the staple length. Staple length in cotton determines the softness and strength and once those are compromised, it’s hard to create something wearable.
We, not just as consumers or business owners, but as people need to take a serious look at organic cotton farming, reducing our reliance on chemicals and start thinking of ways to help the planet rather than kill it.
There are already a number of different methods being put forward to achieve a better fashion world. Microbes are being developed to devour tough polyester fibres, the renewable plant, algae is being farmed and tested in laboratories around the world to see if it could be a direct competitor to cotton, and new software is being developed that will gather real-time data on waste tied to companies and their production methods. These methods are currently in their beta and testing phases, but if they’re more widely accepted and adopted, the world would move towards a brighter future which would benefit us all.
However, there is already a movement that’s making huge strides in changing customer’s buying habits, and that’s, “Slow Fashion”. Simply put, Slow Fashion is not a seasonal trend that comes and goes. Brands involved in the movement create and sell high quality products that will last longer, be more hard wearing. Ultimately, this the customer has really invested in a product rather than buying something cheap and easily disposed of.
On the 18th to the 24th of April, the world will come together to celebrate Fashion Revolution Week. In this period, people from all walks of life will suggest and pursue ways and means that will change how we make, sell and view clothes. However, the efforts that those people put forward rely on the contributions from people just like you, so please, make sure you’re a part of this incredible movement.
Changing hearts and minds may seem like an impossible task and it will take time, but if events like Fashion Revolution Week are being created, and well received by the public, then we, as human beings, have a chance at saving our planet.