Previous investigations into the fashion industry focused on outsourced sweatshop and child labour.
Sadly, with the competition and desire for changing trends and cheap prices, we are all unconsciously contributing to unethical purchasing habits.
These have knock-on effects on people elsewhere in terms of low livable wages, unsafe health and safety standards, and planetary pollution including leaching of toxic chemical dyes into water systems and clothing waste into landfills.
What you can do
Consumers hold the answers
To be responsible consumers we need to increase our awareness of the quality of the garment, the supply chain behind it, the production process, the product afterlife, and hopefully the sustainable impact it has on people and the planet. The same holds true of all the other consumer products that we buy.
At present, we are still living in Covid-19 times and restricted in the way we work or socialize. As a result, we have started to change our habits from simply buying, wearing a few times, and throwing them away, regularly repeating the cycle.
Let’s think about why we want to buy something, and what we want to buy.
Think about how it is manufactured, how it affects others’ lives. Often these are in the global South and poorer countries. Cheaper manufacturers drive down costs by lowering health and safety standards, increasing volumes, and driving profit margins. But at what costs?
Do people earn a livable wage?
Is manufacturing contributing to pollution of their environment.?
Will the disposal of what we buy go into some other country’s landfill?
Will our waste garment leach pollutants into someone else’s agricultural land and drinking water supply?
What others have done
Starting point for sustainable solutions
There are different philosophies and values behind steps we can take and questions we can all ask ourselves.
Clothing swaps amongst people we know or strangers can be a sustainable solution
providing a new use, double usage, and saves landfills. In many communities, there are Facebook clothing swap pages and Apps such as www.poshmark.com that buy and sell fashion.
Is already sustainable because the clothing already exists, minimizing negative resource intense production costs. High End or Vintage are best buys to keep. This is also an essential income stream for charities that provide community services by trading essential clothing.
SLOW FASHION and MINIMALISM
This is an environmentally friendly approach of having only a few new items. Some call it having a minimalist, pared down wardrobe, with items that can be mixed and matched for various occasions. Sticking with items for a long time depends on the quality of the purchase, so take time when buying and think about how long it can be worn for, and whether it can be repaired or repurposed later.
This takes account of people and their environments in the supply chain based on the principles of Fair Trade. Are workers getting fair wages and have their lives been improved? Do the brands have Fair Trade certification? These can be checked by the Brand’s website and their values or philosophy of approach to people and sustainability.
This ensures low impact on animals and prevention of them dying, particularly in the leather and fur industries. Avoid buying garments using non-biodegradable fibres which go into landfills. Look for the increasing use of innovative materials such as Pinates, Seashells, and bio-mimicry such as mushroom skins and those using recycled natural fibres.
Reduces pesticides in manufacturing processes, protecting the health of farmers and leading to better land management. Look for natural dyes rather than chemical dyes. However, cotton is water intensive which may have local environmental impacts on the declining water tables in cotton growing regions of the world.
Are there sources of locally produced garments or manufacturers of cloth? is clothing waste being re-sourced into manufacturing materials? This reduces air miles and minimizes carbon footprint. In Western countries, the bulk of manufacturing has been outsourced to poorer, cheaper labour cost countries.
With repurposing clothing, we can generate local employment, create a livelihood, or new business opportunities!
RECYCLE 100% MATERIALS
If we want to achieve 100% recyclability of our clothing then we have to buy with that in mind. It is difficult to separate blended fibres and mixed materials. So best not to buy 80% cotton/wool and 20% something else.
ETHICAL SUSTAINABILITY checklist
What is the level of water usage in growing and manufacturing process of specific products?
Have hazardous chemicals been used?
Does it have a short lifespan?
Will it contribute to growing waste dumps and not be biodegradable?
Was it harmful to the agricultural process by using pesticides in the production?
Call for change
The Circular Economy advocates for the fashion industry to take four key steps:
1. Phase out pollutant substances and Microfiber release
Manufacturers should stop manufacturing fabrics that release pollutants into the ecosystem and water systems such as micro plastics and plastics.
2. Change the design, production and marketing of clothing
Break from seeing clothing as disposable to promoting garments that can be made from recycled cloth, new biodegradable materials, and create a more durable fashion.
3. Improve recycling by changing clothing design, collection and reprocessing
Clothing can be redesigned for reuse, helping manufacturers save materials worth USD $100 billion per year.
4. Make effective use of resources and move to renewable inputs
The clothing industry is dependent on primary materials and energy sources which should increasingly come instead from renewable and non-water depleting sources.