Driven by growing interest in social and environmental impact, fashion brands are looking to implement ambitious sustainability practices.
Sustainable or ethical fashion, a newly-devised term that takes into consideration the complete lifecycle of the product, the design, sourcing, and production processes, in addition to the environment, workers, communities where it’s produced, and the consumers who will buy it.
From this perspective, there are five essential issues being addressed in the fashion industry nowadays:
1. Water Consumption
Globally, fashion industry consumes around 79 billion cubic metres of fresh water annually. The production of fibres consumes the greatest quantity of water. This made fashion brands looking at the supply chains to see how they can reduce the amount of water they’re using. For instance, Canadian women’s fashion brand Aritzia has managed to reduce its water use by over 60 percent by using technologies such as Green Screen certified fabric softeners, ozone washes, laser finishing, e-flow washing, bio-based softeners and recipe combinations. Its denim collection is made from organic cotton.
2. Hazardous Chemicals
Dyes and finishes used in the production processes are highly dangerous for the workers; they also get into the community’s water sources. These chemicals may not harmful for the consumers, but they’re in fact for the people who make clothing and those who live in areas where it’s produced. Fashion brands are now required to devise new ways to address dyes and finishes for features like wrinkle-resistance and water-repellency. For instance, New York-based fashion brand Brother Vellies, whom Meghan Markle was spotted wearing one of its brown flats, it uses vegetable dyes, recycled denim, and used car tires.
3. Short Lifecycle
While stores are continuously offering new designs and consumers are regularly updating their wardrobes, the biggest goal in sustainable fashion is to buy less and use things longer. For this, there are platforms for closet-sharing in addition to brands that promote buying used clothing, and simple yet durable styles that you can wear over and over again. For instance, Spanish apparel retailer Zara announced plans to stop sending all unused textiles to landfills by 2020. Its goal is to develop an efficient lifecycle for its clothes, meaning less textile landfill waste. It has already begun taking steps by reusing unused textiles.
Sustainable or ethical clothing is made out of recycled or up-cycled materials, to reduce the energy consumption required when using raw materials. Fashion brands are required to find a way to create less waste by making products useful once again, whether by repairing garments i.e. mending holes in jeans and replacing worn soles of shoes or using recycled materials in apparel. For instance, Burberry launched a responsibility agenda in 2017, partnering with sustainable luxury company Elvis & Kresse to turn 120 tonnes of wasted leather offcuts into saleable products. The U.K.-based company announced two new goals to face climate changes; namely reducing greenhouse gas emissions 95% from its direct operations, and lowering gas emissions 30% in its extended supply chain. It aims to become carbon neutral in its own operational energy use by 2022.
Natural fibres like cotton are often grown using pesticides and treatments that are in fact hazardous to farmers, workers, and environment in the area. Sustainable fashion is suggesting more options for organic cotton, linen, and other fibres available, which also consume less water in comparison to the conventional growing methods. In addition, fashion brands are also required to be organic throughout the production process – not just the growing of the crop, which is only the first step. For instance, New York-based fashion brand Mara Hoffman uses responsibly-sourced organic, recycled, and regenerated materials whenever possible. It works to minimise the negative impacts associated with manufacturing and to ensure that all people involved are treated fairly and respectfully along the way.