Delving Deep: Fashion Sustainability

— The Present Future

Although i’ve always felt like I have had this strong, innate desire to ‘make a change’ or somehow make the world a better place by contributing in a meaningful way, I was never able to figure out how or what exactly it was that I wanted to do. As I continued to move further down into my fashion marketing degree and be exposed to different learning opportunities, it suddenly hit me that I want to work within sustainable fashion. To put a pin on that exact experience, it was a workshop held by GGEF (Global Green Economic Forum) on Sustainable Fashion at Cyberport, in Hong Kong on the 20th of May this year. The workshop included a plenary dialogue session on success stories of sustainability practices, lectures and discussions based on how Millennials can do better in the sustainability space, how the fashion industry can embrace change through technologies and most importantly, how the consumer’s buying behaviour can be altered when it comes to consumption. Attending this workshop sparked something in me and sitting there, listening to all these industry professionals talk about the huge impact fashion has on the world ignited a profound interest and excitement for being a part of this change. So, lets get into it…

What is it?

To begin with, the fashion industry is the second largest most polluting industry in the world, after oil. This is because the supply chain involves a series of unethical practices, from obtaining raw materials, manufacturing the textiles, garment production/construction, shipping and retail, to use and disposal. Apparel consumption is projected to rise by 63%, further expanding the true cost at which fashion comes, where 80 billion new pieces of clothing are produced each year, 400% more than what was consumed two decades ago – and where the average American now generates 82 pounds of textile waste per year. (Anne Copeland, Managing Director and Sustainability Advisor, Copeland & Partners, 2017). One pair of jeans produces 25kg of carbon dioxide and utilises 7k litres of water. 60 billion square metres of cut-off material is discarded on factory floors every year. A high-consumption, low-value model means that 3 in 4 garments out of the 80 billion produced each year, end up in a landfill (Thiruchelvam, 2017).

Why should we care?

If you’re wondering how this affects you… let me put it in an extremely simple manner – our world is dying, and one of the largest factors contributing to its slow and painful death are the clothes we purchase and wear on a daily basis. By 2030, 90% of coral reefs will be in danger and all by 2050. There has been a 60% decline in wildlife across land, sea and freshwater and will head to 70% by 2020 (World Resources Institute, 2017). The list of negative impacts of the fashion industry on the world is endless and I could go on forever. For more gist of it, watch this short, insightful video: The True Cost

What is happening

According to GGEF, the Millennial consumer’s affluence is increasing, with an estimated $170bn of purchasing power globally. With a growing demand for ‘sustainable’ and ‘green’ products, their consumption and purchasing decisions will have a tremendous impact on global sustainability efforts (GGEF, 2017).

According to Raconteur, by 2025, a garment could be grown in the laboratory with DNA – an attempt to bridge the divide between fashion and technology to produce innovative fabrics that will reinforce sustainability and reshape the fashion industry.


What else needs to happen

Governments need to enforce policies, bans or limits on the number of clothing they can produce each year, or the amount of money a consumer can spend on clothing, annually. Since it all starts from the initial design stage, fashion designers need to factor sustainability into their garment designs before they go into production. Businesses need to be more transparent in terms of fair trade, wages and their accountability of social practices. Tools for transformation include integrated sustainability reporting, where a group of companies share business models and what their respective inputs/outputs are and how they are creating value. Environmental profit and loss statements need to be put into place to ensure that businesses aren’t only focusing on the financial profits they make, but also how they benefit the community. Brands need to set the standards and enforce it by using celebrities to endorse sustainable fashion like they do with other general fashion trends.

What can we do… for now

As consumers of the fashion industry and passionate shoppers of fast-fashion conglomerates such as Zara, H&M and Topshop, we need to ask ourselves – do we really need it? We shouldn’t be buying anything we don’t need or absolutely love. We’ve gotten in to the habit of purchasing clothing on a daily basis, making fashion ‘disposable’, because we don’t take into consideration whether we’d be wearing the same item a couple years later, easily disposing it after wearing it a couple times. Most importantly, we should be educating and feeding ourselves with information and knowledge regarding this matter, and then spreading awareness by sharing this information.

So please feel free to like, comment, share your thoughts/ideas/opinions! I hope to obtain further research and write a lot more on this topic.

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