Nowadays, the fashion industry is one of the most controversial subjects in the business world. It employs hundreds of millions, generates significant revenues and everyone around the world uses its products in daily life. Therefore it affects positively the life of billions of people in one way or the other.
Yet a report published by the Ellen MacMacarthur foundation “A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future” outlined the negative impact of fashion industry on environment which are set to drastically increased by 2050. This is due to the amount of textiles ended in the landfilled or burned yearly with an estimated USD 500 billion value. Making clothing in a country and selling them in other countries with all the shipping and flights required to afford the latest fashion clothing at the right time, as well as the total greenhouse gas emissions from textile production, will use up a quarter of the world’s carbon budget by the end of 2050, according to the same report.
Jeans are the second most bought item of clothing with an average of four pairs of jeans sold per year per person in the US. Each pair of jeans have a water footprint of around 8000 litres, According to ethical consumer magazine.
Sandblasting, potassium permanganate, stone, and acid- washing are all chemical processes used to create the distressed or worn look that fast fashion trend required. These techniques are extremely harmful to the environment and the workers.
But then, the opponents claim that using natural indigo, plant origin dying material would firstly lead much higher prices to the customers. Historically, moreover, it was associated with the millions of the starving Indian peasant who used to be forced to grow indigo, instead of food to meet the increased demand during the Angle-French war of the early 19th century, that needed material for the uniforms of both English and French troops.
In 2018, lasers were introduced as a substitute for the harmful chemical technique to get the required finishing of Jeans. However, the laser technique is a higher cost than the traditional methods, but we hope that more companies will invest in the new innovation and the cost will come down.
On 23 April 2013, the world was shocked by the news of more than 1134 people were killed in the Rana Plaza collapsed building. All of them were workers who had been producing clothes sourced by major international brands. Facing the threat of losing contracts with international fashion brands and buyers, the owner was forced to pay the lowest wages of any garment workers in the world, ignoring the spending on health and safety procedures.
In Bangladesh these days, more than 4500 million people are working in the textile and clothing industry in much safer conditions, after the “mass industrial homicide”, but thousands more are still working in subcontracting workshops with unknown conditions.
It was shocking to read in Sunday Times on July 2020, that exploitative working practices are not just happening overseas, but also in the UK when investigation shown that fashion giant Booho who manufactures clothing in Leister are paying only £3.5 an hour to his workers which is below the minimum wage in the UK.
Providing adequate protection to the garment workers by imposing new laws and regulations can help in improving the sweatshop conditions. Furthermore, ending the undercutting of prices to ensure that all purchasing practices and enabling the payment of national minimum wages, could be a help, but, we still need to think about what Solitaire Townsend called for “Wear clothes that matter”. He sought to warn consumers who love fashion to be careful about the cost of their clothing on people and the planet.
Are we risk job opportunities for millions of people in developing countries working in textile industries when calling for slowing the fashion movement, or are we playing a role in encouraging their governments to look for better solutions to their economic troubles? Many people view these calls as an action against poor labor in poor countries, thus making more difficulties for workers life. However, this point can be hugely arguable: where people are willing to pay higher prices for their clothing, this can be reflected in textile workers' wages and salaries and better working conditions.
Shopping for new items is clearly a cause of happiness and pleasure for the majority of people around the world. Marketing and advertisement were playing a great role in motivating and urging customers to buy new fashion on daily basis.
For many people, Fashion is an important expression of individuality and fashion brands have increased their collection from two to four seasons to attract more consumers and create the satisfaction that people are looking for.
While fashion can play a great role in creating pleasure for customers, there are serious problems that arise from the amount of waste and pollution generated by this industry. According to the "Ellen MacArthur’s report":
‘ One garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or incinerated every second’.
Questions now we need to ask ourselves are, do we need to buy all this amount of clothing? Are new clothing needs to be brand-new? or can we move to a new manner when shopping?
Vivienne Westwood, one of the most famous fashion designer in the world, make it simple for us when she said:
“Buy less. Choose well. Make it last. Quality, not quantity. Everybody's buying far too many clothes”
Changing the design of clothing to be sustainable can be a key role in transforming the consumer’s behaviour. This will include using natural material that is environmentally friendly and improving the quality of making, so the garments last longer. Transition to new shopping models by buying second-hand clothing or make it accessible through rent would help in shifting the perception of fashion from being a disposable item to being a durable product. For those who love to buy clothing more frequently, subscription-based models can be a substitute option.
On the whole, global warming is a very real fact, and the responsibility for help in reducing the harmful action towards the Planet Earth and the people we share it with should be prioritised in our daily life. Thinking of clothing as durable items not disposable could be the first step in moving towards a less waste world and a more sustainable lifestyle. Transitioning to a slow fashion movement should not be seen as a threat to jobs as much as an opportunity to create new jobs and business opportunities. This can be done by moving into a circular economy through an innovative business model rely on trading second hand, upcycling and short-term clothing rental.
Policymaker can play an important role through their decisions, when encouraging the innovation of textile new technology that help in protecting the environment, and introducing incentives needed to help manufacturers adopting the new technology and circular business model.