The impact of the fashion industry upon the environment is coming under growing scrutiny as both consumers and governments work to fix the issue. Fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world, falling only behind oil. A large number of retailers are beginning to implement their own sustainability policies, however many business leaders are still prioritizing profits over responsible retailing. Many shoppers are still not willing to put money into sustainable clothing and continue to choose cheaper fashion options.
The road to sustainability is a long one, yet there are many financial risks when businesses do not act. Events such as the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh or government involvement can suddenly make costs increase or impact sales.
Many businesses also have the risk of being taken over by their competitors who have chosen to adopt more sustainable principles thanks to consumers becoming better informed and demanding more sustainability from brands.
A lot of research suggests that consumers say that they care about sustainability and are willing to pay more for sustainable products, but that is not being shown in the actual sales statistics.
When Marks & Spencer carried out consumer research they found that only 10% of consumers would opt to pay for sustainable and environmentally friendly products. Another 70% said they cared about sustainable products and clothing, yet believed that the industry should be the ones who absorb the costs..
You don’t need to be a committed environmentalist to be saddened by our dependency and addiction to fast fashion. Over 100 million garments are produced each year and in March it was said that H&M had around $4.3 billion worth of unsold clothes. (graphic – Remake)
Sustainability is a journey and it needs to be commercially viable for both the consumer and business. However, with increasing consumer demand, sustainability can also be used as a USP (Unique Selling Proposition).
One of the things which consumers need to be more willing to do is to join in the discussion and be more open about their desire for sustainability. It’s difficult to get retailers to speak up about the topic and by staying silent, the brands and businesses risk looking like they don’t care.
Burberry is a company that has faced backlash over their sustainable practices. When it was discovered that they were burning unsold products to protect their brand and stop them from being sold cheaply, they publicly announce that they would stop the practice.
The Environmental Impact
The environmental damage caused by the fashion industry is increasing. In most of the countries where clothing is produced, untreated and toxic wastewater from textile factories is often disposed of straight into rivers.
This wastewater contains harmful and toxic substances, such as mercury, lead and arsenic and as these rivers flow into the sea, these substances have devastating effects on aquatic life. The health of millions of people who live along these greatly polluted rivers and rely on this water for washing and cooking is being severely compromised.
The fashion industry is one of the biggest water consumers, with vast quantities of fresh, clean water being used for the dyeing process of clothes. It can take up to 200 tons of fresh water to produce a ton of colored and dyed fabric.
Cotton also needs a lot of water to grow, yet it is usually farmed in dry and warm areas. Around 20,000 litres of water are needed to produce just a single kilogram of cotton. Another issue with water and fashion are the microfibres which end up in our oceans. Each time we wash a synthetic item of clothing (such as nylon and polyester), around 1,900 microfibres make their way into the water and ultimately end up in the ocean. These microfibres are then eaten by fish, thus making their way into our food chain.
What Can Be Done?
For now, simply increasing the amount of sustainable items you buy will have an impact on the demand for such products. Research the brands you normally buy and find out what their take is on sustainability. Many brands are now working harder than ever to provide consumers with more sustainable fashion choices, from their designs to manufacturing processes.
Take a look at some of the upcoming sustainable fashion brands and their ethical practices. For example, Finisterre is a brand that has focused on developing their own specialist blend of Merino wool for their products. Each batch of wool can be traced back to the farm that produced it and they put welfare rights and rules in place to protect their animals and the environment.
Whilst athletic and sports wear may not be the first thing you think of when you are searching for sustainable fashion, this category of clothing is set to be one of the most popular with sustainable shoppers. Horizon Athletic have a specific focus on reducing the amount of plastic in the ocean. Their active and swimwear range is made using a material called Econyl, which is a recycled fibre made from abandoned fishing nets and consumer waste.
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