Sustainable Fashion: Why and How

Sustainability has become the buzzword for the new decade and rightly so. People and organizations across the world are striving to achieve sustainability in different spheres of life. Even profit-focused corporations, these days, are pledging to go carbon neutral in the near future. The global trend seems to be en route to a more sustainable future. In all this buzz, there is a one industry that often gets forgotten when it comes. The fashion industry, currently, is just experiencing the beginning of the sustainability awareness but a lot more needs to be done.

In a world like ours it is but obvious that environmental footprints of one industry would add to that of others. A product with a high carbon footprint due to its raw material or manufacturing process will automatically augment the user’s carbon footprints and thus of the user’s community, country and the region; thus contributing to the overall environmental changes of the particular geographical region and eventually that of the world. Sadly, what a lot of us don’t realize is that the multi-billion dollar fashion industry extends way beyond the runway and the high-end stores. It is deeply connected to other industries such as cotton, silk, leather, plastic and several other textile industries.

  • As far the global carbon emissions are concerned, the fashion industry contributes nearly 10% of the overall.
  • It is also the second largest consumer of the world's water supply and sadly also contributes to 20% of the global water wastage.
  • With more and more clothing lines making affordable products, 85% of all textiles now end up in landfills each year.
  • A massive 65% of clothing are made of polymer-based fibers which require nearly 70 million barrels of oil a year.
  • And if that wasn’t enough, its energy consumption turns out to be more than that of the aviation industry and the shipping industry combined!

Those numbers speak clearly of the environmental impact of the fashion industry. No wonder fashion is expensive – both literally and metaphorically. A lot of the downward trend has been brought about by ‘fast fashion’ – the rapidly available and affordable fashion that descends from the runway to stores in barely any time.

So what do we do? Give up fashion altogether? Stop manufacturing clothes and accessories. While that doesn’t seem like a viable option, there are two major things that we can (and must) do:

  • Ditching Fast Fashion: Both, the industry leaders and the consumers, need to make informed choices about the kind of products they choose to manufacture or buy respectively. Ditching a trend that’s both affordable and easily available would not be easy.
  • Opting Circular Fashion: Circular fashion is inspired from the idea of circular economy where the focus is not on increasing production or profit but achieving sustainability through reuse, recycling and donating.

There are many ways for consumers to achieve that:

  1. Upcycling/Recycle: Old clothes can be upcycled with interesting DIY techniques. One can easily find online sources depicting ways to upcycle clothes into other usable items such as mats, bags, aprons or other wearable items.
  2. Reusing: Vintage can always make a comeback. Wondering what to do with that old hat, shawl or your grandma’s saree? Well, just use it. Instead of ordering another apparel online, try using what’s already in the wardrobe. Let it wear out first and maybe then think of buying another one.
  3. Exchanging: This can be a very interesting way, especially among friends, cousins and family members. Many of us remember wearing our sibling’s t-shirt or dress from back in the day. Why not now? Exchanging clothes with others can nearly have the same effect on psyche as buying something new. Plus, it updates your wardrobe for free!
  4. Donating: Can’t wear something anymore? Too tight, too loose or too old – if that’s what your current wardrobe is looking like, you still don’t need to throw them away. Contact your local NGOs, orphanages or charitable organizations and find out where you can donate them. If you can’t do that, ask the neighbor or your house-help. Someone would definitely know a few families that would benefit from old clothes. And why only clothes? You could donate your old blankets, quilts and bed sheets as well.
  5. Custom Ordering: If you’re really and genuinely in need of a good new outfit, try to get it custom made i.e. get it tailored. Even though an old school way, custom made clothes are far less harmful for the environment than the pre-tailored apparel that come straight from the factories. Also, the fit is always better when you get them tailored.
  6. Adopting Vegan Fashion: Veganism is not limited to dietary habits only. Consciously choosing to buy fashion that does not involve any item produced from animals is what vegan fashion is about. That would exclude leather-made articles, furs and feathers, other animal-skin products and any other product involving killing and/or using of animals. It’s 2020 now, fashion can (and must) be fair and ethical.
  7. Ask Yourself ‘If You Really Need It’: Most of us make a huge mistake by not asking that. We end up buying more than we need and mostly because we don’t ask ourselves if we really need that shiny, new outfit or not. In most people’s cases, wardrobes are already piled up with clothes that haven’t been worn for months and even years. Asking this little question could help our environment and our pockets as well.

Meanwhile, manufacturers must opt to take an environmentally-cautious approach to production. They can help by:

  1. Custom Making: Try researching what your users are into and try to take custom orders for individuals instead of manufacturing hundreds of similar looking pieces that might end up in the dump. Having in-house tailors could help (and would also help increase employment opportunities).
  2. Eco-friendly Manufacturing: Opt for raw materials, machinery and processes that consume energy and release less toxicity into the environment. Innovators must come up with more efficient production lines for factories that would be able to work on renewable energy.
  3. Choosing Vegan Raw Material: Companies must commit more sincerely to carbon neutrality by opting raw materials that do not involve animal killing or any animal product for that matter. Governments and authorities would need to play a more active role in that. Use of fur, leather and other such products that require animals to be killed should be banned.