With the fashion industry’s effects on the planet under fire from the public, media and government, investment in sustainability is rising.
A recent report claims that $20 billion to $30 billion per year is needed to see transformative change. Before we continue, let’s remind ourselves what this word we hear almost every day actually means:
“Sustainability is the ability to exist constantly.” It means focussing on the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations.
Fashion & Sustainability- What’s the problem?
We are hearing more and more about how fashion is bad for the planet, but what does this really mean?
In 2019, 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions were produced by the fashion industry alone. To put this into perspective, that’s more emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
The fashion and textiles industry is also the second largest consumer of water worldwide. It’s no surprise, when the amount of water needed to produce one cotton shirt is the equivalent of one person’s drinking water for 3 and a half years.
On top of using water, the fashion industry is also a major polluter of our rivers, seas, and even drinking water. A report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that 35% of all micro plastics in the oceans comes from clothing and textiles.
How will investment improve sustainability?
A $20-$30 billion investment in sustainability in fashion is the amount estimated to promote change in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The 17 global aims are, ‘a plan of action for people, the planet and prosperity’.
Investment means working towards the SDGs will be made possible, including working to end poverty and inequality by 2030. Through investment, the fashion industry can adapt to survive, whilst addressing the problems it created, including environmental destruction.
The fashion industry is “a key component of a global economy and certainly an important sector to consider when thinking about the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.” – Karen Newman and Cara Smyth.
What has investment in sustainable fashion achieved so far?
The lack of guidelines and infrastructure for investment in sustainability makes it difficult to achieve cohesive changes to fashion brands.
There is however a range of companies whose efforts are setting the example for others to follow.
A firm believer in responsible production, Stella McCartney teamed up with BOLT Threads, a sustainable biomaterials company. Through investment in new sustainable materials, the designer has created handbags made from a mycelium (fungi) based material.
Industry giant H&M has had its fair share of scrutiny over the years, but the brand has begun to invest in ways to change their current methods. Addressing the dependence on raw virgin materials like cotton is important if we are to achieve the goals outlined by the UN. Fortunately, H&M’s investments are encouraging the development of more renewable materials such as Tencel, which is more sustainable than cotton.
Adidas have collaborated with Parley Ocean Plastic, creating a sportswear range which utilises the up-cycling technology of Parley. Collaboration between brands and innovators has proven popular, but there is still a need for increased investment for development.
Barriers to success
One barrier to achieving a more sustainable fashion industry is cost. Many new technologies are so expensive, it’s difficult to introduce them on a large scale. For small companies, the costs involved in sourcing sustainable materials and production techniques make operating as a sustainable brand so difficult.
The lack of government investment in sustainability is also hindering development. Sustainable fashion designer, Christopher Raeburn agrees. “The current system favours brands that are located offshore…environmentally unsound fabrics, and are unaccountable for the product at the end of life.”
Do we need to change as individuals to achieve change?
Change needs to come from the top-down, but as consumers, we can all do our bit, however big are small, every action makes a difference.
Buy less, choose well, and make it last. The famous words of Vivienne Westwood remain true. One of the simplest ways to be a more sustainable individual is to buy less clothes. The most sustainable item you own is the one already in your wardrobe.
Take the #30Wears challenge. When buying new clothes, ask yourself if you’ll wear the garment at least 30 times. You’ll avoid spending money, resources and energy on something that will be worn once or twice.
Educate Yourself. In our society today, being a conscious citizen is so important. Knowing a little more about what clothes are made from and who makes them allows us to make informed decisions. There are some amazing 5 minute videos by the BBC, Charli Howard’s Fixing Fashion Podcast, and ‘The True Cost’ film is a must watch.
Be kind to yourself ! It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when trying to be a more conscious consumer. Focus on the changes you are making, remind yourself that the journey to more sustainable living is different for each of us.