"Many apparel producers, brands and retailers are making a lot of noise about their sustainability initiatives, but in reality little progress has been made as more and more clothes are being thrown into the landfills every year. To deal with this, brands need to increase investments in sustainability and also cut down their volume of production."
Many apparel producers, brands and retailers are making a lot of noise about their sustainability initiatives, but in reality little progress has been made as more and more clothes are being thrown into the landfills every year. To deal with this, brands need to increase investments in sustainability and also cut down their volume of production.
Brands continue to feed consumers addiction for new clothes while at the same time appeasing them by signing into numerous environmental initiatives. This only creates an appearance of sustainability which is far from truth. Consumers should refuse to buy these cheap, disposable clothing.
Manifesto on circular economy
Some organisations genuinely aim to improve the environmental impact of textile and apparel industries. One such organisation which aims to address this issue in a disciplined way is the Ellen MacArthur Foundation which recently collaborated with some of the biggest names in fashion and apparel industry to create a manifesto based on the principles of circular economy. The manifesto: ‘Make Fashion Circular’ includes partners like H&M, Burberry, Gap, HSBC, Nike and Stella McCartney. Its other participants are DuPont, Lenzing, and VF Corp and other well-known fashion designers, producers, and brands along with government authorities, NGO’s and innovators.
The fashion industry can save around $460 billion if they make clothes that last longer. As Ellen MacArthur Foundation report “A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future” notes, in 2015, 46 per cent of the collected garments were reused. If 100 per cent of discarded clothing were collected, 22.2 million tons would be reused instead of 5.6 million ton as at present.
To address these issues, some brands are upgrading their operations through several new initiatives. For example, H&M started an initiative in 2013 to collect used H&M clothing at all their retail outlets and works with I:CO, a global recycling company, to either reuse or repurpose the clothing as rags, insulation or back into fiber. Similarly, Unifi’s Repreve® yarns are made from recycled plastic bottles and reduces petrochemical consumption and delays plastic bottles being put into the landfill for a short time until the clothing is discarded. And Cotton Inc supports reducing water and chemical use in growing cotton. Parkdale’s JV with Intrinsic Textiles produce CiClo® biodegradable polyester yarns.
Though encouraging, many of these efforts are either insignificant or insincere to have a meaningful impact on this massive problem. It requires bold and fundamental changes which are unlikely to materalise unless consumers demand them.
Ending their obsession with fast fashion
To achieve this goal, consumers need to end their obsession with fast fashion and disposable clothing. Non-profit organisations need to initiate a broad and well-planned global education program to develop and fund a global public service advertising campaign explaining the enormous environmental effects of apparel production and disposal and identify ways to dispose off or repurpose that clothing in a sustainable and responsible manner.
If brands produce and sell higher quality, more durable apparel, demand for clothing swaps and second-use sales will grow and brands and retailers would have a new financial incentive to expand access beyond the few specialty resellers currently in place. Increase in demand recycled clothing will encourage the industry to invest more in these technologies.
For addressing the growing negative environmental impact of textile and apparel industries, wide-ranging and expensive structural changes are required. However the industry will take action only when the consumers threaten to ban those brands that do not adopt these changes.