The fashion industry has a bad rep, arguably deservedly, when it comes to sustainability. The evolution of fast-fashion and instant gratification culture has fundamentally changed the way in which the Western world consume clothing. And the consequences are alarming. It’s become normal to wear garments once or twice before tossing them aside for the next hottest passing trend. Thankfully, the tide is slowly turning and consumers are wising up to brands who place profit over sustainability and people. But, as always, more needs to be done. Stat.
Look: fashion isn’t the second most polluting industry in the world. (That’s a commonly misquoted “fact”.) But it is still incredibly unsustainable, unethical and in dire need of change. Sustainable fashion isn’t a new concept: but brands still just don’t seem to be getting it. Beyond introducing new ideas like “circular”, “planet-centric” or “regenerative” design—which are great—we need a total rethinking of how the fashion industry works. It’s time to forget everything you know about fashion…
Let’s start with the basics. Fashion is one of the most polluting industries in the world, accounting for about 10% of global carbon emissions. Which also means it blows through more energy than both aviation and shipping… combined. How that’s possible becomes clearer when we zoom in on one particular garment.
A single pair of jeans requires a kilogram of cotton, which in turn requires about 7,500 to 10,000 litres of water (UN). That’s 10 years’ worth of drinking water for one person. A single cotton t-shirt? 2,700 litres of water (Fashion Revolution). That’s 3 years’ worth of drinking water for one person. This is because cotton is a very water-intensive crop. Of course, environmental impacts encompass more than just water: it’s also about carbon emissions, pollution, soil degradation, and more. Not to mention the fashion industry also involves a lot of hands. We’re talking 1 in 6 people globally that work in the fashion industry. And we’re not exaggerating when we say the fashion industry (even the luxury brands too) is highly exploitative.
When thinking about fashion, we also have to think beyond the production of the garment—it’s the entire lifecycle of it too. Think: transport, consumption, use, and disposal. Which is why the sustainable fashion conversation can seem so… complex. But don’t worry. Like we always say, start from what you can do first.
On an individual level, there is simply a never-ending, non-exhaustive list of things you could do (scroll down to the #LittleGreenSteps section for that). But before we get into that, we want to emphasise that it’s important to think about the community, business, government, industry and cross-industry level too. How? Easy. When you think about the #LittleGreenSteps you can do, think: how can I implement this on a community level? How do I mobilise my community, while making these actions accessible for those who might not be able to afford it? For businesses, how can I get them to be more transparent? Beyond boycotting, how can I pressure them into doing more? For governments, how can I get them to legislate good laws to protect garment workers? And for industries, since the fashion industry intersects with many other major industries, like shipping, agriculture, and finance, how can I push for cross-industry collaboration?
These, of course, don’t have simple answers, but we do what we can, wherever we can. Like we said, start with individual #LittleGreenSteps. Below are some we recommend, and resources to empower you on this journey too.
Fashion Revolution – an action-oriented and solution-focused global movement striving towards cultural, industry and policy change
Fashion for Good – a platform that connects brands, producers, retailers, suppliers, non-profit organisations, innovators and funders to move away from fashion’s pattern of ‘take-make-waste’
The Sustainable Angle – a not-for-profit organisation initiating and supporting projects with a focus on sustainability in Fashion and Textiles and related industries such as food and agriculture
Common Objective – a global tech solution for a sustainable fashion business, focused on improving the fashion supply chain
Positive Luxury – the company behind the Butterfly Mark, a unique mark awarded to luxury lifestyle brands in recognition of their commitment to creating a positive impact on our world
– Do a closet audit: find out where your clothes came from, where they were made, and #WhoMadeMyClothes
– Check out the buyerarchy of needs (protip: you don’t have to buy anything!)
– Find out about and support sustainable fashion brands and shops near you
– Research on the garment lifecycle, circular and regenerative fashion
– Research on the Rana Plaza incident
– Cut down or stop buying fast fashion
– Explore shopping for vintage or pre-loved clothing instead of always buying new
– Donate or recycle clothes you no longer need
– Try clothes rental options (in Singapore Rentadella and Style Theory are great)