We Need To Invest in a Sustainable Fashion Industry 
Sat, April 10, 2021

We Need To Invest in a Sustainable Fashion Industry 

A major industry contributing to pollution is the fashion industry and its constant mass production of clothes, only for it to pile up in dumpsites. Fast fashion, or knock-off clothes imitated from runway collections, is the main culprit as well / Photo by: Vladimir Kishko via 123RF

 

It’s no secret that the longer we delay in making more environmentally-conscious decisions, the more difficult our future will be.

Metal straws and reusing cups from Starbucks can only take us so far. Without everyone's cooperation, especially from bigger companies that have more control over industries, we will eventually have limited options to make the world better. So many industries are already guilty of continuously contributing to our environmental crisis and we will be paying for it years down the road. And it’s not going to be pretty. 

A major industry contributing to pollution is the fashion industry and its constant mass production of clothes, only for it to pile up in dumpsites. Fast fashion, or knock-off clothes imitated from runway collections, is the main culprit as well. Does this mean we should just give up creating new clothes for ourselves? We might not need to if we develop sustainable ways to regulate the fashion industry. 

The Numbers

With big factories churning out smoke and emissions that only continue to pollute our skies and rivers, many people tend to forget that the fashion industry is also a source of pollution. 

You may be thinking that it won’t hurt to buy a top that you’ve seen on the Spring Summer catwalk imitated by your favorite fast fashion shop. After all, it is just one top. Now, think about that, and then think about how everyone else is probably thinking about buying a new top the same way you are. This is the reason why the fashion industry has ballooned at $1.4 trillion and why it almost never dips. 

With an industry that big, it contributes 8 to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions, which, according to Vox, “is more than the aviation and maritime shipping industries combined.” Not to mention it’s a massive purchasing machine. Every year, the fashion industry sells a collecting 80 billion to 150 billion garments and about three-fifths of those clothes only really end up in incinerators and landfills. 

But according to Vox, these numbers don’t always reveal the true extent of pollution caused by the fashion industry. 

Dr. Linda Greer, a former senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council and a senior global fellow at the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a Chinese environmental NGO, says that most of these numbers don’t usually come from peer-reviewed journals and technical papers. 

After observing the Jiangsu textile industry in China, she found that water pollution brought about by the chemicals used in clothing destroys our environment more than we can even imagine. Despite this, and other closely-monitored areas in the world where fashion is suspected to be the culprit of massive pollution, the data being collected for how exactly the industry is hurting our environment seems to mostly be hard to trace and double-check. 

That being said, the bottom line is that keeping the fashion industry alive is expensive, but not as expensive as disposing of its last season’s garbage. 

However, there are efforts that try to look into the environmental cost of the fashion industry closely, and up close, the details are more harrowing. 

According to The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 98 million tons of nonrenewable resources are being used just to keep up with the overwhelming amount of clothes demanded by consumers. These nonrenewable resources are usually “from oil that goes into synthetic fibers to fertilizers to grow cotton.” 

Some 93 billion cubic meters of water is also used annually to produce clothes. 

France’s Fashion Industry Commitment 

Brune Poirson knows France’s position in the fashion world: they are the main source of it. All around the world, they serve as the barometer for what good style looks like, for what merits class, but recently, they, too are becoming more aware of their burden to understand their environmental impact. 

This is where Poirson comes in, France’s “unofficial fashion minister.” France has become so synonymous with fashion that it has been dubbed the “Fashion Capital of the World,” and now the country is realizing that the title should not be without its responsibilities. 

In a report by American business company Fast Company, Poirson’s mission is to “systematically address various forms of pollution by her country’s fashion sector,” and she has been succeeding with this mission so far by working closely with fashion labels from destroying waste by proposing a zero-waste law in an attempt to lessen the pollution caused by companies resorting to lesser-expensive materials to make more clothes. 

She has even advocated for washing machine filters that will make it “mandatory to stop microplastics from leaching out of clothes and into the water stream.”  

Brune Poirson knows France’s position in the fashion world: they are the main source of it. All around the world, they serve as the barometer for what good style looks like, for what merits class, but recently, they, too are becoming more aware of their burden to understand their environmental impact / Photo by: Wavebreak Media Ltd via 123RF

 

Though an unofficial fashion minister, the move is seen to be a step in the right direction when you look back at how big the industry has gotten over the years. For reference, the fashion industry in the '70s was far smaller than it is now when fast fashion was not yet the name of the game. Around 2000, according to Euromonitor, there were 50 million units of apparel manufactured worldwide; in 2015, that number has skyrocketed to 100 billion units of apparel produced worldwide. 

According to the international organization for public-private cooperation World Economic Forum, what the industry needs is a little upgrade, some disruptions to jumpstart innovation within the industry and encourage companies to turn sustainable options and hit environmental goals that could still keep both the industry alive and drive reasonable production. 

The World Economic Forum writes: 

“New innovations also have to compete with the commoditized prices of today’s environmentally harmful production methods. Many brands and retailers benchmark against current costs of production and fail to account for things such as carbon emissions when assessing business cases.”

There is also the rampant use of single-use plastics in the industry that also contributes to worldwide waste, which is another problem in itself since many other industries also resort to this sort of plastic packaging. Poirson might have an unofficial fashion minister for now, but if governments around the world follow France’s lead on this one, they can make sure the fashion industry is reaching more sustainable goals.