My day job involves working in sustainable development; often surprises people who know me as fashion ninja! Well, fashion is usually perceived as frivolous and shallow, and far removed from the sustainable development world. The fashion industry has a large carbon footprint – from water intensive cotton crop to the pesticides used in growing cotton and the chemicals from the toxic dyes to the dumping inlandfills with clothes that are not biodegradable. To make a single t-shirt, the cotton that is needed requires water equivalent to what a person drinks in 3 years!
The fashion industry hides its forbidden side – the business behind the sequins and silhouettes. Fast fashion brands like Zara, H&M, Forever 21, etc. make an already polluting industry worse, as they copy and release runway looks very quickly into the stores. They also release more collections each year, increasing their carbon footprint and the price is kept low by outsourcing to countries that employ child labourers at ludicrously minimum wages.
Exactly three years back, on 24th April 2013, the Rana Plaza building came crashing down in Bangladesh, killing 1,134 people and leaving thousands more injured. While sweatshops are no secret, this incident brought worldwide attention to death-traps that these workplaces in the garment industry are. The minimum monthly wage for garment workers in Bangladesh is $68 per week! Only after a couple of years following the disaster, owing to vigorous campaigning by activists, did the garment brands pay appropriate compensation to the tune of $30 million to those who were affected. To commemorate the accident, pledge for more transparency and create a more ethical and sustainable fashion industry, the Fashion Revolution Movement was started 3 years ago.
As a result, H&M was the first to sign the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety following the accident. H&M also celebrates ‘World Recycle Week’ in the same week as they launch their ‘Conscious Exclusive Collection’ to promote itself as a ‘sustainable’ company. But that’s where the ‘conscious’ ends. Last October, H&M was criticised for failing to help create a safe and sustainable garment industry in Bangladesh. Workers’ rights advocates have called on H&M to prove its commitments through action rather than stunts.
So how can one be conscious if not 100% sustainable?
- First step to being sustainable is to reduce! Cutting back on consumerism will do more for the earth in terms of saving energy and resources. Stop buying fast fashions because they are trendy and cheap, you will throw them out as quickly as they get ‘out of style’.
- Instead, buy less! Invest in natural, organic fabrics that are durable and timeless and that have consumed less water and have the least toxic way to go. While natural fibres like cotton will decompose over time, synthetic fibres like polyester won’t. Natural fibres are often blended with synthetic. Brands like Red Sister Blue makes clothes only from khadi, designers like Samant Chauhan use bhagalpuri silk.
- Know ‘who made your clothes’. Support labels and brands that believe in fair trade and community building, where the money goes to the hands that make it. Brands such as Okhai and Grassroute by Anita Dongre work with communities that make the clothes.
- Recycle fabric or DIY and customise into new or exchange with friends that wear the same size as you do. Read label, buy recycledwhenever possible. Fabrics like recycled polyester, made from plastic bottles, are being used by brands like Marks & Spencer, Armani Jeans and designers like Amit Aggarwal. Jord watches are made out of recycled wood.
- Designer label Doodlage specializes in up-cycling, which uses unwanted factory surpluses, offcuts or materials that would otherwise be thrown away. Designer label Ka sha has zero-waste policy and use plastics, fabric waste and discarded clothing as well as recycle and reuse fabric scraps by weaving them back into her creations.
We don’t have to stop loving fashion to be sustainable, start being aware of the issues – water and energy usage, transport emissions and landfill. Take small steps to reduce your fashion carbon footprint! Here is another informative video on impact of fast fashion.
We are wearing Doodlage upcycle collection as ode to Earth Day.