What is Sustainability in the Fashion Industry?
What does it mean to be a sustainable consumer and business in the fashion industry? The United Nations defines sustainable development as, “meeting the present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Today, being sustainable encompasses a plethora of aspects in the industry, including where a garment or material is sourced, what materials are used in the creation of a product, and what type of waste the product creates. Sustainability is a multifaceted and ever-changing component to businesses and consumers. That being said, the main goal of being sustainable is to respect the materials we have on the earth, and to create products and systems that do not harm the environment. There are three main components that contribute to the harm of our environment in the fashion industry.
In the United States, we discard new clothes at an awfully quick pace. The average American generates 82 pounds of textile waste a year. The entire American population combined has contributed to a staggering 11 million tons of textile waste per year! This startling fact has made the textile industry one of the largest contributors of waste in the world. The waste from textiles has a tremendous environmental impact and has led, and continues to lead, to overpopulating landfills. The clothes are typically burned, which causes chemical extraction to seep into water systems and into the ground. There is an issue of overconsumption in the fashion industry. Companies release new collections quarterly and convince consumers that the garments they bought last year are less in style. This materialistic, consumption-based economy only benefits the bottom-line of the big fashion houses.
The environmental footprint of a brand starts with where they source their product. The creation of any product starts with the raw materials that are gathered for the product. It does not necessarily matter where the product comes from in the world, there will always be an environmental footprint. Products sourced closer together have a smaller footprint, because it requires fewer trucks, planes, and boats to move the goods around. Globalization and e-commerce have made it possible to get any product from anywhere in the world, but at what cost? High-Speed transportation typically includes gasoline-powered machines traveling through the air or down roads. It is imperative to understand that the items that are purchased in fashion or in any industry have a carbon footprint and affect the environment.
Microplastics have been in clothing for a very long time. These man-made fibers include polyester, nylon, rayon, acetate, and acrylic. While these materials have made it much easier to create yarns, they do not come without a cost. Polyester, in particular, is known for being a material that does not allow for your skin to breathe. It can cause irritation to the skin and block body odor from releasing. In addition, synthetic materials are non-biodegradable. This means that the material can not be broken down by natural organisms and act as a source of pollution. Finding products that use non-synthetic materials is better for the customer and the environment.
Businesses need to continue to reflect on how their actions contribute to the health of the planet. The more we all understand what it means to be sustainable, the better the world will be. Fashion brands should be transparent in their practices, because they are proud to contribute to the enhancement of their customers' lives. Consumers should strive to engage in conscious consumerism, as well as educate themselves on being sustainable.
Written by: Andrew Joiner