The United Nations defines sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Most businesses in Bangladesh identify sustainability as “something nice to have” rather than as “something must to have.” With this mindset, the idea of sustainable fashion may appear as something very foreign.
What is Sustainable Fashion?
Sustainability can have varying definitions depending on what we are associating with. Generally, sustainability means not harming the planet while making or using products.
Sustainable fashion generally refers to a more eco-friendly approach to designing, manufacturing, and using products by ensuring that minimal to no harm is being done to the environment. The term can be defined in a number of ways depending on what people term sustainability as. It could animal cruelty-free clothes as well.
Fast Fashion and the Planet:
One can define fast fashion as the mass-production of inexpensive clothes in a fast supply chain in accordance with the emerging trends. As our lifestyle is changing, fast fashion is growing rapidly. According to McKinsey and Company, the average clothing production has roughly doubled since 2000. Let us look into a few data on how fast fashion has contributed to increasing textile waste world-wide.
- Globally fast fashion produces 13 million tons of textile waste each year; 95% of which could be reused or recycled.
- A 2017 report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimated that 35% of all micro-plastics in the ocean came from the laundering of synthetic textiles like polyester.
- The textile industry does more carbon emission than the Airline and Maritime industry combined.
- According to a report published by the Helen McArthur Foundation, the carbon budget could rise to 26% by 2050 if carbon emissions continue at this pace
- The fast fashion industry is the 2nd largest consumer of water worldwide. Water waste is so much more due to the use of cotton which is a highly absorbent material.
- The fast fashion industry is also the second-largest water polluter with the release of untreated dye in the rivers, streams, and ditches. The micro-plastic pollution to the ocean is also magnanimous. Source: (Business Insider, McArthur Foundation)
Every time I wanted to talk about fast fashion, I got two responses. Either people weren’t interested in talking about it because many of them were consumers of fast fashion. Others concluded that we couldn’t do much about it. It was largely the responsibility of the Government and the factory owners.
Every time we fail to acknowledge our liability to the environment and the power of our good habits, businesses encouraging sustainable behavior to fail.
- Who made your clothes:
The fashion industry is notorious for lacking in transparency and relying heavily on workers who are exploited on a daily basis. For years, RMG owners have exploited their workers, either with minimum wages or with unsafe factory conditions. Celebrity owned clothing lines are a step ahead when it comes to abusing workers. Beyonce’s clothing line, Ivy Park, is all about female empowerment. But Ivy Park is abusing female workers half a world away. Beyonce’s Ivy Park apparel line is abused factory workers in Sri Lanka. The clothing line, which preaches female empowerment, is paying women approximately 54 cents an hour. As conscious consumers, we have the opportunity to ask the brands to take responsibility for their supply chain and the workers involved. When we become ignorant of the rights of the working class, big companies get another chance to demonstrate their show of inequality. Melinda Gates quotes in her book, ‘The Moment of Lift’ –
“In the universal desire to be happy, to develop our gifts, to contribute to others, to love and be loved- we are all the same. Nobody is better than anybody else, and no one’s happiness of human dignity matters more than anyone else’s.”
- What is in your clothes:
More than 60% of consumers aren’t aware of the materials their clothes are made of. Know what your clothes are made of. Try to avoid materials like polyester because the micro-plastics from polyester pollute the oceans. Polyester and viscose clothes are responsible for massive carbon emission. Opt for garments made from sustainable or recycled fibers, organic cotton, hemp, and linen with natural dyes. Also, armed with knowledge on common viscose fiber, you can look for items made from eco-viscose fibers instead. Many fashion labels are gradually moving towards the use of biodegradable fibers for their fashion lines. Aranya, Tripty Project, Apolic, Bhalo, etc. are some of the ethical fashion labels operating in Bangladesh.
- Waste less, recycle more:
Textile wastage is one of the highest in the world. In Bangladesh, annually, 500,000 tons of textile waste ends up in landfills. Fast fashion contributes well to this waste, with almost zero waste management initiatives.
Millennials are more likely to throw away clothes, unlike their older generation who would pass down clothes as heritage. The tradition of passing down clothes generation wise was not only intimate but also eco-friendly. Buy less and buy durable. But exactly what you need. Buy quality clothing and reuse them as much as you can. A simple example of recycling may be turning your mother’s old saree to a Kurti. Donate your clothes instead of throwing them. Many organizations collect old clothes and give them away to underprivileged people. Your conscious choice might as well help someone in need and be a small step in reducing textile waste.
- Normalize Second Hand Clothing:
Secondhand clothing is not a common concept in Bangladesh and I understand why. People have quality concerns as well as hygiene concerns. But second-hand clothing doesn’t necessarily mean that it is second best. Some businesses sell second-hand clothes which are in pristine condition. Wearing second-hand clothing instantly increases the life span of clothes, reduces the carbon footprint, and minimizes waste which goes into landfills. Choosing second-hand clothes also minimizes the use of resources and helps save money.
A conscious consumer is an agent who considers the social, economic, and ecological impacts of his/her purchase or boycott. Fashion and sustainability usually turn into a very sensitive discussion because people have a strong emotional association with their clothes. But with the increasing pollution and exploitation that the fashion industry poses, it’s incumbent for all consumers to be more vigilant while choosing their clothes. Your conscious choice and purchasing power are capable of driving social and ecological change. Every time you decide to spend your hard-earned money on a brand, you automatically make a decision regarding what kind of a world you choose to live in.
As Jane Goodall quotes:
”What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”