Why is it essential to incorporate sustainability throughout the entire clothing lifecycle?
Overall, our clothes have a massive impact on the environment — from harvesting raw materials through processing the fabric to cutting and sewing and then end of life. Fashion brands must consider each stage of the lifecycle and the alternatives to reduce that impact. For example, choosing a plant-based or natural fabric that’s free from toxic chemicals can return to the earth after it’s no longer wanted.
The emissions generated from manufacturing our clothes make up nearly 80 per cent of a garment throughout its lifecycle, so more attention needs to be paid to the facilities where our clothes are made — do they use renewable energy or coal? Do they have a wastewater treatment plan, or are they illegally dumping toxins into nearby waterways. And they need to make less clothing so that what they do make sells through and doesn’t end up going into the landfill. Brands need to adopt more circular business models such as repair and reuse as well.
What is fast fashion, and why is it problematic?
Fast fashion is like fast food. It’s cheap, accessible, and generally not good for us. Now we have ultra-fast fashion brands like Fashion Nova and Shein. The latter puts new styles out to the tune of 6,000 per day (to provide context, H&M and Zara put out hundreds of new styles each week). So things are only getting faster and cheaper, which is accelerating the waste problem. The more we buy of the cheap stuff that falls apart, the more quickly we dispose of it. There are 92 million tonnes of textile waste generated each year globally! The industry needs to slow down production, and we need to slow down our consumption.
What choices can consumers make to become more ethical with their fashion choices?
Number 1 is to stop buying new garments. Reduce is the most important of the three R’s because we simply buy too much stuff — 60 per cent more today than we did 20 years ago, and we keep them for half as long! When you must buy something new, make sure it’s made from sustainable materials and that the brand is transparent about the conditions it was made in.
Reusing our clothes through swaps, donations etc. is the next best thing we can do to keep our clothes in use for longer. Repairing our clothes also extends their life, as does taking better care of our garments — get to stains right away, only wash them when they’re really dirty, and put them away at the end of the day instead of tossing them on the floor. A rental is a great option when you have a special occasion and will likely only wear that item one or two times. Resell your clothes through various apps if you aren’t into donating them. And at the end of the day, never put any textiles in the garbage. Instead, donate to a large thrift store or charity and mark the bag “for recycling,” and it will be channelled through to the appropriate grader who can turn it into rags.
What do you think the future of fashion will look like? How will the industry change in the next five years?
Innovation and technology are huge drivers of sustainability, and I think this will only grow over the next five years — from traceability apps that allow a brand to find out where their clothes are made to bio-based materials. I also think circularity will play a much bigger role as more brands are starting to explore repair and resale business models.
How would you define responsible fashion? Why is it important and different?
Well, ultimately, it isn’t that different than sustainable fashion. But in some contexts, it refers to the people who make our clothes — also known as ethical fashion. This is clothing that was made by garment workers who are paid a living wage, who work in safe conditions, are protected from chemicals and noise pollution, and who are not forced to work for a garment factory.