Although people working in the industry and consumers have never thought about it, the apparel and fashion industry is one of the most earth polluting industries. Only recently, attention has shifted to an effort to shift consumer’s attention from overconsumption to sustainable purchases. Despite the fact the sector is criticized for vanity and a particular attention to financial results, there is now taking place a conscious effort from the industry to move on adopting green practices.
Making of clothing garments is a rather complex procedure and begins with the sourcing of raw materials destined to become textiles. There are two major categories of yarns produced for textiles:
Natural fabrics or fabrics that derive from natural fibres are correctly considered as more green or sustainable. However their production demands cultivation of fields and animal flocks. Cotton cultivation is perhaps the most important of all natural fibres and similar practices include flex that produces linen yarns and hemp. Wool on the other hand is the most popular yarn for making high end clothing and entire regions such as New Zealand and Kashmir in India have based their economy on wool production deriving from sheep races such as merinos and Kashmir goats.
Environmental footprint: Natural fabrics are generally sustainable but when issues such as overexploitation of the fields, unrestricted use of pesticides and fertilizers are addressed the environmental impact of natural fibres becomes more negative. Adding the dyeing methods used, the procedure produces chemical wastes that pollutes phreatic zones and natural resources such as rivers and fields. Organic wool and organic cotton are the 100% sustainable solutions and fabrics produced from organic fibres are usually certified GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) and most often follow a manufacturing procedure of restricted use of water that may equal up to 80% of reduction.
Synthetic fibres usually derive from petrochemical procedures as secondary products but may include plant derives and minerals. These include viscose, nylon and polyester - the latter is widely used in the clothing industry as the primary yarn - and have the ability to imitate natural yarns at a much lower cost.
Environmental footprint: Synthetic fabrics made from synthetic yarns are not environmentally friendly and generally are considered as non sustainable. The reason is that for their production is required fossil fuel extraction, making the clothing industry the second most polluting industry after oil extraction. Obviously, here the list is long considering that chemical derived textiles are unfriendly to skin while machine washing releases toxic wastes and microfibers that pollute water gateways. Furthermore, the production of synthetic materials accounts for an important share of methane emissions and release of toxins on earth. The latter takes place with the deposit in fields of a large number of unsold garments each year.
As one may think, these fibres are the result of blending natural yarns to synthetic ones ( Poly cotton/ Poly wool) or subject to plant extraction such as eucalyptus (Lyocell/Tencel). This is a common practice lately in an effort to maintain luxury traits of the fabrics providing performance characteristics required by many changing lifestyles and provide sustainable alternatives to the fashion. Textiles such as poly cotton, poly wool that are the blend of natural fibres such as cotton and wool with polyester.
Environmental footprint: These fabrics are generally considered green. The part of synthetic percentage usually comes from recycled materials such as plastic bottles for the case of recycled polyester and fishing nets for the case of recycled nylon, while cellulose fabrics that derive from renewable part of plants and usually manufactured under sustainable principles (water, dyeing methods etc)
A phenomenon made its appearance in the ‘90s and has culminated in the last ten years, the so-called fast fashion has certainly had an impact on textile waste excess. Over the last three decades, clothes have become a commodity and suddenly a number of product types became available to consumers at ridiculously low prices and infinite versions.
The globalisation has contributed to its growth by a number of reduced duty tariffs and an ever more easy outsourcing of manufacturing activities. Suddenly generations of young people have been addicted to everyday purchases of clothing garments that used once or never actually only to be thrown away later. Add to the equation the factor of earth’s exceeding population and you suddenly have an exploding equation. Only a few years before it was difficult to explain to consumers why some clothing garments cost more, understand their quality traits and sustainability standards applied during their manufacture.
Only recently, an expressed interest towards a green future has awakened, initially few people in the industry, and then consumers in order to search new viable ways to support fashion and the apparel industry. It became clear that clothing production should not be linked anymore to exploited labour conditions and toxic waste pollution. Young people are being engaged with an ever more interest in green fashion and look for brands with ethical business approaches to support. That has pushed big players in the fast fashion industry such as Inditex and H&M to review their supply chains and adapt to this new era.
Hopefully, this will not prove to be another marketing plan and sustainability should not be addressed as another trend, but a true interest to sustainable green practices for the apparel industry. Consumers will decide if this tendency will become viable as for their willingness to pay inevitably higher prices for their products. Buying less and better is essential.
What now becomes more critical than ever is a change of lifestyle for the societies. It’s urgent for people and businesses to return embracing quality and adopt sustainable practices in order to support communities and human welfare. Working in the apparel industry should guarantee everyone human living conditions and dignity. Wearing a clothing garment should not be a hazard for one’s health or a factor of pollution.
Welfare created in societies returns back as a form of investment. Buying less and better is the key towards a sustainable future for our lives.