This is now the third post in my sustainability series. Before I have tackled the human cost of fast fashion more than the environment. This time I wanted to shift my focus onto that, briefly. Most of the information below was what I picked up at the EIFF talk on sustainability. I found the executive from Stella McCartney to be very informative and actually extremely interesting to listen to. I can’t pretend that I’ve ever really considered the environmental cost of fashion before that day so my mind has been opened. I always think of the humans first. However, if we keep ruining our planet there will be nowhere for the humans to live. Ah, science.
I think it is clear to everyone that the planet’s natural resources are scarce. In some areas, water is a luxury yet in the production of many clothing items, especially denim, massive quantities of the resource are used and then polluted as a result. So how can fashion respond to some of the harm that it does and turn that harm into good? It isn’t easy. However, I learned that Stella McCartney is a brand that is willing to put the time and effort into finding out how.
Basically, the idea of a circular economy needs to be further explored in order to make fashion more sustainable and less environmentally damaging. Promisingly, lots of the big brands already have officers in house to explore what brands can do to reduce their footprint and make things safer for all involved, although there seems to be more of a focus on the environment instead of the human costs.
I liked the idea of replanting the grass when sheep graze on fields. This was mentioned by the Stella executive. The sheep are sheared for their wool which eventually comes back and is made into a jumper and then is sold in retail stores. I liked this approach of going all the way back to the beginning. Instead of just exploring Tier 1 suppliers (the manufacturers) or even Tier 2 and 3 (like the textile suppliers and mills before that) Stella, as a brand, wants to go all the way back to the raw materials to make a difference. That was a cool fact to find out.
I also found out that some materials are harder to recycle than others. Cotton can be made back into cellulose, I think they said. But other fibres are often more difficult to reuse and recycle and until the technology is developed to make this possible. Obviously this will require a great deal of investment. Fortunately there are coalitions which focus on sustainability that may be able to make this possible eventually. There are also the corporate giants like Kering which owns Stella McCartney who provide the investment to allow brands to explore these issues in a way that smaller luxe brands may not be able to do.
Denim, white shirts, and t-shirts are all staples of our wardrobes but all harmful to make. The shirts are bleached, meaning the water is polluted. T-shirts just use a hell of a lot of water in the production process (think back to scarcity in some areas of the world). Denim is an obvious offender, but some techniques like sand washing are not only environmentally harmful but actually dangerous for the workers involved. They risk going blind. The more I have explored this topic, the more wary I have become. I feel helpless. I don’t know what I can do, or if there is anything that I can do, to help with this. If you look into it, almost everything that you’d want to wear causes some form of damage.
As consumers what can we do? I’ve thought about it and I concluded that recycling is key. If your old clothes are in a usable state, donate them to a charity shop. If you have old uniforms, there are specific companies who are interesting in reusing them. If they’re not in a wearable state, try donating to a textiles bank. Maybe something can be made out of them, even if it’s just dishrags. Reducing our consumption means that eventually the vicious fashion production cycle will slow down. I think that may be the crux of the matter.