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  • Writer's pictureJudith van Dijk

Don't be into trends, don't let fashion own you!

Updated: Jun 24, 2020

If you google 'fashion industry and sustainability', chances are you will read it is the third most polluting industry on our planet. I wanted to find out just how true this statement really is.

Aside from dealing with the daily stuff that doesn’t have a lockdown time-out, I set myself the task to learn something new. Picking the subject ‘fashion and sustainability’ was a no brainer. I’ve loved the brilliance and variety of fashion for as long as I can remember.

Yet, it’s tugging at my conscience.

I feel that turning a blind eye, to the huge impact the fashion industry has on our ecosystem, for the sake of staying on trend is no longer ‘fashionable’.

So, to find out exactly how the fashion industry impacts our planet, I embarked on a mission to educate myself. It is not my intention that StyleCrowd is a blog that constantly pushes the facts under your noses. However, I do think it is important to set the tone and hopefully get us all thinking about consciously consuming.

Early 2019 the UNEP (United Nations Environmental Programme) launched the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion. Once again they highlighted some mind-blowing statistics on how ‘fashion’ affects air pollution, water pollution, biodiversity and waste. Most of this information comes from the 2017 report ‘A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashions Future’ by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. If you are looking for some more interesting reading during lockdown, look no further.

How bad is bad?

"Every year $500 billion of value is lost due to lack of recycling and clothing that is incinerated or thrown into landfill before ever being sold.

The fashion industry reportedly accounts for 10% of annual global carbon emissions, primarily through textile production. The method to create ‘fibre”, which comes either from a plant, animal or crude oil, is both energy consuming and highly polluting.

It’s not only production, such as burning fossil fuels to produce synthetic fibres (i.e. polyester) or pumping water to irrigate crops (i.e. cotton), that has massive effects on CO2 levels. Clothes washing and clothing waste compound the problem.

Adding to carbon emissions, the fashion industry is the second-biggest consumer of water and a major attributor to water pollution and water scarcity issues. It generates around 20 percent of the world’s wastewater and is one of the biggest culprits for plastic in our oceans. Through washing we annually release half a million tons of synthetic microfibres into our water system, the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles.

Then there’s the threat to biodiversity that it impacts through agricultural cultivation, harvesting and deforestation. There’s a move to reduce plastic-based materials to plant-based materials (cellulose fibres) which is good...

Cellulose fibres are organic but, are they good?

"150 million trees are logged annually in order to harvest wood to produce cellulose fibres for clothing. Laid end to end, these trees would reach around the world seven times".

Unfortunately solving the problem, as is the case with other polluting industries, is not that simple. Consumption in itself is a huge driving force behind production therefore simply replacing something such as synthetics with more organically cultivated textiles, as with cellulose, still has a profound effect on our environment. And, it’s not just the environment… The industry employs over 75 million people worldwide that rely on it and were it just to shut down it would cost them their livelihoods. The recent pandemic is but a small validation as to what effect that would have. For further reading on this have a look at Fashion Revolution’s article: The impact of COVID-19 on the people who make our clothes.

Finding out more, getting educated

Trying to get my head around the complexities of the SDG’s (Sustainable Development Goals), sustainable fashion and a move towards a more circular economy, I signed up for two very interesting courses on the FutureLearn platform. I highly recommend both for anyone interested in the future of fashion.

  • Fashion and Sustainability: Understanding Luxury Fashion in a Changing World (hosted by the London College of Fashion)

  • Fashions’s Future: The Sustainable Development Goals (hosted by Fashion Revolution).

The industry needs to change and with sustainability manifestos backed by the likes of Walpole and Kering and movements such as Fashion Revolution, the Global Fashion Agenda and Canopy just to name a few, it has no choice.

We are part of the solution

As consumers we need to become more educated. We need to make informed purchasing decisions and adapt our purchasing behaviour. We need to demand a move towards a circular economy in which global policies on sustainable deliverables are made and businesses held accountable.



ps. As I said earlier, I’m not going to harp on about the statistics - you can read up more on the organisations and documentations in the links provided. I would like to use StyleCrowd as a platform to share ideas on how we can enjoy the brilliance and variety of fashion and styling in a conscious and sustainable way respecting humanity and our environment. And, in the process using our wallets, our voices and our choices to affect change.

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