Sustainable Fashion: Moving towards a greener future

Fast-changing, quickly discarded fashion has become a part of modern living. However, this one-dimensional way of viewing fashion has created huge environmental concerns and a need to diminish our fashion footprint on the ecology of the planet. Sustainable fashion has now become a global imperative.

The fashion industry is one of the main drivers of the global economy in terms of generated revenues, which is more than 1 trillion USD annually. Despite the creation of many jobs across the world, the fashion industry has environmental impacts that require a timely solution. In 2018, a report released by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe revealed that 20 % of global water waste and 10 % of global carbon emissions end up in landfills each year. Yet, 85 % of textile waste (21 billion tons) emanates from the fashion retail industry. Fashion retail is considered the second largest polluter of the planet, after the oil industry. By 2025 the number of consumers will double, leading to en exponential growth of demand for clothing and footwear products. Fast turnarounds in design, marketing and digital competition are driving consumers to discard garments faster than ever before. Over 500 billion USD of quickly discarded or unworn apparel is incinerated or sent to landfills to burden waste management systems.

The launch of the United Nations Partnership for Sustainable Fashion in New York in 2018 included a Digital Summit panel discussion titled Fashion for the Sustainable Development Goals. This important summit introduced technologies expected to herald in the change to green-fashion and create more jobs in this area.

The trick? When companies hold themselves accountable to the environment, consumers prefer to shop at their outlets. Avoiding the use of harmful substances like plastic microfibres, which contribute to oceanic pollution, and protecting workers from harmful chemicals like fabric dyes and tanning chemicals endears the consumer, and raises the eco-profile of retailers.

Circular fashion and the supply chain

The fashion industry loses a lot of value from the limited application of recycling technology and inefficient material use. Adopting circular economy principles can help to generate great financial value by increasing products that are either reused or recycled, which reduces the demand for scarce raw materials. Products previously used once are currently on resale in various outlets globally.

In circular fashion models, textiles are maintained at a high value during manufacturing and re-enter the economy afterwards i.e. are recycled completely. Using technology to design waste out of the system is the focus of a new, transparent supply chain.

Fashion For Conservation’s recent production of the Rainforest Runway debuted at the London Fashion Week in 2018, which featured the rainforest-inspired, zero-waste collections of René Garza and Kalikas Armour.

Shifting to Sustainable Materials

Some of the challenges facing the materials used in the fashion industry include a general increase in the price of new raw materials, lack of recyclability, and resource scarcity. Water-intensive fibers such as cotton increase the shortage of raw materials as their production is reducing with increased water scarcity. An increase in fossil fuels due to carbon taxes is making petrochemical products more expensive.

Companies in the apparel and fashion industry are turning to products that are more recyclable and less resource-dependent, such as lyocell made from wood pulp, which has less environmental impacts. Biotechnological innovations like laboratory-grown leather could have a significant impact on new, sustainable fashion business models. Laboratory-grown spider silk, prevents the impacts on land, water, and animals of traditional silk. British designer, Stella McCartney, has begun to use mushroom leather, in her bag collection. Modern Meadow creates vegan leather made from yeast cells.

Combined with eco-friendly supply chains, sustainable fashion is set to evolve into one with more financial gains and fewer environmental losses.

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