Fashion Forward: Big Responsibility for Big Business

It can no longer be ignored that the fashion industry is having a huge impact on the environment. The second most polluting industry in the world, the fashion industry is overloading landfills with textile waste and threatening the environment with toxic chemicals. And just as it pollutes, the industry depletes vital resources of water and oil. Consumers bear a big responsibility to respond to this crisis and change their habits. But they’re not the only ones; there’s also an urgent need for big businesses to change the way they operate too. 

The way we see waste needs to be radically redefined. For most of us, if it’s not perfect, we discard it, which adds to the volume of textiles being thrown into landfills. Big businesses are at the heart of this problem, many regarding waste as a problem that they can’t fix. But Dr Whitty, senior lecturer of fashion design at Massey University and director of social enterprise Space Between, say that businesses need to start thinking of waste as a resource. Damaged textiles can be down-cycled into fibres that can then be re-spun into yarn and given new life. Similarly, Space Between is committed to upcycling techniques that repurpose damaged garments and clothing scraps into wearable items. “Slow fashion methods are important as they allow for us as producers and consumers to pause, to stray outside the dominant paradigm of speed and to reflect,” says Dr Whitty.
In Los Angeles, clothing brand Christy Dawn collects textile scraps, which would normally go into landfill, from large fashion houses and upcycles them into beautiful dresses. Not only does this drastically reduce pollution and waste, it means buyers purchase unique items because often there is only enough of a certain print to make two or three dresses. Locally, businesses such as Smoove Reworked Vintage are repurposing old clothing into retro dresses and skirts to give garments a new life.
Founder and creative director of Kowtow, Gosia Piatek, says a designer’s responsibility shouldn’t end once a sale has been made: “We as designers and makers need to create ways to help consumers responsibly dispose of their unwanted goods.” In line with this mode of thought, H&M has created an in-store recycling service for its customers.“If you don’t want a piece of clothing anymore you recycle it or give it to charity,” urges Ann- Sofie Johansson, creative advisor for H&M.
To help consumers make smart shopping choices, fashion manufacturers should be more transparent about their goals and the impact they have on the environment. For Piatek, transparency is essential to the Kowtow brand. “We are committed to transparency, screening and innovation,” she says. “This includes the paper we use and coffee we drink in the workroom and, most recently, all the materials used within our flagship store.”
Brands looking to improve transparency can look to the Higg Index, a score-based system that helps them measure and track their sustainability. While only in its infancy, Anna Gedda, head of sustainability for H&M, believes the Higg Index will make it easier for consumers to identify sustainable brands, too. “It’s like a map,” she says. “And it will be easy for brands to see how they increase their score. It will show them exactly what they need to do.”
Basically, there is plenty big businesses can do to reduce their environmental impact. To find out more about how you can reduce your waste as a consumer, click here.

Forward Fashion: The Alarming Truth About Textile Waste

The real cost of the fashion industry’s impact on the environment can no longer be ignored. As the dark reality of climate change threatens our planet’s future, it falls not just on the manufacturers producing fast fashion, but the people buying it, to change.

When was the last time you looked at the fabric composition of a garment before buying it? Have you thrown out clothing after only wearing it once – or never at all? The fashion industry is the second most polluting in the world, with textile waste overloading landfill, and toxic chemicals threatening the environment. And just as it pollutes, the industry depletes vital resources of water and oil.

There’s no denying that the situation is a bad one, and we need to start reacting to this crisis, fast.

Dr Jennifer Whitty, senior lecturer of fashion design at Massey University and director of social enterprise Space Between, says the connection between the fashion industry and pollution cannot be understated. The most common fashion fibre, polyester, comes from the same fossil fuels our petrol comes from, and, brace yourself, it takes 200 years to break down. If that makes your tummy feel rather nervous then how about the fact that plastic microfibres shed from our synthetic clothing into water supplies account for 85 per cent of the human-made material found on ocean shores? It’s not bad, it’s dire. These don’t just threaten marine wildlife, they also end up in our food supply.

So why do we live in a society where buying and throwing away fashion is acceptable? A 2017 study by Australian organisation YouGov revealed that three in 10 Australians threw away clothing after just one wear, and four in 10 admitted to throwing unwanted clothing in the rubbish. So why are we behaving like this? Usually, because the clothing no longer fits and we’re in desperate need to make space in our wardrobe to accommodate our out-of-control spending habits. Between 2000 and 2014, the number of garments purchased by the average person increased by 60 per cent, and 38 per cent of millennials said they bought more than half of their entire wardrobe in the last year.

We’re constantly slammed from every angle with new styles and trends, beckoning us to add to our already-stuffed wardrobes. If we care about reducing the impact of the fashion industry on the environment, an industry-consumer shift to sustainable production methods and user processes is essential. So how do we get to a place where the majority of fashion available is sustainable or, as Dr Margo Barton, professor of fashion at the Otago Polytechnic and iD fashion creative director and chair, calls it, “fashion that hasn’t, and won’t, hurt people or the planet”?

First and foremost, the industry must change. Major fashion brands need to lead the transition to a more environmentally friendly way of manufacturing that departs from the fast-fashion concept. There are plenty of ways to do this, including using organic cottons and linens, recycled plastic fibres, plant-based dyes and recyclable packaging. For example, local brand Kowtow only uses Fairtrade-certified cotton, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) approved inks and dyes, sustainably-sourced trims and 100 per cent recyclable packaging.

Founder and creative director Gosia Piatek says the decision to create a sustainable, ethical fashion brand was a no-brainer. “I wanted to do something where people were getting rewarded fairly for what they do,” she explains. “The more I got into it, I realised that ethics and sustainability go hand in hand.”

The responsibility of reducing waste is therefore on both the manufacturer and the consumer. Find out about the role of big businesses in this crisis and what they should be doing to play there part by clicking here. To find out more about what you as a consumer can do, click here.