This month saw celebrities swarm into Manhattan for the annual Met Gala fundraising event – an event which is known for its A-list guests and flamboyant outfits and, which is eagerly covered by press from around the world. Although fashion is one of the world’s most lucrative industries, raking in a staggering $278.2 billion per year, it’s also one of the most harmful industries for our planet. In a world where clothing and soft furnishings have become more and more disposable, we’re seeing catastrophic damage to our environment through excessive use of water, wasted energy and, toxic chemicals being introduced into our waterways, killing wildlife and vegetation in massive amounts. Although there are now many initiatives worldwide to curb the production of plastic items such as straws and coffee cups; fabrics and textiles have, so far, been left largely untouched.
Responsibility is all the rage
In 2019, we can no longer ignore the very real damage caused to our planet by irresponsible manufacturing processes. One of the biggest couture culprits is polyester – popular due to the fact that it keeps its shape well and requires little or no ironing, polyester lasts well and dries quickly, making it an inexpensive and hugely convenient option for clothing. Unfortunately, that’s not good news for our planet. A man-made, petroleum based fabric, annual production of polyester uses over 70 barrels of oil, huge amounts of water and, twice the amount of energy as organic fabrics. As though that’s not bad enough, it’s not possible to color polyester with low impact or natural dyes which means even greater water consumption and toxic chemicals. The production of polyester also uses chemicals proven to be carcinogens which, when introduced to water can cause significant environmental damage. Most polyester is produced in countries such as China, Indonesia and Bangladesh which do not have the restrictions of other countries, meaning that air and water pollution is often discharged untreated, resulting in significant pollution and harm to communities. Polyester also contributes to microplastic pollution in our oceans with up to 1900 fibers released from just one garment during every wash.
Fashion forward thinking
Although we can’t completely eliminate waste from our textiles, we can choose more planet-friendly fabrics and more responsible methods of production. Unlike fabric dyes such as those used to color polyester, digital textile printing has a reasonably low impact on our planet’s resources.
It’s estimated that digital textile printing helped to save over 40 billion liters of water last year as well as using just 10% of the color pigment used in other methods. Used for a number of items such as clothing, furnishings and commercial branding such as banners and retail graphics, digital textile printing uses an inkjet printer to inject color directly onto fabrics, color which is then heat sealed so that the item can be washed.
Unlike other methods of introducing color, digital textile printing uses drastically lower volumes of water, energy and toxic chemicals to achieve the same effect, giving the customer the same great looking textiles whilst helping to secure our planet’s future. “At Cotton Bee, responsibility is at the heart of everything we do and we believe that it is the duty of fabric and clothing manufacturers to ensure that our environment doesn’t become a fashion victim” says one of the founders.
Dress for success
Other methods of creating a smaller footprint for the clothing industry include new ethical brands who ensure that all resources used in production are replaced and, also, the advent of clothing rental. Many enterprising fashionistas are setting up stores online and on the high street whereby customers can rent anything from a pair of jeans to a ball gown. Many of these storestarget travelers to encourage them to rent clothing at their destination rather than buying clothing and transporting it; all of which is harmful to the environment. Although it’s impractical to rent all of our clothing, we can help to reduce the environmental impact by simply looking at our buying choices in a new way.
Responsible role models
Although this year’s Met Gala raised an incredible $15 million for The Costume Institute, it was also responsible for the production of hundreds of yards of fabric created using toxic chemical dyes. As role models for many young people, it should, surely, fall to these celebrities to set an example on such an important issue.
Despite the fact that no compulsory regulation is, as yet, in place, many sectors of the textile industry are opting for voluntary certification which is increasingly recognized across the industry. Oeko-tex, GOTS, SEDEX are some of the creditations which now help to define supply chain transparency. Although these responsible manufacturers are doing a great job in leading the way, many do feel that the time has come for more stringent, obligatory measures. In a decade when new legislation has been introduced for many other industries, including the motor sector and the commercial transport sector, it’s only a matter of time before the waste and harmful chemicals used in textile production comes under the spotlight.
With recent reports stating that fashion is now the second largest source of pollution on our planet, it’s time that we all start thinking about our own contribution and, what we can do to improve.