Is sustainable fast-fashion a mitigated flop?
Updated: Feb 22, 2021
Last month and for the third year running glamour met sustainability at The Green Carpet Fashion Awards 2019. Fabulous I thought as I watched various high-profile celebrities wearing rented, vintage and ethically sourced outfits. Many of the celebrities wore outfits lined in organic cotton or 100% organic viscose and I spotted an Armani Prive dated 2004 which was said to be vintage, however, a 15-year-old dress is not vintage, still it is old and reused so perfectly placed on the green carpet.
Green intentions are good, although the fact of the matter is, it is difficult to source sustainable fashion and The Green Carpet Awards 2019 proved that as a lot of what people wore was not really sustainable, particularly some of the footwear, jewellery accessories that people wore. Reused or new Velvet pile is a super-charged, carbon-intensive two-layer warp and weft weave and like rayon, it absorbs and retains water so it can only be dry cleaned, yet another carbon-intensive, water, steam and Iron powered process. Granted it was no doubt difficult to source something appropriate for such an important environmental fashion event.
So what is fast-fashion and how is it manufactured?
Fast-fashion is fashion designs that are copied straight from the catwalk into factories and quickly manufactured to be sold in a retail shop. The manufacturing process behind how textiles are made is a carbon-intensive process that produces toxic greenhouse gases, high-levels of wastewater pollution and it encourages a wear-it-once-throw-it-away culture, with cheap fast-fashion being a major contender in the war against climate pollution and hazardous landfill.
Flow production fashion is manufactured by the millions in factories across the globe, whether a garment is made from cheap or expensive fabric the current process behind how textiles are made is much the same. Cotton, for example, is the world's most important natural fibre. It is cultivated in more than 50 countries using the following six-stage manufacturing process that is currently not sustainable;
Cultivating: a carbon-intensive cotton gin machine separates the seeds and removes trash
Harvesting: revolutionary carbon-intensive, weaving and mixing processes
Preparatory: ginning, bale-making, cleaning and transportation processes
Spinning: checking, folding and gassing machines (gas flames to remove loose ends)
Weaving or knitting: winding, warping, looming, weaving machines (spandex, lycra anything stretchy and synthetic like jerseys and T-shirts)
Finishing: resizing, scoring, shrinking, bleaching, mercerising, singeing (chemical washing process).
This six-stage textile production method from the 18th century has not changed since. So what do the advocates of The Green Carpet Awards 2019 mean when they say "We have made a fashion pact to make fashion clean and great again"?
In the 18th century the Industrial revolutionary transition changed transportation, communication and mechanical engineering methods forever. The steam engine, the railroad, the diesel engine, the sewing machine, the spinning loom, spinning mule and spinning jenny, spin-off, F-off.....sorry! Electric lights, the telephone and telegraph, the aeroplane, dynamite, the photograph and typewriter. The Industrial revolution is the reason corn picking become easier, cotton harvesting, crop rotation, hay cultivation, ploughing and milking an animal all became easier. Industrial machines used for plant and animal agriculture are much the same as carbon-intensive machinery used and approved in the fashion industry.
How do we improve and make sustainable fashion?
At the moment the process behind how global fast-fashion is manufactured is a mitigated flop. The fashion industry has never been green or great so it is misleading to say "let's make it great again!". The global flow produced fashion brands will change the language they use online and in-store, using words like 'green' or 'ethical' and they can replace cotton fibre with organic cotton fibre or thread but lets not beat around the green bush here, the fact of the matter is sustainable fashion is currently an utter failure.
So what are global fashion brands doing to environmentally improve their current manufacturing process and what can we as consumers do to help?
Adopt the rule of 4R; reduce, reuse, rethink and recycle - this rule applies across most, if not all consumption divisions (clothes, food, water, energy, transportation etc.)
Wash clothes on an Eco wash - A 20-degree wash takes longer, but colder water uses less energy.
Only wash clothes if they are dirty or smell - Washing something every time you wear it wastes your money and environmental energy resources.
Avoid wasting running tap water when we brush our teeth or shave - Two gallons of water per minute is wasted when people leave the tap running! Save water and feed your plants.
Always read the label - If you shop online and in-store read the product description (this saves time later) Why? Because returning an article has a negative environmental impact.
Understand the return policy - Returning an item online might appear to be FREE for the consumer albeit, transportation uses energy having a negative environmental impact.
Invest well - buy clothes that last a long time (4R).
Source independent brands who do not flow produce
Avoid the wear it once culture, do the complete opposite and wear it time and time again because this is what environmental conscious people do and if you work in the limelight give it away or up-cycle (4R).
Be mindful of singular waste consumption - It is hard to avoid, certainly if you are attending a music gig, or weekend festival so if it can't be avoided - bin it (4R).
Don't leave your house without an extra shopping tote bag - avoid plastic bags and if you have no option (4R).
Global fashion brands who aim to become greener have a humongous task ahead - what can they do:
Social changes within the supply chain - An out of sight, out of mind approach to flow production is NOT acceptable.
Brands should invest in updating manufacturing factories with solar panel roofs
They could reduce carbon-intensive processes by using colder water at the spinning stage(s)
Find alternatives to plastics
Reduce water temperature and consumption throughout the manufacturing process
Protect small sustainable businesses
Adopt the rule of 4R in areas where this is possible
Invest in innovative - this being truly ethically sustainable practises.
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