by Alice Beyer Schuch – Jun/2016
Recently Aurora Boreal (in Spanish) asked me to write about sustainable fashion. So here is part of it!
If you like eating fish pay attention on what you wear… Why? I will explain it.
The fashion industry is a giant evaluated in USD 3 trillion, which employs almost 60 million people around the globe. It is also one of the most resource intensive industries, and the second most polluting, only behind oil – discharging annually about 200.000 tons of chemicals into our rivers.
By the way! Fibre Nr.1 for textiles, the polyester, is a synthetic, non-renewable material, which takes centuries to decompose, sourced from oil. Alongside the high levels of energy requested during its production, polyester also makes use of high amounts of toxic chemicals – what reinforce the information that 20% of the industrial water contamination comes from the fashion industry. And even though synthetic materials are quite easy care from a user perspective – once it dries fast and does not require ironing – every time we wash them, an amount of microfibers are released into water streams, ending up on the oceans, where the marine fauna involuntarily eat them.
All this process causes environmental contamination as well as damages to the human health and life below water. So, to our fish as well…
Water pollution in Xintang area. Source: Greenpeace
In the other side, there is cotton – the second most produced fibre for the textile industry. Natural and renewable. Positive? Not exactly. With an annual production of 26 million tonnes, the conventional cotton plantation uses almost ¼ of the worse commercialized pesticides in the world, spreading it over more than 2% of the global arable land – causing among other problems, soil erosion. Just as example, a pair of jeans… It requires 13m2 of land, makes use of 3 Kg of toxic chemicals and more than 400MJ of energy – the same as a lamp turned on during 116 days, or in comparison to food energy, a piece of cake with 95500Kcal. Besides that, the annual cotton production consumes an astonishing 29 billion litres of water per HOUR. Only for our pair of jeans, more than 3500 litres are used, from plantation to retail – something around the water drank by a person along 5 whole years. And this water is discharged basically without any treatment. Here, again, cotton and the textile industry ‘supporting’ the contamination of water. And I will repeat. It affects human beings and the life below water, including our fish.
Art in crochet by Kate Jenkins: Red Mullet, Chips and Peas 2012
So what to do? What we, simple consumers could do? Because – even though you are not a fashionista or the sustainable topics do not interest you – according to social rules, there is no one who can be excused from the responsibility. Until where I know, all of us need to wear garments! But don’t worry! I am not suggesting that we should change drastically our wardrobes by sustainable options right now. What is done, is done! Let’s start a slow change, in our minds, in our consumption behaviour, in our relationship with clothes and the work behind it… Have in mind: if the situation would not be that critical, Greenpeace Detox Campaign would probably not push so intensively the industry towards zero hazardous discharges into water by 2020…
Fashion is destroying our environment… and even though you do not like fish, consider that your kids shall have the opportunity of trying it.
Some initial sustainable alternatives to be mentioned: take care of what you have, repair, reuse, exchange with friends, resale it, give garments a new life through redesign. The picture above shows a dress I’ve done from old T’s for a circular fashion project as an alternative to extend the use of textiles already available! And then, when you need something new, consider purchasing better options including sustainable issues in your check list.
Copenhagen and Youth Fashion Summit 2016, SEI Report: Ecological Footprint and Water Analysis of Cotton, Hemp and Polyester. 2005, TED talk with Christina Dean from Redress – You are what you wear, Statistics, Life Cycle Assessment , Close the loop, Plastic soup, and Greenpeace – http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/detox/.