Leading clothing manufacturers are searching for a compromise between the speed of product creation and business profitability on the one hand, and customers’ demand for environmentally friendly products, and the growing threats to the environment on the other.

The fashion industry is ripe with a conflict between consumers’ wallets and their conscience. Citizens have become accustomed to mass-market, from the emergence of Zara and H&M to brands such as Boohoo, and are now updating their closets quickly and cheaply.

However, because the textile sector can create major environmental damage, customers have a rising desire to harm the earth as little as possible with such behavior. Clothing manufacturers are now attempting to align fashion with the ideas of a sustainable economy. And now journalists and writers from Essaypay will have something to think about: Is green really the new black now?

What is sustainable fashion?

It’s a movement focused on making clothing more environmentally friendly by altering the design, manufacture, distribution and disposal processes. The goal is to move away from “quick fashion” ideas, which involve the rapid creation of apparel, which is not always inexpensive. Because of the ever-changing tastes and trends, buyers have a disposable attitude toward such items, which necessitates quickness. There’s also the subject of animal welfare, as well as the industry’s social responsibility. The latter is concerned with the fight against child labor and bad working conditions in developing countries.

How does clothing harm the environment?

Considering that global clothing production has risen in the last 15 years, the textile industry’s CO2 emissions have surpassed the combined emissions of shipping and international flight. 

Cotton and polyester account for 85 % of the raw materials used in clothing production, and both of these products are far from environmentally friendly. Polyester, for example, is manufactured from crude oil, which can result in harmful leaks and damage to the environment. Polyester is not biodegradable in general. The fabric is also colored using chemical dyes, which damage groundwater supplies. Cotton takes a lot of water and insecticides to grow. Growing cotton for one T-shirt requires 2.7 thousand liters of water – the amount a person needs for three years of life. Of course, some companies use organic cotton grown without the use of pesticides, but it is only 1% of the world’s crop, and such cotton requires no less water.

What role do consumers play here?

People are buying more clothes and keeping fewer of them. For example, in Europe, the average number of times an item of clothing is worn fell from 200 times in 2000 to 160 times in 2015. When washed, polyester and nylon products release tiny fibers that contaminate wastewater and eventually the oceans. While it was the demand for cheap clothes that drove the fashion industry to develop in this way, the situation is now changing. According to research in the United Kingdom, about half of consumers are concerned about how their clothes are created. This figure approaches 60% among young persons under the age of 24.

What are companies doing?

Two years ago, 94 companies representing a combined 12.5% of the fashion market signed the Global Fashion Agenda 2020 agreement. According to it, each company has its own set of goals, but the typical ones are to save water, make environmentally friendly fibers, and develop innovative recycling techniques. Some companies have their own programs.

So, Adidas has promised to use only recycled plastic by 2024. H&M plans to switch completely to the use of recycled and other environmentally friendly materials by 2030. PVH, the owner of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger brands, intends to use raw materials only from environmentally friendly sources: for cotton and viscose by 2025, for polyester by 2030. Urban Outfitters has launched a women’s clothing rental service in the United States. Prada has promised to replace all the current nylon with more environmentally friendly materials, such as synthetics made from recycled plastic caught in the oceans.

Furthermore, Prada recently followed the example of Burberry and Gucci in forbidding animal fur on the catwalks.

Most recently, fashion companies are putting their efforts into decreasing their digital ad emissions as well.

Is it reasonable to say that the ice has already broken?

Not yet. The implementation of new techniques will not be enough to offset the industry’s rapid expansion, which is expected to exceed 100 million tons of footwear and clothes purchased annually by 2030. According to the same Global Fashion Agenda, the fashion sector is still far from reaching the UN’s sustainable development goals without significant and systemic changes.

And the fast fashion business isn’t slowing down any time soon.. For example, in India, the partner of the Spanish Inditex for the development of the Zara network in the country, the Tata Group holding, is building its own textile empire, promising consumers “super fast fashion” – 12 days between the catwalk and the counter, and even at a lower price.

What about unclaimed products?

It is believed that one dump truck of textiles is dumped or burned every second around the world. Only 1% of tailoring materials are recycled. Even some environmentally friendly businesses are destroying unclaimed clothing worth millions of dollars.

Last fall, Burberry pledged to stop the destruction of such goods. In return, the company began to increase sales of clothing to its own employees, donate unsold goods to firms that make new things from leather scraps and even donate clothes to low-income people to dress up for interviews.

For its part, H&M assures that they destroy clothing only if it does not meet safety standards and is unsuitable for sale, recycling, or donation to charity. And if H&M does burn items, it does so at only one power plant in Sweden, which is currently lowering its use of fossil fuels.

And what do the authorities of different countries do?

As part of its presidency of the G7, France (by the way, home to many popular brands) is now spearheading the fashion industry’s transformation toward greater environmental responsibility. The Frenchman François-Henri Pinault, CEO of the Kering holding, which includes Balenciaga, Brioni, Gucci, and Yves Saint Laurent, is coordinating the industry’s efforts to reduce its impact on the environment.

In addition, in the EU, manufacturers will have to adapt to the new rules approved by the European Parliament. The goal is to recycle at least 55% of municipal waste by 2025 and send no more than 10% to landfills by 2035.

However, a number of suggestions aimed at limiting “disposable fashion,” such as a complete ban on clothing burning, were rejected by British authorities. In the United States, however, customs regulations inadvertently force companies to burn unclaimed imported clothing in exchange for a refund of duties paid.

Finally, there is a distinct lack of regulations around the world to make the use of dyes a more transparent process. Without this, assessing the real impact of the textile industry on nature is problematic.