Fashion houses like Primark or Boohoo tempt us with an array of newness, instead of encouraging us to wear our clothes for longer. Spare a thought, when you rush to buy new clothes in the January 2019 sales!
Our fashion trends are inspired by the fashion media, celebrities and leading fashion designers. We see fashion leaders wear readily available styles at low cost. It’s as if our self esteem, our social status and even our job security is at stake if we do not conform.
It is calculated that the earth cannot produce enough natural fibres to provide for the present-day demand for new clothes. There is evidence to prove that fast fashion is extremely bad for our health and the environment. Environmental corners are being cut, as the pressure increases to get designs from the catwalk to retail stores.
Criticisms of fast fashion include negative environmental impact, water pollution, the use of toxic chemicals, increasing levels of textile waste, child labour and poor working conditions.
Today, the textile industry, which uses on average six hundred dyes and chemicals for production of consumer textiles, is considered the most polluted of all industries. When moving to an environmentally-friendly lifestyle, one of the key elements to consider is eco-fashion. More about that later.
Cotton, although it creates beautiful things, is the most pesticide-intense crop in the world. Also, it takes up large proportions of agricultural land, much of which is needed by local people to grow their own food.
The bleaching, dyeing and finishing of wool causes pollution. Nylon and polyester is made from non-biodegradable petrochemicals. Rayon (viscose) is made from wood pulp, which, on the face of it, is sustainable but old-growth forests are often cleared and subsistence farmers are displaced to make way for pulp wood plantations. Tanning and dyeing of leather pollutes the environment and harms animals. PVC contains harmful solvents like glue.
In the case of workers rights, the concern for the environment is linked with the concern for humankind. Working conditions are often national and international scandals. After 1,100 people died in a garment factory in Bangladesh that collapsed six years ago, pressure has mounted on retailers to reveal their supply chain.
Animal exploitation includes intensive farming practices that damage the environment as a whole. See my post: Fur or against? Should the use of real fur be illegal?. Animal products used in clothing include fur, leather or silk (obtained by boiling or gassing to death tens of thousands of silk worms) and wool.
Leather-free shoes are available online from vegetarian and green shoe stores. However, vegetarian credentials can still include problematic leather substitutes, such as polyurethane, nylon and PVC.
Eco-fashion is about making clothes that take into account the environment, the health of consumers and the working conditions of people in the fashion industry. Eco-fashion clothes:
- Are made from organic raw materials i.e. silk, made by worms, fed on organic trees
- Don’t involve the use of harmful chemicals like bleach to colour fabrics
- Are often used from recycled and reused textiles.
- Can be made from recycled plastic bottles
- Are made to last so that we can keep them for longer
- Come from fair trade, so that the people who make them are paid a fair price and have decent working conditions
- Organic cotton – small-scale farmers in Africa change to farmer-centred systems that use less pesticides or eliminate them completely
- Jute – 100% bio-degradable and thus environment-friendly. Jute is available in abundance in India at competitive prices. It is characterised by its silky texture, high tensile strength and resistance to heat
- Tencel is a natural, man-made fibre. It has many qualities similar to synthetics, but is made of natural cellulose found in wood pulp, making it biodegradable.
- Milk fibre – made from casein, a milk protein fibre. This could make use of the two million tonnes of surplus milk that are discarded in Germany alone.
- Joy silk
- Ingeo corn fibre
- Fortrel Ecospun
- Milk silk
Times are changing. Fashion is less restrictive now than for previous generations, and this may be an area in your life where you could help to influence changes. The influence of the Internet, bloggers and social media, means that we can learn ways to revise and re-purpose our clothes in inventive ways.
So, ask yourself- do you really, really want it?