The fashion and textile industry is the second most polluting industry in the world next to oil. Our planet and its resources are threatened in every stage of a garment’s life, as well as during the processes that take place beforehand. Cotton irrigation alone uses an insane amount of water – 73% of global cotton harvest comes from irrigated lands, and cotton covers almost 3% of the world’s crop land. In fact, there are very few places, like Brazil, that cotton can depend mostly on rain water for harvest. The apparel and textile industry is responsible for an estimated 17-20% of industrial water pollution, used during dying and treatment processes alone. Around 8,000 synthetic chemicals are used throughout the world to turn raw materials into textiles, many of which will be released into freshwater sources. In another post, we talked about alternatives to cotton, and what other materials we can begin to use that are less harmful to the environment. The first step to implementing these changes and accepting other options, is to educate our communities and each other on the alternatives to make them known.
Considering that consumerism rates have only grown and will keep growing most likely, it is time to start looking at large scale solutions that can impact the industry for the better. One of these major changes needs to be geared towards the future leaders in fashion to be more knowledgeable in the garments and textiles they are designing and developing, with a conscious effort to choose materials and processes that are less harmful to the environment and the economy as a whole. Just passing three years since over a thousand workers lost their lives in Rana Plaza, not much has actually changed within the industry. Nearly all of the emphasis has been put on large brands to lead some sort of transition to a clean, safe, and equitable industry, but most have done nothing more than focus on the most easily achievable and marketable issues: detoxifying cotton, using non-toxic dyes, and recycling unwanted clothes – all of which are hardly pats on the back, seeing how these things were impressive over ten years ago . What is truly needed today is a complete re-imaging of a flawed business system and supply chain, and a focus on newer methods and materials. The time is now to stop thinking about how many different ways we can produce cotton, when all are unsustainable considering the resources at hand. Now is the time to focus on these other alternatives and change things up. We need leaders who understand this.
In order to achieve the real changes in fashion that are needed, we need to start at the bottom and work our way up. We have already seen what these big companies are doing to fix the problems, or lack thereof, so why not focus our energy on the future leaders of tomorrow to make more sustainable choices for the planet as a whole? When looking at the top fashion schools in the United States, and the world, only a fraction of them even teach some sort of sustainable materials curriculum – and of the ones that do, it is hardly more than one class. It seems most of the colleges and universities are focused on teaching about trends and following them, not making your own. There is some curriculum about sourcing materials and learning about the processes behind them, but it was at less than a handful of the top schools in the world. Only two of the top ten in the United States alone had curriculum with any sort of sustainable practices included, with a focus on researching these things before selecting fabrics and supply chains. As you can see, the problem might not start in education, but education can certainly lend a hand in how we can begin on the right path to a newer, less harmful fashion industry.