The fashion industry is responsible for 8% of global climate pollution. Production costs are costly for the environment, but also, the buyer’s behaviour leads to lots of waste and overconsumption. The entire industry and the culture it encourages is just awful for the health of the world. Fast fashion is particularly terrible.
Right now, fast fashion companies are producing more garments than ever before, yet more and more pieces of clothing go underused than ever before. What’s worse, the textile industry is producing more harmful emissions a year than international flights. Think about that for a second, producing the fabrics we use today, harm the environment as much as taking a flight from Asia to Europe. Every piece of clothing you’re wearing has its own carbon footprint.
So, if we’re producing insane amounts of clothes and getting rid of an even bigger amount of pieces every year, the answer is simple, right? Why not just recycle?
Well, companies like H&M have started recycling initiatives, they repurpose clothes their customers no longer want. While that’s a great way to reduce waste it doesn’t really solve the problem created by high production costs, and even worse, recycling all those used garments also takes a lot of energy which means even more carbon emissions.
What About Sustainable Fashion?
If the biggest problem is the production, it makes sense to look into more eco-friendly fabrics, which is exactly what a lot of up-and-coming sustainable brands are doing. There’s Piñatex in Spain working with “fruit leathers” coming from pineapples, and its harvesting it’s way less damaging to the environment than animal leather. Regular chemical dyes that are harmful to the environment are also being replaced by more natural dyes.
Another approach within the ethical fashion movement is encouraging DIY with 3D printers. Proponents think in the near future we should all be buying 3D patterns rather than premade garments and then printing them ourselves. Pioneers like Danit Peleg is already offering designs online.
The problem is that none of these approaches will substitute the need for fast fashion anytime soon. Eco-friendly fabrics while ethical and conscious, are actually way more expensive than regular clothes which means it’s not something that the masses can depend on. The same thing happens with 3D printer plus we have to account for the energy use. Unless proponents are planning to install solar panels on every household, 3D printing is not a possibility for everyone and it will still use up a lot of energy, hardly an eco-friendly solution.
Sharing Might be the Answer
For a more ethical approach, we should be looking at a combination of plans for a solution that can be adapted by most people to help the environment, and for that, let’s look at the sharing economy. Eco-friendly fabrics will help the production costs, but they will do nothing to solve all the waste created by unwanted or underused garments that are already out there, for that we have fashion rentals.
In the past, fashion rentals were limited to gowns and men’s jackets but in the near future, it can work for anything from a pair of jeans to a regular tee. Already the are companies exploring the possibilities of an ownerless future in fashion. Rent the Runway has had a lot of success in America with their high-fashion rentals. While Girl Meets Dress offers a similar system in the UK. Mud Jeans are doing the same for people looking for eco-jeans in Europe.
These companies are in the beginning stages of the movement so there are limited sizing options and the prices might still be too high for them to be adopted by the general public (they don’t seem to be trying to, anyway), but approaches like that might very well be the future of really sustainable fashion.