Jane Dunleavy of RED C writes about the growing importance of sustainable fashion within the wider fashion industry and why consumers need to embrace it.
Fashion. It’s the industry that’s always one step ahead of the game. Always pushing the boundaries, always innovating and always making us look good!
But there’s a problem.
The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. It’s responsible for huge amounts of waste, pollution, and car-bon emissions. In fact, the apparel industry uses enough fresh water to quench the thirst of 5 million people a year, produces 20% of global wastewater and has a carbon intensity that exceeds aviation and shipping combined. It’s also a major contributor to microplastic pollution in soil and water.
I am slightly worried. My concern lies with the impact of the practices and attitudes of people like my-self and others born in the 20th century. Not about the future generations’ actions, like my nieces and nephews who range in age from 2 to 13. I recently moderated focus groups where the topic of sustainability came up and with reference to changing their behaviour to become more sustainable, an Irish adult said: “what’s the point of me buying sustainably, it’s not like I’m going to make a difference. I’m just one person.” Keeping my biases aside, as we all do as researchers, I was screaming inside.
How are we going to save our beautiful planet if we all have that attitude? David Attenborough would be disgusted. However, this is not just one person’s view. In RED C’s most recent sustainability monitor, only 17% of Irish adults strongly agree that their personal actions could improve the environment, while only 8% strongly agree that they are seeking out products that are sustainably sourced/produced.
Putting my worries aside and looking at the future of sustainable fashion, fear not, my stylish friends, the future of sustainable fashion is here, and it’s looking pretty good.
So, what is the fashion industry doing to be more sustainable?
The fashion industry’s environmental footprint is primarily caused by materials, with synthetic petroleum-based fabrics accounting for 60-70% of clothing items. When these fabrics are washed, they release microplastics that end up in the soil, rivers, and oceans, where synthetic textiles make up over a third of all microplastics. To address this issue, fashion brands and material science companies are exploring alternatives such as biodegradable polyester and carbon capture to make products like eyeglasses. Luxury apparel companies are particularly focused on leather alternatives, including lab-grown or apple skin-based leather-like materials that offset carbon during their production.
Another area where the fashion industry is making strides towards sustainability is in production methods. Many brands are now using sustainable and ethical practices in their factories. This includes using renewable energy, reducing water usage, and improving working conditions for factory workers.
Perhaps the most exciting change in the fashion industry is the rise of circular fashion. This is the idea that clothes should be designed to be recycled or reused at the end of their life, rather than being sent to landfill. This means creating clothes that can be easily disassembled, using materials that can be re-cycled or composted and encouraging customers to return clothes for recycling or reuse.
One brand doing this exceptionally well is Patagonia. They have a “Worn Wear” program where customers can bring in their old Patagonia clothes to be repaired or repurposed. They also have a range of products made from recycled materials, like their Re\\Collection jackets made from 100% recycled down.
However, the future of sustainable fashion isn’t just about the industry making changes. It’s also about us as consumers making changes. We need to buy less, buy better quality and take care of our clothes so they last longer and we need to change our attitude. Although I am just one person in a world with nearly 8 billion people, I am committed to making changes in how I shop for fashion. If everyone were to follow suit, there is hope that the future may be a more positive one. We need to support sustainable brands and demand more from the brands that aren’t doing enough.
In conclusion, the future of sustainable fashion is looking bright. We’re seeing real changes in the industry and we have the power to drive even more change as consumers. So, let’s embrace sustainability and keep looking fabulous while we do it.
Jane Dunleavy is associate director of RED C