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It’s time to slow down and make our wardrobes sustainable

Among the list of most ener­gy con­sum­ing indus­tries, fash­ion indus­try ranks in the top three after oil and paper. Ms. Sand­hya Shekar writes about the impor­tance of slow fash­ion and how it is good for the plan­et.

While the year flew in the bat of an eye­lid, it’s time to slow down and look back at some of the prac­tices affect­ing our plan­et. 2019 has seen a surge in the aware­ness of man-made glob­al warm­ing and means to reduce the car­bon foot­print, but we have bare­ly scratched the sur­face. Among the list of most ener­gy con­sum­ing indus­tries, fash­ion indus­try ranks in the top three after oil and paper. Fash­ion indus­try is a thirsty busi­ness and relies heav­i­ly on water at var­i­ous stages of its pro­duc­tion. 90% of waste water from the tex­tile indus­tries con­tain­ing tox­ins such as lead, mer­cury, arsenic etc. are dumped into water bod­ies with­out being treat­ed, con­tribut­ing to 20% of indus­tri­al water pol­lu­tion. In addi­tion, it takes at least 20,000 liters of water to pro­duce 1 kg of mate­ri­als like cot­ton. In coun­tries where there is already a scarci­ty of water, 85% of the dai­ly use of water can be cov­ered by the water used to cul­ti­vate cot­ton. Clothes indeed sep­a­rate us from ani­mals, but at what cost? To keep up with high­er demands and ever chang­ing trends, these fast mov­ing cheap clothes are usu­al­ly import­ed from third world coun­tries where work­ers (most­ly women) are made to toil for close to four­teen hours a day in poor work­ing con­di­tions for a pay less than $4 a day. Cot­ton indus­tries often employ child labour to pick cot­ton. Although these serve as employ­ment options to over­come pover­ty, the work­ers and chil­dren are sub­ject­ed to harm­ful work­ing con­di­tions affect­ing their over­all health and gen­er­al well being. So, how can we reduce the load on the plan­et, remain eth­i­cal and be trendy at the same time? Enter, slow fash­ion.

What is slow fashion?

Slow fash­ion, an ana­log of slow food, advo­cates prin­ci­ples such as good qual­i­ty, longevi­ty, clean envi­ron­ment and fair­ness to both con­sumers and pro­duc­ers. Fast fash­ion, on the oth­er hand, are the designs that move quick­ly from cat­walk to con­sumers at cheap­er rates and in large quan­ti­ties made from syn­thet­ic fibers. Every­time a syn­thet­ic gar­ment is washed, about 1,900 microfibers are released into the water that ends up in oceans and into the bod­ies of fish and oth­er aquat­ic crea­tures. They also take about 200 years to decom­pose. Slow fash­ion which is part of the sus­tain­able fash­ion move­ment, con­sists of durable prod­ucts made using tra­di­tion­al pro­duc­tion and tech­niques, time-less and sea­son-less designs that are not mass man­u­fac­tured. Slow fash­ion ben­e­fits con­sumers, pro­duc­ers and the envi­ron­ment. It encour­ages the employ­ment of local design­ers, labour­ers and man­u­fac­tur­ers there­by increas­ing their wages and job oppor­tu­ni­ties. Con­sumers get high qual­i­ty and durable prod­ucts made of sus­tain­able and envi­ron­men­tal friend­ly mate­ri­als. From an envi­ron­men­tal point of view, the clothes lasts long, can be eas­i­ly recy­cled with­out the use of tox­ins and do not end up in land­fill.

The above graph­ic effec­tive­ly por­trays how slow fash­ion is an amal­ga­ma­tion of eth­i­cal, eco and last­ing fash­ion. Eth­i­cal fash­ion ensures that local design­ers, artists and labour­ers are employed pro­vid­ing them equal oppor­tu­ni­ties and fair pay rates, and may also refrain from using ani­mal prod­ucts while mak­ing appar­els. The man­u­fac­tur­ers are trans­par­ent about the pro­ce­dures and the labour­ers involved in the mak­ing of their prod­ucts. Eco fash­ion con­cerns the impact of pro­duc­tion on the envi­ron­ment such as using local­ly avail­able mate­ri­als rather than import­ing, sus­tain­able mate­ri­als, reclaimed fab­ric, recy­cled and vin­tage pieces. Last­ing fash­ion, as the name sug­gests, are prod­ucts made of high-qual­i­ty mate­ri­als to increase longevi­ty there­by reduc­ing con­sump­tion rate.

Materials used

Organ­ic cot­ton, cer­ti­fied by Glob­al Organ­ic Tex­tile Stan­dard (GOTS) has replaced con­ven­tion­al cot­ton there­by reduc­ing the load on water con­sump­tion. Recy­cled poly­ester and nylon have replaced syn­thet­ic polyester(derived from petro­le­um) and Pina­tex, fine fibers from pineap­ple leaves has replaced con­ven­tion­al leather. Cash­mere, obtained from Cash­mere or Pash­mi­na goats are linked to over-farm­ing of these goats caus­ing over­graz­ing lead­ing to severe degra­da­tion and even­tu­al defor­esta­tion (as these goats pull the grass from its roots pre­vent­ing regrowth). How­ev­er, Alpaca wool from Alpaca fleece are con­sid­ered an effec­tive alter­na­tive as they pro­duce more wool, con­sume lit­tle water and food, and do not uproot the grass while graz­ing. Linen, derived from the flax plant, is a strong, long-last­ing mate­r­i­al that uses less resources and pes­ti­cides as it can grow on low-qual­i­ty soil unfit for crop cul­ti­va­tion. Kha­di, which has been promi­nent since time immemo­r­i­al is a key to sus­tain­able fash­ion and also to the coun­try’s econ­o­my (espe­cial­ly in India). Oth­er futur­is­tic and inno­v­a­tive fab­rics include Ten­cel, Econyl, Qmonos etc.

Circular fashion

Anoth­er alarm­ing trend that needs to be brought into sus­tain­able fash­ion is “cir­cu­lar fash­ion,” to elim­i­nate waste and encour­age restora­tion.

In this mod­el, the mate­ri­als flow in a cir­cu­lar fash­ion than in a straight line there­by effi­cient­ly recir­cu­lat­ing the raw mate­ri­als to pro­duce new goods rather than get­ting dis­card­ed in land­fill. The fash­ion indus­try must rein­vent itself to imple­ment this mod­el by com­ing up with new and effec­tive meth­ods to use bet­ter recy­clables mate­ri­als, designs dyes, cut and sew them. This mod­el could also help make sus­tain­able cloth­ing afford­able as cost still remains a cru­cial fac­tor for mak­ing the shift. As sus­tain­able cloth­ing are made to last for years and endure var­ied wash­ing practices,they are made of high-qual­i­ty mate­ri­als and hence are more expen­sive to cre­ate. The costs also shoot up as the prod­ucts are man­u­fac­tured in small­er quan­ti­ties and most of the design­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing involve man­u­al labour as opposed to it’s fast mov­ing coun­ter­part. Hence slow fash­ion is con­sid­ered a shift in the mind­set rather than a prac­tice. The high­er the demand of sus­tain­able and slow fash­ion, the cheap­er they become, mak­ing them main­stream. Draw­ing the exam­ple from the organ­ic food indus­try, con­sumers paid a pre­mi­um of 9% in 2014 which reduced to 7.5% in 2018, as most of the cer­ti­fied organ­ic food prod­ucts increased in demand and became main­stream over a span of four years.

Rental fash­ion sites have become increas­ing­ly pop­u­lar in the West­ern coun­tries and are gain­ing momen­tum in the Asian coun­tries. One can rent clothes via an app and return them with­in the agreed time for a price, as sim­ple as book­ing a house on Airbnb or a cab on Uber.

It’s time we made con­scious efforts in chang­ing our mind­set and our prac­tices. A Weight Watcher’s sur­vey showed that 55% of clothes in an aver­age woman’s wardrobe and 45% of a man’s wardrobe are nev­er worn and about 11% of them refuse to give away redun­dant clothes. Fast fash­ion stems from the cliched “noth­ing to wear” atti­tude. We are in con­stant seek of cheap nov­el­ties and the indus­tries cater to our needs. Next time, look for local and sus­tain­able cloth­ing options online or in your local malls and bou­tiques before mak­ing a pur­chase. Ana­lyze and recon­sid­er the need for buy­ing new clothes if your clos­et is filled to the brim.Choose qual­i­ty over quan­ti­ty and do not hes­i­tate to ques­tion or read about the brand’s man­u­fac­tur­ing process­es and the labour involved. If we as con­sumers cre­ate a snow­ball effect of slow fash­ion prac­tices, all the major brands will be forced to man­u­fac­ture sus­tain­able prod­ucts and make them main­stream and afford­able. This is a small price to pay for a bet­ter envi­ron­ment.

As an addi­tion­al read­ing do check­out this won­der­ful guide on Sus­tain­able Fab­rics at

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