September is traditionally a fashion month and for this year, the last stop was Paris. Designers showcased their creations sprinkled among the historical landmarks and French manicured gardens. What definitely caught our attention was Louis Vuitton fashion show. But not because of the trends they presented. On October 5th, a protester disrupted the show by walking down the catwalk with a banner condemning the impact of excessive consumption on the environment.
And it is a fact that clothes, footwear and household textiles are responsible for water pollution, greenhouse gas emission and landfill. The global fashion industry is a large contributor to the climate crisis and reducing its impact is a necessity like any other. It is estimated that fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emission – more than international flights and maritime shipping combined!
At the same time it takes a lot of water to produce textile, plus land to grow cotton and other fibers. To make a single T-shirt 2.700 liters of fresh water are required according to estimates, enough to meet one person’s drinking needs for 2.5 years. Textile production is to be responsible for about 20% of global clean water pollution from dyeing and finishing products. Washing synthetics releases an estimated of 0.5 million tons of microplastics into the ocean a year, while washing synthetic clothes accounts for 35% of primary microplastic release into the environment.
And then, the way people are getting rid of unwanted clothes has also changed, with items being thrown away rather than donated. Since 1996, the amount of clothes bought in the EU per person has increased by 40% following a sharp fall in prices, which has reduced the life span of clothing. Europeans use nearly 26 kilos of textile and discard about 11 of them every year. Used clothes can be exported outside of the EU, but are mostly (87%) incinerated or landfilled. At the same time globally less than 1% of clothes are recycled as clothing, partly due to inadequate technology.
The harmful impact of the sector to the environment will be addressed to the United Nations Climate Change Conference – or COP26 – in Glasgow later this month and hopefully more action plans will emerge. For the time being two things are for sure: 1. The past year will go down in history as one of the most challenging for the fashion industry on record, marked by declining sales, shifting customer behavior and disrupted supply chains. 2. Pressures to initiate actions towards a more climate friendly approach are more than ever exerted and fashion leaders have to react.
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