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How polluting is the fashion industry?

By: Krishnakanth Pawar

Fashion means not only walks and red carpets. It is also about polluting, miserable working conditions.

fashion industry is one of the major polluting industries
Image Credits: Priscilla Du Preez /Unsplash

The fashion industry is one of the major polluting industries in the world. It produces a huge amount of carbon emission and also polluting oceans with microplastics. The production and distribution of the crops, fibers, and garments used in fashion all contribute more to air pollution including water, and soil pollution.

Many of those fibers are polyester, 2 to 3 times more carbon emission than cotton. Total greenhouse gas emissions related to textile production is equal to 1.2 billion tons annually.

The textile industry is the second greatest polluter of local freshwater in the world. Some of the main factors that contribute to this industrial caused pollution are the vast overproduction of fashion stuff, the use of synthetic fibers.

We like buying more variety of apparel as to look more adorable or to fill wardrobe but end up in using few. Of course, as the consumption level is increasing then the production level definitely increases. Those clothes contribute to resource pollution and waste pollution, due to the fact that most of these items will one day be thrown out and I have seen people burning with biomass heap.

People are consuming more than need and they want it for cheaper prices. And the companies producing these cheap items who are making a profit want the clothes as fast as possible, this creates a trend called ‘fast fashion’.

It enables speed in the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers. This fast-fashion leading to a greater impact on society as well as the environment.

‘Fast fashion production harms both the environment and the humans’

Saavi Garg, Alumni, National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) Bangalore, explains, ” Fast fashion production is said to cause harm all along the supply chain, including both the environment and the humans. There are many occupational hazards associated with the fashion industry such as the harsh chemicals used are said to cause skin problems, lung diseases due to poor ventilation, body aches due to unjustifiable working hours, just to name a few.”

She added, “Apart from physical health risks, the garment workers are subjected to mental trauma due to poor treatment, and women end up taking the most brunt since they make up for 80% of workers in the industry. As consumers, we need to educate ourselves and only support brands which are certified and have proven and strict ecological and social standards”

“In a utopian world of sustainable fashion that I imagine, circular fashion replaces over-production and there is minimal wastage. No animal or humans are harmed in the process of making clothes. Natural raw materials replace chemical ones and resources are used judiciously and with care. There are innovations like Pinatex, vegan leather and sportswear made out of PET bottles. There is no greenwashing by brands and they are fully transparent with their supply chains.”

“Fashion cycles are slower and people look for quality rather than every cheap trend on the block. Garments are a product of a continuous cycle between production and consumption. And a world of sustainable fashion is incomplete without including the role of consumers. Instead of giving in to our desire of buying every affordable top on the rack, we must behave with a conscience for the impact it creates on the future. When we buy a product of fast fashion, we indirectly give a signal to the brand, to produce more of it, which is not right. Hence, instead of being slaves to materialism, we need to develop a conscience for our impact on the future” Saavi adds about sustainable production.

During the dyeing process of clothes large amount of dye does not bind to fabric, lost in waste water stream directs to river which pollute and harms the ecosystem. Drinking and usage of such water in our daily purposes can even change colour of body tissues and growing crops also have severe impacts. As clothing comes with prolong contact with one’s skin. Toxic chemicals are absorbed when body becomes warm, pores in the skin open and allows it. This may results in having tumours.

  • Companies must show interest on innovative materials, manufacturing technologies, management systems, and business models that create value for both business and society
  • Sustainable consumer behaviour must be promoted through an increased focus on repair, customization, communication, campaigns, price mechanisms, labelling, and competitions.
  • Companies must start introducing various take-back systems, repair services, and recycling schemes.

‘Usage of more apparel causes an increase in pollution in air and water’

Another student, Sanjana Acharya, Student, Development Studies, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras says, “Usage of more apparel leads to wasteful usage of a lot of resources which goes into the production of unnecessarily large amounts of clothing goods. The burden of production of these goods falls on poorer countries like India, Bangladesh, Cambodia, where these companies make use of weakly enforced labor laws to allow for child and slave type labor in unsanitary conditions. Also, this causes an increase in pollution in our air and water bodies, further ruining our precious natural resources. All of this has a toll on people’s health, life quality, and country’s resource stock, which has negative impacts on the economy.”

Designers play a vital role in transforming the fashion industry. They can change the way for sustainable fashion, whether it concerns the introduction of new materials, changes in consumption patterns, or the development of recycling. Therefore, it is also positive that progressive design schools are now working hard to integrate sustainability into their training and education activities.

(The first-ever International Day for Clean Air and Blue Skies is on 7th September 2020. We’re collecting voices on issues such as air pollution, stubble burning, vehicular emissions, cycling from all parts of India. This is your chance to share your story with us!)

(The views expressed in the article are the author’s own. Let Me Breathe neither endorses nor is responsible for them.) 

    Krishnakanth Pawar

    Author is 17-year-old Environmentalist, Columnist, Poet and Photographer. Member of Fridays For Future Karnataka.

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