Cheap clothes are at the expense of the planet Clothes shopping today has become more exciting – it is easily available and, best of all, it is also cheaper in price compared to two decades ago.
The fast moving fashion industry only encouraged the trend of purchasing for quantity rather than quality.
But many do not realise that the glut of clothing today does not make holes in their pockets because it is at the expense of the environment.
Malaysiaâs Coordinator for Fashion Revolution Sasibai Kimis said consumersâ insatiable demand for the latest trends has come at an environmental cost, an alarming trend which needs to be reversed.
Fashion Revolution is a global movement advocating ethical and fair fashion.
In an interview published by a local English daily recently, Sasibai said clothing production has doubled from 2000 to 2014 and 100 billion garments are made every year, 13 times the global population.
It sounds like a booming business, but at the same time the damage to the environment is also at a similar rate.
According to Sasibai, it is the second largest industrial polluter, second only to oil, polluting freshwater resources and contributing about 3% to the global production of carbon dioxide emissions.
Sasibai is also a social entrepreneur who started the luxury craftsmanship brand Earth Heir in 2013, which aims to preserve the disappearing heritage art forms in Malaysia.
Along with other local designers and social entrepreneurs, Sasibai champions robust ethical and sustainable standards in the industry, which are defined by these important elements: people, materials, the environment, and the end-to-end supply chain.
âThere should be an urgent return to the low-volume method of fashion consumption that values high-quality, good-value products over cheap, throwaway ones,â said Sasibai at the Fashion Revolution Week event in Kuala Lumpur in April.
Do you know what your clothes are made of? Sasibai spoke on the lack of awareness in people who do not care about how their garments were produced.
âWe need to ask questions like âWho made my clothes?â and âHow is fashion impacting our planet and people?ââ She pointed out that fast-moving fashion trends have caused this, through the high volume and low-cost model utilised by the fashion industry to produce garments.
Shoppers respond to lower prices and new trends, and these companies expedite the variety of clothing on the market as quickly and cheaply as possible.
This addiction has taken a toll on the environment.
Many are unaware that a piece of clothing that ends up on a store shelf has gone through a long and complicated journey.
It involves various supply chains of production, harvesting and processing of raw materials, manufacturing of textiles and garments, shipping, sales, usage, and disposal of the clothing.
For example, to produce just one pair of denim jeans (the most widely used garment in the world) requires close to four litres of water and energy equivalent to leaving the computer on for 556 hours.
And the carbon footprint of making one T-shirt is approximately 15kg.
Apart from the abundant resource consumption leading to freshwater shortages and high energy use, a huge amount of chemicals are used globally in textile industries.
In countries that are involved in the chemically-intensive processes of tanning and dyeing such as Bangladesh and China, polluted rivers flow with toxic colours and cancer-causing ingredients like chromium and potassium permanganate.
Most often untreated, this wastewater ultimately enters the sea and the food chain.
Damaging material Cloth production for synthetic, cheap, and human-made fibres such as nylon, acrylic, and polyester have substituted natural ones and are highly polluting.
Synthetic fabric fibres have shown up as a major ocean pollutant.
As much as 85% of human-made materials found on shorelines were microfibres that matched a variety of clothing material, such as nylon and acrylic.
Additionally, polyester produces three times more emissions than cotton, and is the most commonly used fibre in our clothing today.
Seventy million barrels of oil are used each year to make the worldâs global supply, and this material takes more than 200 years to decompose.
Others do not degrade easily either: cotton T-shirts take six years, leather shoes 25-40 years, and shoes 1,000 years! With the accumulation of clothes in landfills, textile waste is becoming a rapidly growing environmental concern.
In Malaysia, it was recorded that in 2013, textile waste constituted 4% of total solid waste which is approximately two million kilogrammes of textile waste produced per day.
The number is growing.
Producing sustainable wear is costly without industry support Natasha Navin, who is passionate about natural fabrics, has her own apparel line for children called Koshboo.
âI wanted to ensure that my products did not use any synthetic fabrics and materials.
All of Koshbooâs pieces are biodegradable, and safe for children and the environment,â she affirmed.
However, she lamented that it is a tough task to source for eco-friendly materials in Malaysia.
Also echoing this sentiment is fashion social entrepreneur, Maryam Shamsuddin.
âMy business model revolves around using natural materials and dyes, and we work with underprivileged communities.
From the designing process of our batik in Terengganu to the final product, we aim to reduce waste as much as possible.â Forget about patching clothes; throwing them out is the new trend Due to their compromised quality, do not be surprised when your clothes fall apart after the first wear or wash.
Because clothes are not being made to last, Sasibai said that people end up throwing them away fast.
People do not value their clothes like they used to.
Repairing clothes is no longer common.
âI always have people telling me that ethno-fashion (i.e.
Earth Heir products) is more expensive.
Of course, it is – fashion needs to reflect the true cost of the people who design and make these products as well as the natural resources utilised.â But she, together with Natasha and Maryam, attests that awareness has been increasing over the years as more people appreciate the skills, craftsmanship, and materials involved in making sustainable fashion.
The challenge is to inform the public that purchasing sustainable fashion is choosing an environmentally-conscious lifestyle and value-added goods.
Better sales channels will reduce retail prices Another challenge is to gain the support of more diverse sales channels in order to make these products more affordable and accessible to the public.
Sasibai stated that sales channels are not keen to market sustainable fashion products.
Nik Suzila Nik Hassan of Kloth Lifestyle believes that there should be more public and private partnerships for sustainable fashion products.
She also hopes that outlets and e-commerce portals will consider promoting these products through special packages and lower rates for sales commissions.
âUnder the Government Green Procurement (GGP) initiative (led by the Ministry of Finance), it has set a quota for every ministry to procure at least a certain percentage of eco-friendly products.
The marketing strategy to promote certified eco-friendly products must also be treated differently as these are products with high value.â Online retailers also play a big role in communicating why sustainable products should matter to consumers.
Besides that, big fashion chains have begun to assess their own sustainability scorecards and to vote positively for the environment.
H&M, for instance, has set up a recycling initiative to deal with its end-of-life clothing more effectively.
In 2017, its garment collecting initiative accumulated 17,771 tonnes of textiles worldwide, a 12% increase from 2016.
Structural changes coming through the system are additionally important.
The Fashion Revolution Week in Malaysia partnered with FIBERS, a collaborative regional effort with the mission to gather aspiring and current fashion social entrepreneurs from Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines.
Presently, the Malaysian chapter of the Fashion Revolution movement is still missing influential voices from the industry.
Sasibai hopes to initiate the sustainable fashion dialogue with local fashion designers, producers, and makers, as Malaysia has the potential to be a hub for ethical manufacturing.
âAt the end of the day, our love for fashion does not need to exploit the planet or the people who make them.â By Neera Khandpuri.