Sustainable’ an adjective that translates to ‘able to be upheld or defend’ is one of the most loosely used terms in fashion. There labels following sustainable practices, eco fashion weeks, CSR projects implemented by brands to clean up their track records and more. But why should you shop consciously? And more importantly, what does it mean when you speak of sustainable fashion, and why should you care?
Why is fast fashion bad for the planet?
It takes about 6,800 litres of water to grow enough cotton to produce a pair of jeans. Your average high street retailer will sell these between Rs 2,000 and Rs 4,500. The worker who labored over making the pair of jeans makes an approximate of Rs 100 for his work. There are two glaring causes of concern in this model. The first being the excessive use of a natural resource like clean water which will be sparse in the near future. Second is the obvious difference in the money paid to the factory worker versus the money that goes to the large corporation.
High street retailers are known to create as many as 24 collections in a year encouraging consumers to buy more than they which results in waste, not to mention the after effects of industrialization. In a nutshell, there’s a whole picture hidden behind that pair of jeans that won’t sit in your closet for longer than a year.
The collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh in which 1,138 workers were killed brought to light the plight of workers in garment factories. while some companies took responsibility for their actions, how much has really changed? Production houses which are often in developing countries like China, Bangladesh and India are forced to keep their costs low in order to attract brands for contracts. This directly impacts worker wages, less than favourable working conditions and little or no support to their families. At the same time, a different picture of what goes on in a factory is painted to the brand reps who visit the facility a few days in a year, leading them to believe that facility is meeting the required standards.
Anna Gedda, head of sustainability at H&M explained the complicated logistics of monitoring living wages. “One of the most common questions we are asked is if wages are too low, why don’t we just pay the workers more? Unfortunately, the reality is not that simple. The standard factory set up is that workers sit in rows and each of these rows are working on different brands. It can be brands that are at lower or high
er price points than us and no matter, they are paid the same and work in the same living conditions. So, if we are tackling fair work wages, it is not possible to pay the workers working on H&M garments more than their colleagues. When we talk about the cost of creating a garment, we negotiate and fix the labour cost and keep that aside from the other costs of the garment production,” says Gedda.
Toll on the planet
It’s often said that the fashion industry is the second most polluting one in the world. However, the facts to prove this statement are scanty. According to Racked.com’s inquiry into the subject matter, “the few unproven but legitimate-sounding “facts” get seized upon by well-meaning advocates, wrested out of context, and splashed across the internet, creating a circular feedback loop of bad information.”
McKinsey’s detailed report on sustainability reveals that, “We estimate that if 80 percent of the population of emerging economies were to achieve the same clothing-consumption levels as the Western world by 2025, and the apparel industry does not become more environmentally efficient, then the environmental footprint of the apparel industry will become much larger.”
When a fashion label categorizes of being sustainable, it is in some way trying to overcome these shortcomings of the trade. We will be exploring more about these practices in our series.