India’s market for sustainable clothing is expanding gradually even though the sector is still in its infancy. The main problem the business is currently facing is how to supply clothing for the expanding population while protecting the environment. Read here to learn more about the sustainable clothing industry.
Manufacturing of textiles is one of the most polluting industries, according to the National Climate Change Journal. More greenhouse gases are released by it each year than by foreign travel on ships and aircraft combined (1.2 billion tonnes).
While the fashion industry’s negative effects on pollution, water consumption, carbon emissions, human rights, and gender inequality are getting worse, it is clear that sustainable clothing is the way to go.
Environmental impact of the clothing industry
The clothing industry represents an important part of our economy.
As the fashion business is flourishing, a growing number of harmful environmental effects that the sector is accountable for are coming to light.
- Water resources are depleted, rivers and streams are polluted, and 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions come from the fashion industry.
- Moreover, 85% of all textiles are disposed of in landfills annually, and washing particular types of clothing release large amounts of microplastics into the ocean.
- Approximately 60% of all materials used by the fashion industry are made from plastic.
- Around 20% of industrial wastewater pollution worldwide originates from the fashion industry.
If the fashion sector continues on its current trajectory, that share of the carbon budget could jump to 26% by 2050.
The clothing industry has a human cost as well; textile workers, often women in poor nations, are sometimes paid pitiful pay and made to work long hours in awful circumstances.
- These circumstances lead to violations of human rights in several locations.
- Serious health issues are brought up by the use of chemicals in clothing manufacture for both customers and industry personnel.
- Pollution has other effects on health in addition to those already mentioned.
A carbon-neutral fashion industry based on equality, social justice, animal welfare, and ecological integrity is what is meant by sustainable clothing also referred to as “eco-fashion”.
This refers to the products, processes, activities, and actors (policymakers, brands, consumers) working towards this goal.
Sustainable fashion concerns more than addressing fashion textiles or products.
- It covers every step of the production, usage, and disposal of clothes, including who, what, how, when, and where; as well as the anticipated lifespan of the product before it is disposed of in a landfill.
The sustainable movement aims to lessen the environmental effects of fashion, such as air pollution, water pollution, and general climate change, to fight the significant carbon footprint that fast fashion has left behind.
In the early 1990s, around the time of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Rio Earth Summit), green issues made their way into fashion and clothing publications.
Green consumerism is a change in consumer behavior attitudes that promotes energy efficiency.
- This eventually helps consumers save money, cut electricity bills, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and enable economies to meet rising energy demands.
- Consumer responses to the introduction of green items within fast fashion have been the subject of further research in recent years.
As more consumers become aware of the negative effects of fast fashion and look for alternatives that are more ecologically and socially responsible, sustainable apparel is growing in popularity in India.
In India, the rapid expansion of e-commerce and the prevalent use of smartphones has sparked a cultural phenomenon of urbanization and acquisitive consuming habits, which has increased awareness about fast fashion and sustainable clothing.
Benefits of sustainable clothing
- Sustainable clothing reduces the environmental impact of the fashion industry. It will help in cutting down emissions which are projected to grow if not curbed.
- Traditional methods of dying and printing which require a huge amount of water are replaced by water-efficient, technologically advanced methods for producing sustainable clothing.
- Sustainable clothing is designed to last longer than fast fashion which can help in reducing the amount of clothing that ends up in landfills, and save consumers money in the long run.
- Sustainable clothing involves the innovative design and creative use of materials hence encouraging creativity and innovation in the fashion industry, leading to more sustainable and environmentally-friendly solutions.
- The ethical and fair treatment of workers, along with safe working conditions are prioritized.
Challenges faced by sustainable clothing
Production and operational challenges
- Traditional clothing materials like cotton and polyester can be energy and water intensive to create and are not good for the environment.
- Also, a lot of environmentally friendly materials, such as organic cotton and recycled polyester fibers, can be more expensive and more difficult to get than conventional materials.
- Costs may also rise as a result of employing sustainable production techniques like adopting water-saving techniques and non-toxic colors.
- The production process itself is yet another significant obstacle. Several fashion businesses use the fast fashion business model, which puts speed and cost over sustainability.
- Companies must switch to a slower, more deliberate production approach that prioritizes quality over quantity if they want to manufacture sustainable fashion.
- The disposal of textiles and apparel poses a third problem. The trash generated by the fashion industry is enormous, and traditional means of disposal, such as landfilling or incineration, are not environmentally friendly.
- The waste generated by the fashion industry must be reduced, and the recycling and reusing of garments must be encouraged.
- For clothing businesses, customer attitude and demand pose significant obstacles since many consumers may not be aware of the advantages of sustainable clothing compared to fast fashion and its detrimental consequences on the environment.
- The development of India’s fashion industry is being fueled by a growing middle class and a robust manufacturing sector.
- Young people in India may not find sustainable fashion appealing for a variety of reasons, including the fact that they think it is more costly than fast fashion.
Lack of technological backing
- The idea of sustainable clothing is repurposing clothes by creating, acquiring, and using items to have them used and widely dispersed in the market.
- Nevertheless, a sizable portion of clothing is not recycled since there are no technical options available.
- By employing recyclable materials, clothing producers struggle to keep up with the demand for additional clothing.
- Ineffective garbage collection, a faulty method of classifying clothing, a lack of recycling innovation, and a financing shortage for recycling items are all obstacles to recycling clothing.
- Eco-fashion companies must address these issues by increasing the commercial scalability of recycling technology to enhance production.
International Cooperation on Sustainable Clothing
As fashion value chains are globalized and the industry has a significant impact on the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), international cooperation is important to foster sustainable clothing.
The UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, which was established during the fourth UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-4), aims to end the ecologically and socially harmful practices of the fashion industry.
- By examining UN organizations’ efforts to promote sustainable fashion, identifying problems and gaps in their efforts, and presenting these results to governments to spur policy, the Alliance is enhancing collaboration across UN organizations.
- The UNECE, FAO, and partner-led Forests for Fashion Initiative foster creative fashion solutions by using materials derived from sustainable forests.
- Some international groups are aiming to promote more sustainable clothing on a global scale.
Members of the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion also include UNDP, UNEP, UN Global Compact, UNFCCC, and UNOPS.
Sustainable clothing in India
India had launched Project SU.RE (Sustainable resolution) in 2019 was a firm commitment from the industry to move towards fashion that contributes to a clean environment.
The five-point Sustainable Resolution is as follows:
- Develop a complete understanding of the environmental impact of the garments being currently produced by our brand.
- Develop a sustainable sourcing policy for consistently prioritizing and utilizing certified raw materials that have a positive impact on the environment.
- Make the right decisions about how, where, and what we source across the value chain by selecting sustainable and renewable materials and processes and ensuring their traceability.
- Communicate our sustainability initiatives effectively to consumers and media through our online and physical stores, product tags/labeling, social media, advertising campaigns, and events.
- Through these actions, shift a significant percentage of our supply chain to a sustainable chain by the year 2025, addressing critical global issues such as climate change, contributing to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and building a world that is safe for future generations, as an acceptance of a responsibility we all share.
Project SU.RE was envisaged to be the first holistic effort by the apparel industry toward gradually introducing a broader framework for establishing critical sustainability goals for the industry.
The framework was designed to help the industry reduce its carbon emissions, increase resource efficiency, tackle waste and water management, and create positive social impact to achieve long-term sustainability targets.
A complete circular economy for clothing is a challenging goal that takes work and is not easily attained.
Brands, customers, and the government must work together for sustainable fashion to be genuinely successful.
- Offering green premiums to eco-friendly businesses should be a top priority for the Indian government.
- This would help them compete with their “traditional fast-fashion rivals” and enable government assistance through the decrease of the GST and other incentives.
Ultimately, as they chart their course toward a more sustainable future, businesses may and should strike a balance between social, environmental, and economic issues.
-Article written by Swathi Satish
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