The fash­ion in­dus­try is the world’s sec­ond largest pol­luter. Has our ap­petite for style reached its tip­ping point?

Sorry if the topic of fash­ion and sus­tain­abil­ity over­whelms you. The time to do some­thing is now.

Fashion (Canada) - - Contents - By Jacquelyn Fran­cis

Years ago I had to clear 30 years of junk from my par­ents’ home while prep­ping their prop­erty for my wed­ding. We loaded a friend’s truck and headed to the garbage trans­fer sta­tion. As we drove into the dimly lit hangar, I felt like we had en­tered an omi­nous scene from Mad Max. We stood on the truck and lit­er­ally threw garbage into the air to the sound of heavy-duty load­ers crush­ing and push­ing waste into piles that would even­tu­ally be moved to the real land­fill. It was apoc­a­lyp­tic. I was re­minded of this eerie scene when I watched Stella McCart­ney’s Win­ter 2017 cam­paign video that fea­tured mod­els wan­der­ing through a land­fill. Her col­lec­tion, which is veg­e­tar­ian, is also half com­prised of sus­tain­able ma­te­ri­als. “The idea we had with this cam­paign was to por­tray who we want to be,” McCart­ney said in in­ter­views. “Our man-made con­structed en­vi­ron­ments are dis­con­nected and unaware of other life and the planet, which is why there is waste.” »

Vete­ments also raised the is­sue of sus­tain­abil­ity and over­pro­duc­tion in a win­dows in­stal­la­tion it did with Saks Fifth Av­enue this sum­mer. The dis­play—a large pile of do­nated cloth­ing and over­stock mer­chan­dise—ap­peared in the flag­ship store on July 21. On Au­gust 10, all the ac­cu­mu­lated pieces were do­nated to RewearABLE, a cloth­ing re­cy­cling com­pany that pro­vides sus­tain­able em­ploy­ment for adults with de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties.

“Garbage is what most brands pro­duce to­day,” Vete­ments said in a post on its In­sta­gram feed. “Moun­tains of stock are buried in out­let stores and stock­rooms and have lit­tle chance of find­ing any­one who will want to pay for them. Over­pro­duc­tion is a huge prob­lem that the in­dus­try tries to hide as it chases af­ter fake num­bers and re­ports of con­stant growth.”

McCart­ney’s pre­scient cam­paign and Vete­ments’ po­lit­i­cally charged in­stal­la­tion are sober­ing re­minders of the “fast facts” as­so­ci­ated with fash­ion. Ac­cord­ing to

The Econ­o­mist, global cloth­ing pro­duc­tion dou­bled be­tween 2000 and 2014 as pro­duc­tion cy­cles grew faster in tan­dem with plung­ing labour costs over­seas and an abun­dance of cheaper ma­te­ri­als.

In the 1960s, the av­er­age Amer­i­can house­hold spent over 10 per cent of its in­come on cloth­ing and shoes, which worked out to about 25 gar­ments each year. And most of those pieces were made in Amer­ica. But move into the 2010s and the pic­ture changes dra­mat­i­cally. The av­er­age house­hold spends less than 3.5 per cent of its bud­get on clothes, which works out to—wait for it—70 pieces of cloth­ing a year. Only 2 per cent of those clothes are made in Amer­ica.

The fash­ion in­dus­try is now the world’s sec­ond largest pol­luter af­ter oil, and, at last count, the ap­parel in­dus­try ac­counted for 10 per cent of global carbon emis­sions. It’s hard to mea­sure fash­ion’s foot­print, but con­sider th­ese three points alone: 1. Nearly 70 mil­lion bar­rels of oil are used each year to make polyester, which is now the most com­monly used fi­bre in cloth­ing. 2. Cheap syn­thetic fi­bres also emit gases like N2O (nitrous ox­ide), which is 300 times more dam­ag­ing than CO2. 3. Amer­i­cans throw away about 32 kilo­grams of cloth­ing per per­son ev­ery year, the ma­jor­ity of which ends up in land­fills. In Canada, it’s es­ti­mated that 85 per cent of dis­carded clothes end up there as well.

When I met with Kelly Dren­nan, found­ing ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Fash­ion Takes Ac­tion (FFA), I ad­mit­ted to feel­ing un­cer­tain of what I could do. “We’re try­ing to re­move the over­whelm­ing as­pect,” she says of FTA, the coun­try’s only non-profit cur­rently fo­cus­ing on fash­ion sus­tain­abil­ity.

The group hosts the World Eth­i­cal Ap­parel Roundtable (WEAR) to show­case new promis­ing de­vel­op­ments. This month it will give a $50,000 De­sign For­ward prize to a de­signer who com­bines style and sus­tain­abil­ity. And FTA leads in-school ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams through the My Clothes, My World work­shop. In th­ese ses­sions, par­tic­i­pants dis­cuss labour rights, con­sumerism and en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion. The stu­dents are asked to con­sider where their clothes come from, how they are made and whether they need all the pieces they own. FTA also has them turn an old T-shirt into a bag so they can ex­plore the idea of re­pur­pos­ing. “Be­hav­iour changes are re­ally hard when you’re an adult,” says Dren­nan. “We’re pro­grammed to shop. If we can con­vince youth in a fun way, we can talk about cli­mate change through fash­ion. We can talk about so­cial jus­tice through fash­ion.”


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