Why Fashion needs a Radical Revolution.
You probably heard, especially in April every year, about Rana Plaza. On 24th April 2013 a building in Savar, a district of Daca (Bangladesh) collapsed killing 1134 people and injuring 2437 more. It was the last straw in an industry involved in numerous abuses to people and the planet, claimed already by NGOs and other groups during the last decades.
By today, this industry has reached an unacceptable point of human and environmental degradation. It is not new for no-one that the fashion industry is one of the most polluted and unequal industries in the world responsible for 10% of the global total emission of C02 (1), 20% of global water pollution (2), and minimum wages below a living wage in several countries (3) among other scared numbers.
We are living with planetary boundaries (currently using 1,7 planets) with a prediction of 10 billion people to feed in 2050. And we have only 1 earth to keep our waste. We have limited resources and we are limited by the existing territory. In the last year's scientist, governments, policymakers, and organizations have realized the urgency of the climate change issues and their possible risks and have been working in many agreements, culminating in the Paris Agreement and the SDG's to address our economies and systems under the 2ºC temperature by 2030. We all know, after decades of Greta's and Green Peace's shouts that we are in trouble. And the trouble is ourselves.
As a peer in my last course about sustainability said:
"We are the first generation to know we are destroying the planet and the last one that can do anything about it”.
Our brains and behaviors need a radical mindset (let's keep this topic deeply for the other post) in fashion terms because:
1- Waste from the fashion industry is increasing every year. According to Environmental Protection Agency: Clothing and Footwear Waste Management report: 9,070,000 US tons were landfilled in 2018 (4) while synthetic fibers can take up to 200 years to decompose.
2- We live on a planet with finite resources (5) and continuing with the current fashion productions we will finish the resources we need to live.
3- We are polluting oceans, lands, freshwater, and air with the productions of the fashion we consume (6) killing biodiversity and planet resources.
4- Overconsumption: and we do not need the fashion we consume to survive (7).
For those who are not familiar with this subject, it's important to know that the fashion industry has one of the most complex supply chains in the world, and why is because one single fashion garment can have 20, 30, or more stakeholders involved in. I will picture an example:
Imagine a simple jacket made with polyester outside, cotton lining inside and padding, with a zip, elastic in the hood with endings, buttons on the pockets, brand and wash care labeling, and hangtags. Everything is packed in a plastic bag with a sticker. Imagine this is produced in Asia and is shipping to Europe. The next list is the possible suppliers:
Stakeholder 1: Farmer on the lands of cotton.
Stakeholder 2: Preparation of Yarn (Bale making, Transportation of the cotton bale, Cleaning, Carding) and Spinning.
Stakeholder 3: Weaving / Knitting.
Stakeholder 4: Finishing (Desizing, Scouring, Bleaching, Shrinking, Dying, Printing).
Stakeholder 6: Polyester Producer.
Stakeholder 7: Weaving the Polyester Yarn.
Padding Fabric (Polyester)
Stakeholder 8: Polyester Producer.
Stakeholder 9: Weaving the Polyester Yarn.
Stakeholder 10: Manufacturer.
Stakeholder 11: Zipper supplier.
Stakeholder 12: Buttons supplier.
Stakeholder 13: Elastic supplier.
Stakeholder 14: Accessories on the elastic supplier.
Stakeholder 15: Washcare label supplier.
Stakeholder 16: Brand label supplier.
Stakeholder 17: Hangtag supplier.
Stakeholder 18: Plastic bag supplier.
Stakeholder 19: Sticker supplier.
Stakeholder 20: Transport supplier.
Stakeholder 21: Brand.
Stakeholder 22: Retailer.
Stakeholder 23: Consumer.
Stakeholder 24: Waste manager.
Each one of those steps has an impact on the earth and the people and communities. The footprint on biodiversity of each one has different intensities. See in Figure 1 how to impact each tier to our planet and the resources.
In terms of how impact this industry on people’s quality life, the outcomes are also unviable. According to Fashion Revolution and Fair Trade Certificate:
Most of our clothes are made by people who do not have rights, with no minimum wages or even if they have a minimum wage it does not cover living wages in most of production countries.
They have restrictions of freedom association.
Sitting in a long production lines up to 12 hours.
They are working in extremely hazardous conditions, with factory buildings violating safety regulations. Physical abuse (Forced labour, Bonded labour, Domestic servitude, Sexual Harassment) is all too common.
And 70% percent of the workers in the fashion industry are women but only 10% of the supervisors are women. So women are hugely underrepresented in the supervisors, which are of course the higher paid positions.
Fashion Revolution born these 24th April 2013, as a desperate shout to the society, governments, factories and brands to be conscious of what’s Fashion is becoming. We need to address our consumer behaviors, new policies in the fashion Industry, sustainable practices in the production supply chain stages and sustainable leaders to lead the performance: to keep safe the earth, biodiversity and people. To achieve one of the most, if not the most, challengeable goal ever, we must change our mindset radically and work together.
1- World Economic Forum, 2020, These facts show how unsustainable the fashion industry is <https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/01/fashion-industry-carbon-unsustainable-environment-pollution>
2- Fashion Revolution, Pollution <https://www.fashionrevolution.org/category/water/>
3- Clean Clothes Campaign, <https://cleanclothes.org/livingwage-old/living-wage-versus-minimum-wage>
4- Environmental Protection Agency: Clothing and Footwear Waste Management 2018 report<https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/nondurable-goods-product-specific-data#ClothingandFootwear>
5- Planetary Boundaries, Rosemary Willatt, University of the Arts London 2018.
6- Sustainyourstyle, Fashion's Environmental Impact <https://www.sustainyourstyle.org/old-environmental-impacts>