You’re wearing a favourite H&M tee shirt, aren’t you?
No judgment, I’ve got on mine too.
My tee was made by god-knows-who and of who-the-hell-can-tell material. It’s been washed gazillion time and has the holes to prove it. It’s a comfortable wear till I decide to look into the questions of who made it and how and of what. The most uncomfortable thought is: where does it go when light tatters grow into unwearable tearing? I will probably bin it.
From the bin, it’ll end up in a landfill. Where does it go from there? Nowhere. My once-prized possession will sit there for years, and every day more once-beloved trendy clothing will be piled on top of it for another century or so.
At current estimates, worldwide, people discard 12.8 million tons of textile waste every year, even though 95% of the materials thrown away is recyclable. To say that this is an American problem is a simple choice — the States comes to mind as the biggest consumer of fashion. Only India, China, and Bangladesh produce over 63% of textiles and fast fashion clothing, using methods that are water-intensive, wasteful, and that disregard ethical treatment of workers.
I’ve also got on my favourite pair of denim jeans right now. While buying them, I didn’t consider that over 5000 gallons of water go into manufacturing a single pair. Nor did I think about pesticides and other growth-enhancers used in cotton farming poison the land on which it’s grown. Inorganic cotton takes up 2.5% of the world’s agriculturally viable land. Its production uses up 16% of all the insecticides and 6,8% of all herbicides used worldwide. And, after all that, we’re still only looking at the final products. These trendy pieces you and I love so much produce so much waste it is staggering. In 2013, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA,) the world generated an estimated 15.1 million tons of textile waste, of which it discarded 12.8 million tons. Nearly 15% of fabric intended for clothing never left the cutting floor of design houses.
The time to question our reliance on low-priced clothing, fast fashion — on the Zaras and Forever21s of the world — is overdue. If anything, the fashion world appears to be embracing sustainability. It’s become the hippest buzzword. H&M, Zara have launched their respective eco-friendly range of clothing; last month, in Bombay, Lakmé hosted an entirely sustainable Fashion Week; brands claiming sustainability are cropping up in every major city in India.
Buying new clothing made from organic cotton, or khadi, or recycled materials is one way to support sustainablefashion. It is not, however, the only way.
Sustainable fashion is defined as clothing, accessories, and shoes manufactured and marketed while keeping in mind environmental as socio-economic considerations such as ethical treatment of labour, the carbon cost of transport, careful use and care of natural materials and resources.
It’s often associated with expensive clothing, or with slow fashion, meaning a rejection of trends. But, it doesn’t have to be.
Maybe, just maybe, you and I don’t need the latest, trendiest clothing all year round. Perhaps 10 or 20 well-made essentials that lend themselves to repair — the timeless classic model of sustainability known as slow fashion — will suffice for some. It may not be enough for you and me: everybody’s style is different. So, what can we do?
Like me, you may own a couple of outfits bought for a special occasion that now gathers dust in the back of your closet. Why not rent an outfit instead of purchasing a new one? That’s sustainable.
Your fast fashion buys? Why not swap them with a friend (or a stranger), or sell them on a second-hand fashion app or site? That’s sustainable too.
A hole in your shirt? Repair it instead of binning it. Also sustainable.
When the H&M tee is in beyond mending, cut it up and use it as cleaning rags. Or find a local recycling station and give your clothes to it. Still sustainable.
People can’t be pigeonholed, and neither can their style. Sustainability isn’t about lack of choices but making a good choice — whichever seems right for you. There is only one thing to keep in mind is: the time to waste is over. What we are not paying upfront in cash or credit will be a bill footed by our future generation, because in the long run, fast fashion does not come cheap.
Credit: Cover Illustration by Smiti Pani