How to Get Started with Sustainable Fashion

If you want an example of how much damage the textile industry can cause, just look at how cotton farming dried up the Aral Sea

Starting a clothing line that complies both with sustainable and ethical principles it’s an opportunity for action. It would have an environmental, economic, social, cultural, and educational impact at the same time. Currently, almost every link of the global fashion industry supply chain, from raw materials extraction to clothing disposal, has a huge impact on the environment. Globally, over 30 million tons of clothes go to waste every year, data from 2019 show. The other important fact is that almost 95 percent of that textile waste can be recycled into something else.

Facts on the unsustainability of the fashion industry

Textile waste is the source of over 31 percent of microfibers pollution in marine habitats. Those are pieces of plastic that will never biodegrade. Each year, 500,000 tons of microfibers are released into the ocean from washing clothes.
Fashion production and supply chain account for ten percent of the total carbon emissions. That’s more emissions than all maritime shipping and international flights combined.
The fashion industry drains up water resources. It takes 2,600 liters of water to make a cotton shirt and 7,500 liters of water to make a pair of jeans. Cotton farming dried up the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan over a period of 50 years. It caused desertification of the area, toxic levels of sodium chloride, pesticides, and other carcinogens that are part of every level of the food chain.
Textile dyeing is one of the top largest polluters of water, globally.

All these facts and many more call for more sustainable practices in cotton farming, fashion production, and customer behavior. Now is the time to think about ways to improve the industry.
The coronavirus pandemic could reshape consumers’ attitudes towards fast fashion and raise awareness on the impact on environmental damage to human health and biodiversity. With people working remotely, closed schools, and lockdowns in place, fashion seemed to be the last concern. However, even if people didn’t spend on clothes, and won’t spend due to financial concerns, there is a stock of clothing in physical stores and warehouses. If not sold, they need to be recycled. It was a known fact that fast fashion produced more than what people really needed. Some even say that the COVID-19 could spell the end of the fast fashion industry.

Sustainable fashion and the SDGs
When it comes to sustainability, fashion is not only about the clothes we buy. It involves wider issues that are part of the 2030 Agenda such as employment, sanitation, good health, housing, education, gender equality, industry innovation.

SDG1: No poverty
For many big brands it’s more affordable to outsource parts of their supply chains in other countries, send their product there to complete a specific manufacturing process, and ship it back to the United States or Europe, than to do it in-house.
This happens because of the extremely low cost of labor in poor countries, where most populations live beneath the poverty line. There are several ethical concerns related to the apparel and footwear manufacturing sector. Among them is the lack of fair and equal wages. What fashion brands should do is to improve the livelihoods of communities where they operate.

SDG 2: Zero hunger
SDG 3: Good health and Wellbeing
Back to the story of the Aral Sea. When authorities decided to use the water for the irrigation of cotton farms, one of the main arguments was that textile was more important than fish. However, fish was considered an essential source of nutrition and income generation. Cotton and any other fibber farming for the textile industry must guarantee fair use of land share, without damaging ecosystems, the soil, or other food crops. Moreover, the use of pesticides and toxic chemicals during various manufacturing processes can harm the life of people working in fiber farming and garment factories, while water pollution can pose a threat to the health of people living in the area.

SDG 5: Gender equality
Before the pandemic, the industry was among the largest employers in the world, most of them being women. At the same time, most of the students that graduate in fashion design are females. However, they tend to remain in junior roles while management and senior positions both in the manufacturing and retail sectors are controlled by men. Women in the fashion industry face issues related to low wages, short-term contracts, discriminations, and sexual harassment. Women are the backbone of this industry and this needs to be acknowledged.

As it was mentioned above, the industry is related to almost all the SDGs, including SDG 6, SDG 8, SDG 9, SDG 10, SDG, 11, SDG 12, SDG 13, SDG 14, SDG 15, but for those that want to take action, it is closely related to SDG 4.

SDG 4: Quality education
There’s a lot to tell about education and fashion sustainability. First, school curricula on textile manufacturing and textile need a different approach from conventional education. The latter focuses on teaching a linear model of the economy. Some educational institutions and fashion companies have launched curricula to teach the circular economy.
Further on, fashion companies must provide on-job training for their employees to guarantee ongoing skill gain and opportunities for career growth. Moreover, those operating in poor countries must make sure that their employees are paid enough to sustain the education of their children.
On the other hand, entrepreneurs can help by creating clothing or apparel lines that help save traditional craft skills, especially in remote and rural areas. Craft is so important that it is finding a place even in political agendas. It provides employment to people of all ages while preserving skills that are based on sustainable production and consumption.
It’s crucial to nurture new generations of artisans and to save crafts. The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts, published by the Heritage Crafts Association, has identified more than 20 craft skills that are either extinct or critically endangered. Why going to a museum to see a piece of craftsmanship, when we can have it in our clothes, shoes, accessories, or house design.

Starting a clothing line is not easy. Like any type of business, it has its difficulties. Finding your market, knowing your audience, getting visibility, getting funding. All these are difficult in the beginning, but when it is done with a major cause in mind, and at a time like this when consumers are prone to changing their behaviors, it could be successful.
Now that you’re here we can suggest you take our training on entrepreneurship to learn how to recognize opportunities and how to become a sustainable entrepreneur.
Many entrepreneurs among the members of the Entrepreneurship Campus have ideas or run businesses focused on sustainable fashion and crafts. You can take advantage of their experience and if you have your own idea or project, you can join the Citizen Entrepreneurship Competition.

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