Manufacturing garments, using them and disposing of them has many impacts on the environment. Us humans have become more and more obsessed with fashion. Which has led to clothing being mass produced, resulting in fast fashion, which hones in bringing the newest trends from the runway on to the high street at the quickest time. At Clothing Manufacturers UK, we endeavour to always try to source sustainable fabrics to supply to our clients, sourcing from the UK and Europe.
ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS THAT OCCUR DURING THE SUPPLY CHAIN:
- High volumes of water that is used when growing cotton
- The use of oil in synthetics
- Fertilisers/ pesticides usage when growing cotton
Fabric and clothing manufacturing:
- Water and energy usage in textile processes
- The use of chemicals when making fabrics
- Resource waste
Distribution and retail:
- Emissions and waste in transport
- Chemical detergents
- Energy and water use: washing, drying and ironing
- Textile going to landfill
WHAT YOU CAN TO DO TO MAKE YOUR BRAND MORE SUSTAINABLE?
1. Manufacture in the UK - minimises your carbon footprint, as there's no need to ship the garments from abroad.
2. Use sustainable fabrics - such as recycled fibres, organic fabrics, plant based fabrics etc.
3. Use eco friendly packaging, minimise the amount of packaging that is used.
4. Using fabrics that have natural dyes.
5. Make/use yarns from recycled clothing.
WHY WE NEED A MORE DIVERSE FASHION INDUSTRY IF WE WANT A SUSTAINABLE FASHION INDUSTRY:
Without even realising, internal systematic racism has always been a big issue in fashion for years. It has limited black employees and other ethnic minorities opportunities to grow their careers, as well as this it has excluded customers from these ethnic backgrounds. What they have also failed to realise is that they are short changing brand’s efforts to reduce harmful impacts they have caused on the environment.
Aja Barber is an advocate and consultant for brands on sustainability, it appears that “All of these issues are connected. If the humans where you manufacture don’t have clean drinking water, then it doesn’t matter if you’re using less water in manufacturing.”
The world is becoming more informed about how and where their clothes are being made, as well as the conditions the people who make our clothes work in. We are all aware at this stage that some of the most vulnerable groups of people are taken advantage of, and the damage we caused that massively affects climate change, has a huge effect on these people. Since the covid-19 pandemic kicked off, a number of brands have left suppliers in countries such as Bangladesh and Cambodia in millions of dollars’ worth of debt, and now the factory workers are not being paid. Even in the west, we have this problem in richer countries, a huge example of this problem is garment workers in Los Angeles who come from communities where pollution is just one of their biggest worries, among gang violence, lack of funding, police brutality, the lost goes on.
Previous research has proven that if companies have a more diverse leadership, they also have better environmental compliance reports, as well as higher financial returns. When ethnic minorities have senior roles in companies, especially a board role, they tend to be more competitive and better governed. When looking at the fashion industry, research has found sustainability focused businesses are mostly white.
According to researcher Christy Glass “A lack of racial diversity and gender diversity is actually hurting organisations in specific and measurable ways. There are incredibly broad and deep benefits to having people of colour on the board and across leadership,” even thinking about including better innovation and environmental reports, could lead to companies making bigger impacts.
Racism is an extensive systematic problem, along with climate change and pollution. Now brands need to start thinking about how they are going to right their wrongs and start to fix these three major issues. Fashion consultant Dominique Drakeford works alongside sustainable fashion brands and advises that “you can only be inauthentic for so long. So, my advice, since most well-known brands have a racial deficit: take accountability and do the hard work.” Every area of fashion needs to step back and think about their actions, brands might be trying to be more conscientious, but trying to ignore the systematic racism that oppresses black, brown and other ethnic minority communities needs to stop and be acknowledged. If we stop acting like the problem isn’t there, we can try to fix it.
DON'T PUT THAT WATER BOTTLE IN THE BIN!
Eco-Fi might sound like a new fabric to some of us, however this was previously known as EcoSpun. EcoSpun is a polyester fibre that is made out of the recycled plastic bottles that would have ended up in a landfill otherwise.
Eco-Fi can be used to make all sorts of fabrics, they are often warm, durable, weather resistant, lightweight and are comfortable that feel soft to touch. These are already incredible factors to have, but when it is mixed with another fabric, maybe wool, cotton or Tencel, it enhances these qualities. Usually, you would find Eco-Fi in jackets, trousers, outdoor vests, blankets, the typical things you would take outside. It has also been used for items you would find in your home like fibrefill, carpets even little home comforts.
By using a product made out of eco-fi, you are then contributing to a process which prevents an estimated three billion plastic bottles from ending up in landfills around the world. In the long run this saves over half a million barrels of oil, that prevents 400,000 tonnes of harmful emissions going into the atmosphere, this prevents acid rain, global warming and smog, just to name a few effects that could happen if plastic bottles weren’t recycled. Doing this saves huge amounts of petroleum instead of using untouched natural materials, that could supply power to a city the same size of Atlanta for at least a year.
The process begins at your local recycling depot, and then bottles are categorised based on colour before being sterilised and crushed down and chopped into flakes. The flakes are then melted, producing a thick liquid that creates fibrous, polyester strands. These strands are stretched to make them thinner but just as strong, strands are crimped, cut into smaller pieces and shipped over to clothing manufacturers, who know how turn these threads into fabrics that can be turned into clothes. Fleeces are one of the many garments that can be made out of the fabric, a fleece made from Eco-Fi is almost identical to a fleece that isn’t made out of recycled materials; the biggest difference is that the soft and luxurious product did not use up the planets natural resources, but did not need to use any herbicides, or pesticides and doesn’t waste as much energy.
Eco-fi was developed in the US by Wellman Inc, ever since Wellman developed this new fibre, they have won numerous environmental awards for the development of EcoSpun. Wellman had sold the manufacturing rights for EcoSpun to Foss Manufacturing in New Hampshire. However, it was Foss who changed the name from EcoSpun to Eco-fi.
The fashion industry was never sustainable enough in the past, and recent years there have been significant progressions in more sustainable methods of sourcing materials for clothes. If we can encourage more people to recycle water bottles, then Eco-Fi could potentially be available to even more people. As technology develops itself and becomes more advanced, we will see more ingenious methods of recycling or sourcing less harmful materials.
The difference planting 10 trees can make for fashion
Over the years we have seen a lot of companies, in a wide range of different sectors, start initiatives to help combat climate change. One of the most popular initiatives has been for every product bought, the company will go away and plant a tree. Two brothers, Derrick and Kalen, started a business around ten years ago planting trees to help the battle against climate change, poverty and hunger. Investors struggled to be convinced that this was worth investing in due to it potentially having limited potential, and then on top of this government incentives looking at developing ways to lower levels of emissions. In 2011, the brand Tentree was founded, the owners wanted to use the clothing brand to fund their tree planting business.
Ten tree is in the mid-market in terms of their price point and so far they have opened 1,100 stores. In 2018, the company had managed to raise enough funding to develop their tree planting technology, however they take a very realistic approach and don’t fundraise for ideas that are either unsustainable or just straight up unrealistic. The company still remains ambitious, for example this year they are currently on track to planting 15 million trees this year, which would suggest their idea of planting ten trees per purchase is so far successful.
There are so many brands out there on the market and a lot of them claim to be sustainable and ethical and on some kind of mission to try and change the world. Take Toms Shoes for instance, they have a buy one, give one model, where you buy a pair of Toms and they donate a pair. This has been criticised so many times, mostly because it was not seen as the most efficient way of being charitable. Tentree plants trees for a reason and it makes sense, it isn’t some clever marketing campaign to help them sell more clothes. In the future, more brands could pay attention to Tentree and potentially be used as a business model. However, bringing in big changes like this isn’t as straightforward as you might think, and it can be difficult for some of the big brands to achieve.
Tree planting is also not as straightforward as we might think, you need to remember if the trees are not planted properly, then they can’t help the planet. Tentree regularly publish details about the trees, anything from the trees they plant, to how they plant them, and every tree has a very detailed report. Kayla Marci, Edited’s market analyst, noted that “particularly now, when consumers are more in tune to the detrimental effects of fashion and are challenging retailers advocating for social and environmental good without seeing results” but it can be equally difficult for consumers to tell the difference between marketing and authentic sustainability.
When Tentree was founded, the brothers didn’t a lot about sustainable fashion, but they wanted to make a difference, and that is what they have done. Would you think about buying from Tentree now?