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Volume 65 Number 2

High fashion can be eco-friendly but still stylish

by Kylie Bronchick - 2014-11-20


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As many industries and nations attempt to compensate for the vast damage done to our environment, many businesses in the fashion industry have had efforts of their own. Environmentally friendly and sustainable methods of production are paving the way for a sustainable future of manufacturing.

Numerous efforts have been made by popular retailers such as H&M, whose eco-friendly line, H&M Conscious, plans to have 100% of its materials come from sustainable sources by 2020 at the latest. The company has significantly increased its share of organic cotton in recent years, replacing conventional cotton, whose global production uses 10% of the world’s pesticides, as well as vast amounts of water. In order to grow just enough cotton to produce a single t-shirt requires eleven bathtubs of water.

Many designers have begun to experiment with alternative materials to cotton, including bamboo fibres, which grows quickly without the use of harmful pesticides and even absorbs greenhouse gases during its life cycle. However, its use is controversial, for the conversion of bamboo fibers into usable viscose fabric uses various chemicals that hurt the environment, so designers and manufacturers must decide whether they believe chemicals or excessive water usage is worse. The production of most textiles requires the use of many dangerous chemicals, and the fashion industry is yet to find any one fabric that doesn’t hurt the environment in any way.

According to H&M Conscious’ 2013 sustainability report, it uses mainly “organic leather, vegetable-tanned and from cows that were bred for organic meat production”. Efforts to find sustainable replacements for cow leather have been made by Nike, as well as luxury brands such as Prada and Dior, who’ve begun to incorporate fish leather into their designs. A ton of fish fillets produces 40kgs of unused fish skin, which much of is ground into fish meal for animals, yet fish leather is making use of unwanted fish parts. However, the demand for fish leather is rising faster than the supply, causing dramatic price increases, making it no more affordable than cow leather.

Educating customers is another important step in reaching complete sustainability. Retailers have begun to make efforts in educating their customers in order to reduce their carbon footprint even further. Through giving instructions on garments’ care labels to minimize energy and water usage, customers can make well-informed, eco-friendly decisions on how to care for their clothing.

Even as our planet’s resources become more and more depleted, many designers and brands are hesitant to change their wasteful ways. The terms ‘“eco” or “green” hold a certain negative connotation in the eyes of luxury brands, for they can often be related with hippy culture.

Cost-efficiency and profit, however, are the most important reasons many retailers refrain from adopting sustainable and eco-friendly habits. Sustainability does not only pertain to the environment, but the quality of work environment for factory employees, whose wages are often much too low. Although outsourcing manufacturing can boost impoverished countries’ economies and supply jobs, proper safety measures are often not taken in order to ensure the well-being of thousands of factory-workers. Less than two years ago, a factory collapsed in Bangladesh, killing over a thousand workers and injuring more than 2,500.

Hopefully as textile research continues to be conducted and new ways to shrink our carbon footprint are being discovered, the fashion industry can become less wasteful in the near future before it’s too late.



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Article Keywords:

environment, efforts, sustainable, production, cotton, water, leather, fish

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