The fashion industry is the second most environmentally damaging industry in the world. With more than 60 percent of apparel being manufactured in developing countries, it's highly likely that the very garments you're wearing right now have not only been made using extremely harmful production methods, but have travelled half way across the planet in cargo ships powered by fossil fuels.
While more and more general consumers are starting to take the implications of carbon emissions seriously, the fashion industry is lagging behind. Green and fair trade designers utilising domestic talent and sustainable technology may be gaining traction among small niches; however, the majority of large scale fashion houses still source cheap labour from overseas and use unethical manufacturing processes.
The Scale of the Problem
Over 25 percent of the world's insecticides are used for cotton farming; one fifth of the world's water pollution stems from fabric treatment; and each year in America over 10.5 million tons of clothing goes straight to landfills. We should really be scrutinising the fashion industry just as much as we scrutinise the burning of fossil fuels and cattle farming if we are to tackle climate change effectively.
The trend-driven nature of fashion causes products to become outdated and virtually unsaleable in a heartbeat; these items are often discarded. When including pre and post-purchase waste over 85 percent of clothing ends up in the ground. Basically, we're producing far more than we need.
Slow Fashion is One Answer
The term slow fashion was coined by Kate Fletcher of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, an organisation devised to "question and challenge reactionary fashion cultures, which reflect and re-enforce patterns of excessive consumption and disconnection." Part of the slow fashion philosophy is to encourage consumers to purchase longer lasting items, rather than multiple cheaper items. In short, it's about looking at the bigger picture.
The footwear sector of the business is one that needs to be addressed immediately, especially in leather where the offcuts alone can be as high as 60 percent. According to American-based shoemaker Hand Welt Co. buying Goodyear Welted footwear is one way to combat the issue. With this construction method a strip of leather is stitched to the upper and insole. This not only results in a more durable pair of shoes, but makes them easier to be dismantled, repaired and resoled. The result... a pair of shoes that can last up to 25 years, rather than 1-2 years (the typical lifespan of a fast fashion item.)
Goodyear Welted construction and other similar manufacturing techniques can be highly labour intensive; therefore, they can have an expensive price tag after merchants add their markup. However, the advent of online shopping has changed the way boutique manufacturers conduct business. Smaller fashion houses are beginning to embrace technology and sell directly to the consumer. Bypassing the third party can knock two to three times off the usual asking price, which makes better quality and longer lasting items far more affordable for general consumers.
We Must Start on a Consumer Level
As well as alleviating pressure on the natural world, the slow fashion movement supports independent businesses, domestic artisans, and serves as a catalyst for creativity, encouraging designers to embrace their instincts and go against the grain. Fundamentally, it's a positive for everyone.
However, in order to change the industry we must change the general attitude of the consumers. World renowned fashion houses, such as Stella McCartney and H&M, are currently trying to set an example, working towards creating a sustainable supply chain. Hopefully others will follow suit and ensure deforestation, river pollution and enforced labour won't be part of future collections; but until then, it's up to us -- the general public -- to show the big players in the business where our priorities lie, i.e. buying slow and ethical.