Productivity should only stem from inspiration, and there’s nothing better than finding inspiration in the passions and visions of other people.
Recently, I was invited as a guest speaker for the Youth for Global Goals event held at the University of Sydney as a Fashion Revolution Ambassador. I was blessed to have met so many representatives of other key organisations such as 1Scope, WWF, and SparkStrategy who are all striving to meet the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) set out by the United Nations by 2030. I was also lucky enough to meet a group of university students who were so full of positive vibes and were equally as ambitious to meet these goals laid out by the UN. During the event, I was asked to speak about responsible consumption and production (SDG12) with a focus on the fashion industry. Here’s a brief summary of what we discussed about-
So what are the Sustainable Development Goals?
The Sustainable Development Goals are a a set of 17 goals with 169 targets between them which were finalised and adopted in September 2015 at the UN Sustainable Development Summit. The following image illustrates these 17 Global Goals.
How can we achieve the goal of ‘responsible consumption and production’ within the fashion industry?
In essence, Fashion Revolution believes this Global Goal can be achieved when consumers begin to create a pressing call for three things; greater transparency, environmental sustainability, and ethics in the fashion industry. If we are to set responsible consumption and production as one of the goals we need to meet by 2030, we must act now to encourage companies, especially large and transnational companies, to adopt sustainable practices and to integrate sustainability information into their reporting cycle.
What are some of the issues we now face in the fashion industry?
The fashion industry has huge impacts on the environment in the three stages of a garment’s life; what happens during the production stage, what happens whilst we care for the garment as consumers, and what happens after we throw out out clothes.
When we think about the effort it takes to make an item of clothing, we mostly think about how our clothes are sewn in a factory. Sometimes, we forget that there’s a whole process of growing or creating materials, weaving the textiles, dyeing, washing, rinsing, packaging and transportation. Whilst most people in the workshop I held guessed that it would take 25L to make a single cotton t-shirt, it can take up to 2700L to create a t-shirt. Hence, we need to rethink about how we can change our manufacturing process.
Secondly, we need to be more aware of how we take care of our clothes. 25% of the carbon footprint of clothes comes from the way we care for them.
Thirdly, we need to consider what it means if we throw out our clothes. Extending the life of clothing by a further 9 months would reduce carbon, waste and water footprints by around 20-30% each. By simply throwing away our clothes when we simply don’t want them anymore, we are overflowing landfills.
In addition to the environmental impacts of the fashion industry, the industry also raises ethical concerns about the working conditions of the people who create our clothes. One of the reasons why Fashion Revolution was created was to respond to the collapse of a garment factory in the Rana Plaza complex in Bangladesh in April 2013; an event which would have been preventable if working standards and regulations were met.
What can we do about it as consumers on an everyday basis?
This is exactly what I asked the university students during the workshop. Most of them were stumped. Sometimes when we are overwhelmed by news and statistics, our actions might become paralysed and we might not be sure about what we can do. The best way to come up with an action plan is to look at the specific statistics and see what steps we can take.
As consumers, we don’t have direct control over how much water is needed to produce a t-shirt, but we do have the power to reduce the amount that we buy.
Knowing that 25% of the carbon footprint of clothes comes from the way we care for them, we can research into how to take care of particular fabrics. Some clothes, such as denim jeans, actually don’t even need to be washed with every wear!
Thirdly, we can reconsider what we can do to our clothes before throwing them out to landfills. We might go to a clothes swap, repair it, upcycle it, or donate it to a thrift store. Certain brands, such as Patagonia, will actually take care and make sure that the garment is recycled to make new garments or responsibly disposed.
We need to wash the glitter and glamour which often glosses over the fashion industry, scrutinize its unsettling truths, and realise that consumers have the power to change the current ways of the fashion industry.