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The Fashion Industry – Part one written by Soraya Bradley from ATTICA.
Currently, the Fashion Industry is the second largest polluting industry in the world. Fast fashion has increased the speed that new fashion is produced driven by multination retail chains, relying on mass production, a large volume of sales of the generic product and ‘lower prices’.
Rather than quarterly or summer winter collections – some companies are releasing twelve collections per annum.
The ‘2017 Pulse of the Fashion Industry report’ estimates that in 2015 the global industry of textiles and clothing was responsible for the consumption of 79 billion cubic metres of water, 1715 million tons of CO2 emissions and 92 million tones of waste. Within ten years, the same report estimated these figures could double unless something drastically changes within the industry.
The Fashion industry produces 10% of global emissions. The dying process is also extremely toxic as the industry has moved away from natural dyes. Naturally, grown colours and its estimated the fashion industry is responsible for 20% of industrial water pollution. Around 1900 chemicals are used in the production of clothing, 165 are officially classed as hazardous to health and ecosystems.
Under the neoliberal reforms of the 1980s local manufacturing of clothing was offshored, allowing the model of ‘fast fashion’ to accelerate. With the offshoring of production and manufacturing, environmental issues could be hidden in the third world as could the use of low-cost labour.
Third world labour conditions would severely breach NZ’s worker rights, so offshoring allowed the business elite of NZ to profiteer, with NZ maintaining an international reputation of solid workers rights – while putting the local worker out of work, driving down their wages and increasing job insecurity and exploiting international workers whose governments have no such labour protections. The closure of the local manufacturing industry impacted the Otaki Electorate significantly. Currently, about 50% of the world’s clothing is produced in China.
Four main factors contribute to the issue within the Fashion and Fibre Industry – Methods of Production of ‘natural’ fibres, Toxicity of Synthetics, Chemical Processing & Dying and Consumer Waste.
1.) Methods of Production of Natural Fibres
Cotton is the most common natural fibre; it is a water-intensive crop that has been planted all around the world – often in unsuitable landscapes. Due to the high demand for cotton – an introduction of commercial seeds resulted in vast monocultures of cotton and GMO cotton.
Monoculture has become a problem for cotton production, overtime increasing pests, seed costs and vulnerably to environmental stressor events. BT Cotton and other GMO seeds have produced yields far lower than promised, require large portions of chemicals farmers did not need with local cotton, and eventually pests have become resistant.
The expensive GMO’s created a needless cycle of debt and environmental devastation as chemical use increased, most obviously felt in India’s Agricultural sector. This prompted a grassroots movement to ban patents on life in India, a key factor in what makes GMO seed attractive to investors.
Classical cotton production involved farmer saved seeds that tolerated high salt, drought or other local environmental conditions. Other natural fibres will be discussed in part 2.
2.) Toxicity of Synthetic Fabrics
Polyester, Nylon and Acrylic are made of fossil fuels but requires less water in production; this was used to justify their continued use. However, the carbon emissions from these synthetic fabrics produce twice as many carbon emissions as cotton.
Nowadays, some polyesters are made from recycled plastic bottles – providing an environmentally friendlier option. However polyester, nylon and acrylic clothes can release around 700000 microplastic fibres per laundry load which in turn, release toxins that end up in our waterways and contaminate our food basket.
Worldwide about 500,000 tons of microplastic fibres per annum are released into the ocean.
3.) Consumer Waste
Look at any vintage book on New Zealand and the difference in our fashion is notable, particularly in the rural community. Undyed Cream wool in cable-knit sweaters, black woollen singlets and heavy woollen socks – usually with darned patches sourced with locally grown materials and often homemade. This echos back to ancient times, for generations fabrics, were labour intensively produced by hand with an exquisite skillset by women.
Slow to produce, these clothes were carefully repaired and maintained to extend their lifecycle.
4.) Embodied Energy
It requires 5678 litres of water to grow the 680 grams of cotton that is needed to produce a standard pair of jeans when these are a cut that is worn till they wear out, this becomes a justifiable use of resources. But when this same fabric is turned into clothing that will be discarded after a season, it is a waste of embodied energy.
Citizens can make informed choices about how they spend their fashion budget. Mend & Patch is not for everyone, but recycling clothing, choosing sustainably sourced, choosing natural fibres all make a difference to our ecosystems.
Many within the global sphere advocate for GMO and synthetic biology to solve these issues, both of which prove to be a source of venture capital revenue and high unknown environmental risk.
ATTICA, along with many other groups worldwide believe that nature has already solved these problems, there are abundant natural fibres from which we can create smart, innovative and traditional fabrics. Those natural fibres provide our safest, ecologically sound, most egalitarian and innovative of opportunities. Part two: Restoring New Zealand’s Fibre Industry.