Mahatma Gandhi is famously quoted as saying,
“There is no beauty in the finest cloth if it causes hunger and unhappiness.”

Ever since Mahatma Gandhi said these now famous words, the world has been on a trajectory to improve how it views the fashion industry. Over the years, a lot of attention has been directed towards the ills in all facets of industry, in a bid to make things better for everyone.

On the one hand, societal problems, environmental pollution, human suffering and disasters, like the collapse of the building that killed 1,100 factory workers at the Rana Plaza building in Savar, Bangladesh, have encouraged people to take a closer look at where their clothes actually come from and under what conditions they are produced. More importantly steps have been taken to make things a lot better.

On a more positive note, adoption of better practices in the fashion industry has also mostly been driven by the fact that caring and saving the world is simply just cool. What’s more is that many companies and countries have come to find out that eco-awareness and better conditions industry-wide, are simply good for business.

Over the years, different terms have been used as fashion jargon to define the conscious production of clothes. Conscious production has mostly come to stand for:

  • Using ecologically friendly designs,
  • Making use of fair trade principles and
  • Reducing the environmental impact of the fashion industry.

Terms such as; ‘repurposed’, ‘low-impact’, ‘organic’, ‘clean by design’, ‘made locally and ethically’, ‘Fair Trade’ and of course ‘sustainable’, have been used to certify that the garments that end up at retail stores are produced in the best possible way. Undeniably, there are many companies and countries, that care about the fashion that they avail to consumers.

Below are a few examples of countries and companies that have spearheaded the move towards better textile practices across the fashion industry.

The U.S and developed countries

Millennials are the primary driving force behind the go-green revolution. Many companies have been forced to adopt values of transparency, sustainability and authenticity in order to appeal to Millennials who are the next generation of buyers.

Although clothing consumers have not often been aware about where their clothes come from and specifically who is behind the production of the clothes they wear, tragedies like the Rana Plaza tragedy are bringing conscious fashion to the forefront.

In the U.S and in many developed countries the fashion industry is changing and improving in the following ways:

Promotion of sustainable values with smart branding

Brands are emphasizing sustainable values as the essence of their identity and marketing, in order to appeal to consumers who are more and more outwardly expressing their support by buying clothes that are consistent with their own sustainable values.

For example, Patagonia encourages its customers to repair more and buy less While H&Ms ‘conscious collection’ uses green tags to communicate to customers and shoppers about conscious clothing.

The Fashion Revolution

Recent findings show that 91% of fashion brands don’t know where their raw materials come from and 75% don’t know where their fabrics came from.

Through campaigns like the Fashion Revolution, hashtags like ‘#WhoMadeMyClothes?’ bring global awareness and encourage consumers to have a voice and ask brands about the sustainability of the clothes they produce. This in turn forces brands to become more aware and conscious about their sourcing and production decisions.

China and the Clean by Design program

The Clean by Design Program was initiated by Linda Greer, who on a trip to China found that a lot of waste and pollution was behind the production of textiles. She found that about 200 tons of water are used to produce one ton of fabric used to make jeans and T-shirts.

Through her initiative she formed the Clean by Design Program in order to:

  • Help wasteful and polluting factories to take real steps towards reducing their environmental impact and
  • Save a lot of money in the process as well

Experts spent a year researching 5 Chinese Dyeing factories and how they used energy, chemicals and water. A best practice manual was the result and it included measures like:

  • Recapturing heat
  • Insulating steam systems
  • Recycling water from final rinse cycles and
  • Reducing equipment leaks

In 2014, wherever the best practices manual was implemented in factories in China, companies saved:

  • 61,000 tons of coal
  • 3 million tons of water and
  • USD 15 million in production costs

The best practices manual and the impactful results it has produced, has encouraged many factories and countries around the world to re-think their production models.

Furthermore, the Clean by Design Program has also invigorated brands to use their purchasing power to encourage positive change in textile and production sources. Brands like Levis Strauss, Target and Burberry have been attracted to push for eco-friendliness and good management practices in the textile industry.

Bangladesh and the Partnership for Cleaner Textile (PaCT) programme

IFC’s Partnership for Cleaner Textile (PaCT) programme was designed to bring changes in the textile wet processing sector in Bangladesh. The objectives were to:

  • Reduce excessive ground water extraction,
  • Reduce surface water pollution and
  • Reduce chemical and energy use

The following achievements have been witnessed through the program so far:

  • 4 Billion litres of water have been saved p.a.
  • 23 Million MWh of power has been reduced p.a.
  • 188,000 tons of carbon dioxide emission has been reduced p.a. and
  • USD 10 Million has been saved in production costs p.a.

Also, through better effluent management and resource efficient practices in the textile and clothing industry, long-term competitiveness and sustainability has paved the way for more industry-wide improvements.

Even though the textile industry is still ranked the second most polluting industry in the world, it is important to note that there are steps albeit small being taken to improve the situation.

References:

Most of the information, data and statistics in this article has been sourced from: