Green fashion has a lot of names: sustainable, eco-friendly, the list goes on. But few people can really tell you what it is. At Kala, we want to demystify sustainable apparel once and for all and make it easy for you to go greener.
So, what is it? And why does it matter?
Sustainable apparel is made when a garment, through out it's lifecycle, from raw materials for the fabrics to production processes to shipping throughout its supply chain to it's end, creates the smallest carbon footprint as possible.
Today, the apparel industry is thought to be the second-largest industry polluter in the world - second only to fossil fuels. It also generates $620 billion in revenue globally every year. Yet we have few hard numbers on emissions stemming directly from retailers or from their subcontractors.
As shown from tragedies like Rana Plaza and in documentaries like The True Cost, this lack of accountability is harming human beings and the planet we live on in ways we don't even fully grasp yet. It's time for a global change.
Sustainable apparel is also necessarily local. Worldwide, from 2007 to 2012, shipping accounted for 15% of annual NOx emissions from anthropogenic sources, 13% of SOx and 3% of CO2. In 1960 about 95% of Americans' clothing was made in the U.S. That number has reversed, with 97% of our clothes coming from overseas and only 3% made in the United States.
If you're wondering why these numbers have changed so dramatically, it's simple: developing countries offer cheap labor and raw materials, with few legal protections or minimum wage requirements for workers and lower barriers to local environmental regulation compliance. In countries like India and Bangladesh, the pollution from both growing raw materials, like new genetically modified cotton, and from apparel production processes is causing irreversible harm to the environment and the people.
According to Robin Mellery-Pratt, there are 5 major threats to sustainability in fashion:
- cost of raw materials
- labor distribution
- higher regulations
- consumer sentiment.
About 20,000 liters of water are used to make one pair of jeans and a t-shirt. About 70% of that water is used just to grow the cotton. It is predicted that by 2030, water consumption needs will outstrip supply by about 40%.
Now, how do we fix it?
As western consumers, the chief market of the majority of retailers and apparel companies, become more aware of the environmental and human tolls of this industry, they're making their voices heard and voting with their dollars.
Fast fashion conglomerates, like H&M, are making changes, such as aiming to use only recycled and sustainably sourced materials in their products by 2030.
At Kala, we only work with materials suppliers that are certified eco-friendly and intend to implement take-back and up-cycling programs in-house by the end of next year. Our aim with these programs is to reduce the carbon footprint of our products and extend their lifecycle, minimizing apparel waste and increasing use. We also manufacture locally, reducing our carbon footprint even further.
Many up-and-coming companies are also adopting a strategy of creating long-lasting, high-quality pieces with timeless design and sustainable materials.
At the end of the day, it's up to us to push for change. While companies like Kala and others have a sustainable-by-default pledge, the larger industry only changes when we as buyers demand it.
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