Spring shopping? Your clothing budget has real power

Because fashion trends got a makeover during the pandemic, the fashion industry was under pressure to have one too. While we were all on Zoom, Teams, FaceTime and GoogleMeet in tops and sweatpants, trying to keep our cats, dogs and grandchildren out of sight, the fashion industry itself was unsettled by more than the pandemic. These companies have faced increased pressure to reduce their massive environmental impact and also take care of their workforce. Fashion is a $2.4 trillion industry that employs 300 million people worldwide across its value chain, and 80% of the 75 million garment workers are women between the ages of 18 and 35.

Have fashion companies used the pandemic downtime to reorganize to better file their returns to reduce their carbon footprint? Have they taken care of garment workers, millions of whom work in developing countries for pennies and suddenly find themselves without a job indefinitely?

The short answer is “no,” according to Kerry Bannigan, founder and executive director of the Fashion Impact Fund and co-founder and CEO of the Conscious Fashion campaign, in a lengthy Earth Month interview on my Electric Ladies Podcast recently.

“I think a lot of us who work in impact really thought seeing this unprecedented disruption to the fashion space would mean they would be forced to reevaluate. What would that look like? We then started hearing words about ‘pivot, adapt, reset, remodel’, the chance to create a whole new era in the fashion industry,” Bannigan said.

“And while some (clothing companies) have decided to do that, the reality is that the industry is still lacking in progress. Because, on the other hand, other people have gotten into sweat very quickly. disposable… And so with that, you started seeing the booming sales for huge companies that are dubbed under the “disposable” or “fast fashion” sectors.

Fast fashion is the exact opposite of sustainable.

Few industries tout their sustainability credentials more forcefully than the fashion industry,” recently wrote Kenneth P. Pucker, former chief operating officer of clothing company Timberland and now a professor at the Fletcher School, in the Harvard Business Review. “Products ranging from swimwear to wedding dresses are marketed as carbon-positive, organic or vegan, while yoga mats made from mushrooms and sneakers made from sugarcane dot the shelves of retailers. New business models including recycling, resale, rental, reuse and repair are being marketed as environmental lifesavers. The sad truth, however, is that all of this experimentation and supposed “innovation” in the fashion industry over the past 25 years has failed to mitigate its global impact. »

Startling stats – the fashion industry’s massive impact on the environment

The precise environmental impact of the fashion industry is difficult to measure, experts say, in part because its supply chain is highly cash-strapped, including small factories in developing countries. They’re going to have to find a way to measure it accurately, because the new climate disclosure rules proposed by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) will require it.

Here’s what we know today and it’s staggering (these stats are courtesy of Ecothes.com, and similar stats are reported elsewhere):

  • “The fashion industry (including clothing and footwear) accounts for 8.1% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
  • “As much as 20% to 35% of all primary source microplastics in the marine environment come from synthetic clothing, according to academic estimates….
  • “By 2030, it is expected that there will be 148 million tons of fashion waste.”….
  • “Less than 1% of the materials used to produce clothes are recycled into new clothes at the end of their life…
  • “One kilogram of cotton – equivalent to the weight of a shirt and jeans – can require up to 10,000 to 20,000 liters of water to produce.”

The industry is under increasing pressure to do better and be more transparent. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition, for example, is working to improve the impact of the fashion industry, including with its Higg Brand & Retail module and other tools, designed to help brands and retailers track and manage their impact.

“There are those (companies) who are driving change who are doing it because it’s the right thing to do. They have the means to do it and they can do it in their business. It goes from big to small,” Bannigan explained. But these companies can do much better and that needs regulations, adding: “You have to remember that the fashion industry currently has no…legislation and it doesn’t have regulation at all. levels.”

Pucker agreed, suggesting that “governments should pass Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation (as has been done in California for several categories, including carpets, mattresses and paint). These laws require manufacturers to prepay disposal costs for their goods. Additional legislation should be passed to compel fashion brands to share and meet supply chain commitments.

The supply chain is “a human chain”

Bannigan pointed out that more industry collaboration is also needed, such as brands sharing their experience with suppliers. “Specifically, when there’s a red flag to worry about in someone they’ve worked with,” Bannigan suggested, “they need to tell their peers in space, so they don’t order from from that place. And instead, bring their orders and finances to the factories that do it well. And “doing it right” according to Bannigan includes how they treat their employees.

“The fashion industry is a supply chain… but in reality, it’s a human chain. Nothing is made that we wear that doesn’t pass through many human hands. Therefore, fashion brands must disclose how they treat, pay and educate their workers, Bannigan pointed out.

Our investments in fashion reflect our values ​​and drive our brands. How are we going to use this power?

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