Methods of Sustainability within the Fashion and Textiles Industry

Camille-Marie Gourdet is the Chief Executive Officer of Lawrence Blake Group International. Camille has over a decade's worth of experience working within the fashion industry, providing hands on support to international fashion houses, publications, and designers. Connect with Camille via e-mail at CGourdet@lawrenceblake.com.

With the modern world collectively shifting their focus on ways to reverse the damage that has already been caused to our earth it is no wonder that the fashion and textiles industry has been at the forefront in this new initiative to adopt environmentally safe technologies and to produce eco-friendly products. When introduced to the topic of “sustainability” within the fashion world many consumers and business owners are weary of being associated with this term because in some cases it acts as a marketing tool for companies to gain more profit. Others agree that eco-friendly fashion may be a trend brought about by aspects of environmentalism manifesting itself within major fashion and textile companies as they began to donate a percentage of their proceeds to charitable organizations decades ago. It is estimated that over 8,000 chemicals are used in the process that converts raw materials into textiles and 25% of the world's pesticides are used to grow non-organic cotton. As you can imagine this causes irreversible damage to environmental health including air quality, biodiversity, and plant life. Two thirds of many of these manufactured goods carbon footprint won’t occur until after it is purchased. Currently new generations of designers and textile innovators are implementing small solutions that can help reduce carbon emissions and diminish the effects of global warming for generations to come.

To date, the fashion and textiles industry employs about 26.5 million people globally with the majority of their personnel residing in Asia. These industries represent about 7% of the world’s exports and consumers spend about $1 trillion dollars annually on apparel merchandise. When presented with these hefty numbers one cannot begin to fathom the amount of waste products produced from unwanted scraps of fibers and articles of clothing along with the amount of chemicals that are used during the manufacturing processes. About 7,500 gallons of water is needed to produce a mere 2 pounds of cotton for a light weight shirt that one could find in their closet at any given time. These numbers are just a mere reflection of the amount of waste that can potentially be produced when it comes to the mass manufacturing of a spring collection for a department store chain. The majority of the manufacturing companies reluctance to assimilate to “greener” techniques lie within the monetary cost and the installation of newer technologies. To combat this archaic way of thinking these companies must be shown that sustainability is not only environmentally friendly but can be economically profitable in the long run. The world of fashion may appear to be stylish and glamorous from those on the outside looking in but if sustainable methods of production aren’t made into a mandatory regulation in each production facility the impact on the environment caused by this carelessness will only worsen as the years commence.

Consumers are currently savvier and more hands on about product knowledge.  Now more than ever they are interested in knowing the various processes that occur to a garment before it reaches it’s final stage on the store shelf. As a result clothing manufacturers are becoming more accountable for the impact that they cause on the environment and can potentially lose business if it is discovered that they are working under false business practices. There are many methods being used through all sectors of the industry from mass market to high-end design to produce eco friendly products for their patrons. Some methods of sustainability that have come to the forefront in design has been the use of organic fabrics, up-cycling, zero waste design, digital printing, hand dying, fair-trade policies, water-free stone washing, repurposing, smart tailoring, and bio-filtering wastewater just to name a few. Each of these methods has been proven as successful in lessening the impact that the fashion and textiles industry has on the health of our planet. The use of environmentally friendly fabrics has been a major turning point in sustainable fashion. The phrase “Reduce, reuse, recycle” is something that many of us have heard from childhood which has now found its way into the fashion industry. It is helping designers and manufacturers to define sustainable fashion as a rediscovery of previously used materials and to begin thinking “outside of the box” in way that can creatively salvage previous resources appropriately.