Ditulis oleh: Nabila Alwini
Disunting oleh: Ghafi Reyhan & Zania Putri
Ilustrasi oleh: Bima Oktavian
Every individual has their own fashion style as people seem to believe that “fashion reflects who you are,” which contributes to the critical importance of fashion in our culture and society. When the Industrial Revolution created an influx of affordable high-quality textiles, people were ecstatic as they were now able to acquire a commodity that was previously limited to the upper class. Little did they know, their purchasing habit and fashion industry’s excessive production would be detrimental to the environment and society.
Currently, the fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world after oil (EDGE, 2020), contributing to 10% of the world’s greenhouse emission (McFall-Johnsen, 2019). Moreover, the industry has also been extracting excessive amounts of natural resources which is harming the environment (World Bank, 2019). The situation is worse than imagined as the negative impacts also extend to human health. One of its victims is Designer Nimco Adam, known as the “tie-dye queen” for the extensive usage of dyes in her collections. Adam lost her sense of smell after being exposed to chemical dyes for a long period of time (UN Environment, no date). She realizes that the industrial method that she’s been using is harmful to both humans and the environment. Her experience with chemical dyes has empowered her to vanguard the sustainability movement and pivoted her from using chemicals and synthetic materials. Nevertheless, the impacts, of course, do not stop here. Adam is only one of the many who are affected.
The industry’s growing negative impacts on the environment and human health have raised global concerns, inciting support and awareness for the sustainable fashion movement, especially amidst the pandemic.
What is Sustainable Fashion?
Sustainable fashion refers to the production of any fashionable items in an environmentally and socio-economically sustainable manner which aims to create a more sustainable consumer behavior (Green Strategy Sustainable and Circular Fashion Consulting, no date) and address prominent environmental problems in the fashion industry, notably:
- The usage of harmful chemicals that negatively affect human health (Akarslan & Demiralay, no date, p. 407) as in the case of Adam.
- Water overuse in producing fashion goods.
- Creation of textile wastage (McFall-Johnsen, 2019) caused by rapid changes in seasonal collection and excessive production to cope with market demands.
- The usage of unsustainable resources such as cotton as one of the main materials in the fashion industry.
In response to these problems, several companies in the fashion industry have started to embrace a more sustainable approach. For instance, Polo Ralph Lauren launched “The Earth Polo” in which their shirts are made of recycled water bottles and use dyes that do not require water for its production (Sachs, 2020). According to Forbes, Polo Ralph Lauren is not the only one to realize the importance of adopting sustainable fashion. Inditex Company, whose brands include Zara, Pull & Bear, and Massimo Dutti is also on its way to sustainable fashion by using 100% sustainable materials such as organic cotton and recycled polyester by the year 2025, and enabling customers to bring in their unwanted clothes for recycling, charity, or reusage (Shatzman, 2019). It is believed that the implementation of sustainable fashion measures have contributed to safer production activities as employees are less exposed to harmful materials, thus lowering the risk of work accidents, eliminating hazardous environments, and avoiding administrative sanctions. Despite that, it is undeniable that the companies’ determination to be more sustainable is driven by their self-interest: the search for positive publicity and potential market expansion.
Other than using sustainable materials, these companies are planning to allow customers to bring their used clothes to be later sorted for recycling, charity, or reusage (Shatzman: 2019). This is a chance for us consumers, to expand our thinking beyond when the clothes are still ours, but also care for the impacts (both negative and positive) when those are no longer ours.
As a consumer, we can promote sustainable fashion by avoiding acts of consumerism, doing more research about a particular brand’s fashion practices and the significance of the item that will be purchased; recycling our unused garments through DIY practices or donating them; and avoid buying fast-fashion products by switching to second-hand goods or thrift clothes instead. Although the movement does not completely eliminate the damage caused by the industry on our environment, the movement managed to encourage fashion companies to embrace a more sustainable approach to fashion.
As mentioned before, fashion companies’ drive to become more sustainable is still greatly influenced by their self-interest. These past few months, the COVID-19 pandemic has wrecked our system and has caused many companies to find themselves with lower demands and piling inventories, while placing many others on the brink of bankruptcy. As a result, the longevity of the sustainable fashion movement is threatened.
Nevertheless, the pandemic should not be used as an excuse for companies to abandon the sustainable practice. One of the things that I felt recently is the fact that the pandemic has made us closer to the Earth by placing us in its perspective, hence enabling us to know the actions that are needed for it to heal. Therefore, abandoning sustainable fashion methods should not be perceived as a shortcut for fashion companies to escape the hardships caused by the pandemic. Instead, companies can see this as an opportunity to switch to a more socially conscious and environmentally friendly production method and avoid mass production by keeping a close eye on the market demand and building more flexible and resilient supply chains. Other than that, they can also establish a system allowing customers to recycle their excess inventories to be reused for production, thus lowering their costs of production. Most importantly, as the global supply chain suffers disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic, fashion companies can start deducing a way to make the fashion industry less reliant on natural resources.
Instead of seeing the pandemic as a negative phenomenon, fashion companies could see this as a blessing in disguise. By revolutionizing their methods, companies could accelerate their transformation into a digital-based industry, signifying less cost and pollution from product deliveries. Other than that, the industry can develop circular models, making their products more versatile in terms of function hence increasing its lifespan (Rabimov, 2020).
Fashion Industry as a Start
Once a “golden” industry, the fashion industry has now shifted into an industry of “ashes” thanks to the Industrial Revolution. For decades, this industry has become one of the most damaging industries to both the environment and society. Fueled by greed, mass production and excess supply become its distinctive features. However, the fashion industry can still change for the better by incorporating environmentally sustainable and socially responsible methods into their production activities.
Although consumers’ efforts played an important role in initiating the development of sustainable fashion, its success would still greatly depend on fashion companies, who occupied the main stage. To ensure that the fashion industry is going towards the right direction, we should closely monitor the industrial practices of fashion brands and voice our concerns to push the companies towards a better path, and if it is not enough, the government should, without doubt, intervene to incentivize the creation of a sustainable fashion industry.
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