Environmentally-responsible Fashion: Why not a Show-Stopper?

“Style is very personal. It has nothing to do with fashion. Fashion is over quickly. Style is forever.” -Ralph Lauren

Style has always been a force that helps to not just stand out and shine but also to nurture one’s innate desire for looking good.

Yet, people confuse fashion with style, widely adopting the former and neglecting the latter.

As it trickled from the royalty and high class wardrobes to our streets and malls, we kept surrendering to the claws of fashion and let the heels of style gather dust.

Today, fashion, has expanded beyond imagination; and it is not even the monopoly of only women. As time and development made it gain complexity in this world, no one line seems to capably capture what fashion has become.

Yes, Fashion has never been constant. It’s never stable, never eternal and is ever-changing. It permeates all spheres of life and does not just affect us in terms of clothing but also hairstyle, shoes, etiquettes and lifestyle; and sometimes even in habits and choices like drinking, smoking and having drugs.

The UN’s 2011 drug and crime report puts India as the largest consumer of heroin in the whole South Asian region – could some of this demand be related to it being a cool fashion?

Not unlikely, more so as our way of judging people has not changed much. Poor or rich, intellectual or fool, what Swami Vivekananda felt in Chicago in 1893 still pervades in 2017. Strong yet forgotten words: “In your culture, a tailor makes a gentleman; but, in our culture, Character makes a gentleman.”

Character, now that’s what we should be heading towards.

Fashion and Pollution

Fashion, in its quintessence, is often about change. Before you know it, the ‘in’ thing is out. Often, changes in fashion are so fast that normal people find it difficult to cope up and end up wasting money, time, space and environment.

One chief reason for this dimension of fashion is that today, it knows no frontiers. It is something that travels around the world easily, with no passport and visa. Production as well as consumption of latest trends and fashion are rising day by day, amplifying the market size in India of around Rs. 20,000 crore, from what the Fashion Industry Statistics tell us.

Behind this swift growth of fashion industry, we see the fuel added by globalisation. It explains why your shirt has, in all likelihood, traveled halfway around the world in a container ship that was propelled by the dirtiest of fossil fuels. To add to that, there is this current trend in fashion retail of an extreme demand for quick and cheap clothes. No wonder, clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world.

If we look at the production of textiles, mainly cotton, we can see how it is one of the most water-intensive crops and capable of as much as 2.6 per cent of global water usage in itself. Not to forget all those high volumes of pesticides and fertilizers used to pump up output per acre. As much as 25 per cent of the world’s insecticides and more than 10 per cent of the pesticides find their way into cotton activities. Blatant use of such chemicals contributes to the pollution of groundwater and air, and worsens the state of reduction of soil fertility. As the largest producer of cotton in the world, with an estimated 27 million 480lb bales of cotton, or more than a quarter (26 per cent) of global cotton supply in 2016, India needs to assess that something that is significant to the GDP is also escalating problems of underground water pollution and soil pollution.

More partners-in-crime

Even other cheap and versatile textiles, like polyester and nylon that are becoming ubiquitous in fashion, have significant environmental impacts through the entire cycle of extraction to disposal.

Such materials and their manufacture can create nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that is 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide. We can easily touch 10 million tonnes by 2020 but if we are using more than 70 billion barrels of oil to make polyester each year, and that too something that is non-biodegradable and can persist in the eco-system even after it breaks apart – we have a serious alarm bell ringing.

The pace at which synthetic garments are contributing to micro-plastic pollution in our oceans is also a grave concern, Look at Leather – a horrid tale for workers and environment as well. India’s leather exports are slated to be up 10 percent by 2019 but this so-thought by-product of the meat industry has its environmental costs as well. Then there is the explosive growth of online retail, that is adding to mindless consumption like never before. Just because shopping is now easier does not mean it should be done carelessly and needlessly.

From farm to aisles

Why stop at production of clothes, the effects on environment are marked while dyeing of clothes too. Textile colourants like Azo constitute 70 per cent of commercial dyes and may wreak serious health risks if they make their way into certain water supplies. There must be some reason that in 2002, the EU banned Azo dyes and it is known to possibly break down to any of 24 possible carcinogenic products. The ripples of dyes go beyond environment and cause serious health problems amongst workers.

Fashion promotes use of clothes and accelerates the industry. But what about the boost in textile industry thanks to the rise in fashion and the consequent rise in variety in clothes that translates into more exploitation of environment, indiscreet extraction, manufacturing and dyeing of clothes?

There is a clear and strong need to find alternatives for non-eco-friendly methods and use fashion without depleting non-renewable resources, or emitting huge quantities of greenhouses gases and use of massive quantities of energy, chemicals and water. This task is directly in the hands of textile producers but indirectly in the hands of citizens and customers.

Taking mindful decisions about purchasing and dumping clothes should be a priority before careless consumption dictated by what’s the latest in fashion.

Being responsible can be a new style, and it endures beyond fashion.

By Hridaya Khatri



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