The world is being plagued by environmental abuse from all kind of industries. Traditional economies, dominated by the use and throw policy, did not consider the material’s end use. It only sourced the inputs from the environment, manufactured them, and channeled them into the industrial process to make end products. These products were then sold to consumers, who dumped them into landfills or incinerators after a while. This is particularly true of the fashion industry, where a new concept of fast fashion, has taken root. This concept involves the high speed and cost-effective catwalk-to-store delivery of high-fashion trends. The disposable nature of new fashion along with a growing disposable income, have been driving production in the last 15 years. Around the world, the $1.3 trillion clothing industry employs over 300 million people across the value chain.
New ways of reducing pollution
The emergence of new fashion styles every day is driving pollution in the industry. A study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation titled ‘A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future’ estimates that over half of the fast fashion garments are disposed off in under a year. Utilisation of clothes, over the last 15 years, or the average number of times they are worn has decreased by 36 per cent. This is particularly seen in the United States, where clothes are only used for a quarter of the global average, and in China, where utilisation has decreased by 70 per cent.
Now, various movements to counter fashion are emerging across the world. Global Fashion Agenda and The Boston Consulting Group, in its study on sustainability of fashion, demonstrates the progress made by the industry globally to improve the environmental and social performance, especially from small and medium companies in the mid-price segment. The study, which used a performance scoring mechanism called the ‘Pulse Score’ reveals that around 75 per cent of fashion companies surveyed improved their sustainability score compared to last year.
Cambodian company leads sustainability drive
The textile and clothing industry, which employs around 800,000 people in Cambodia, continues to be the backbone of the country’s export-driven economy. It contributes around 40 per cent to the nation’s GDP. The country is also home to Sustainability Champion, Tonlé, a frontrunner in processing pre-consumer waste.
Tonlé’s sustainability strategy forms the core of its operations. It reroutes and reuses waste materials that is usually dumped in landfills or burned. Through this strategy, the company not only reduces its massive CO2 emissions, but also the consumption of water, pesticide used in agriculture and chemicals used to dye fabrics. The fashion company has diverted more than 16,000 kg of materials from landfills, reduced 495,000 kg of CO2, reduced consumption of almost 200 million liters of water, and reduced pesticide consumption by almost 12 kg.
The commitment and action by companies like Tonlé not only affects real contributions, but also drives awareness on sustainable fashion further. To keep this drive alive, the rest of the industry needs to follow its lead. The industry should focus on the long-term effects of its products on the environment and communities where it operates.