There is a strong call to action for all industries across the globe to start prioritising sustainability, and the fashion and textiles industry is certainly no exception.
Up until recently, this industry has followed a predominantly linear model whereby clothing items were simply produced, worn, and then discarded. However, there is now a demand for a circulatory model to come into effect where garments continue to be circulated for as long as they still have value and can be worn, and then safely returned to the biosphere thereafter.
Recently discussed at a Rotary Africa Centennial event, the move from a linear to a circulatory model is crucial, especially when one considers the monumental impact that clothing production has on the environment from the perspective of chemical use, greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption, and rainforest destruction.
It is estimated that the fashion and textiles industry is responsible for close to 10% of the earth’s global carbon emissions. Furthermore, approximately 23 kilograms of greenhouse gases are generated for every kilogram of fabric produced and 70 million trees are chopped down for the purpose of garment manufacture each year, based on statistics from sustainyourstyle.org. These statistics are particularly worrying considering the fact that clothing production is expected to double in 15 years’ time.
According to Kutay Saritosun, Director of Fashion Brands at bluesign® and host of the Rotary Africa Centennial panel on sustainability in the textile industry, so much goes into making that one shirt despite that, at the end of the day, it goes to landfill.
“We now need to be thinking how can we bring that shirt back into the economy? How can we give it a second, third, and fourth life to keep it in circulation so that the resources that we have used stay within that circular domain and there is no need to draw on new resources to make another shirt, or billions of shirts, for that matter.”
There are numerous brands across the globe that have signed pledges or adopted initiatives revolving around transforming their business model and embracing the notion of circular fashion. Many brands have introduced take-back programmes and are actively recycling garments in order to produce new ones.
Ideally, there needs to be a shift from designing garments with the next garment in mind to designing garments with the next use in mind. Brands also need to take other aspects into consideration when adopting the circulatory business model, such as biodegradability, recyclability, longevity, non-toxicity, and resource efficiency.
The manner in which – and how often – resources are sourced plays a significant role in sustainable and circulatory fashion. Brands must do their utmost to source locally, ethically, and with efficiency, as well as to source from renewable resources and without toxicity.
“The focus needs to be on decoupling economic growth from material extraction to achieve circularity. Brands also need to stop relying on synthetics and petroleum as these are not biodegradable, which means that they are not aligned with the circular economy in the long-term. That is, unless we look at responsible production and the solutions for what are we doing with the clothes once we no longer have any use for them,” says Samata Pattinson CEO of Red Carpet Green Dress addressing delegates attending the Rotary Africa Centennial event.
Ultimately, while consumers definitely play a role in creating and maintaining sustainability as part of the fashion industry, the onus is on fashion brands to take swift action. The transformation required to ensure the protection of ecosystems is not possible if only a handful of brands or individuals make the necessary changes. Individuals, fashion brands, governments, creatives, and industry leaders need to band together to make circulatory fashion happen and to keep it that way.
Get to know Kutay Saritosun and his passion for all things sustainability in the fashion and textiles industry here.