Tuesday, November 22, 2022
As the seasons change, the time comes to change out our wardrobes. October and November are usually the months when summer clothes are put away - standing by until the heat and summer weather return -and warmer pieces that had been stored when winter ended are retrieved. But buying new outfits and new stylish clothes is also a part of this seasonal switch. It’s no coincidence that the September issue of fashion magazines is the most important issue of the year: it’s not only the one with the most pages, but also the one that advertisers thirst over.
The change of season is also, however, the perfect time to reflect on the state of affairs in the fashion industry, one that -with a global value of between $1.7 trillion and $2.5 trillion, according to various estimates for 2021- is one of the most powerful in the global market. Trends -and the fact that with each new phase, must-have pieces change- are by no means new. The 'tyranny of fashion', as it has been called, has existed for centuries. What has changed now is the speed of production, the accessibility -thanks to low prices- to these trends, and the ephemeral nature of fashions.
So-called fast fashion is a phenomenon of the late twentieth century that has evolved in the twenty-first century into ultra-fast fashion. In essence, it maintains a high turnover at the point of sale so that consumers always see a fresh collection (and, above all, buy more frequently). The T-shirt you see on the shelves today will be outdated in a month, and, as shoppers are well aware from their window-shopping days, if you don't purchase it quickly, it may be gone by the time you go to buy it.
All of this is causing the textile industry to put increasing pressure on the environment. In fact, according to data from the Ellen McArthur Foundation, it accounts for 20% of annual global water consumption during the garment dyeing and finishing processes. Parallel to the growth in the volume of garment production, the average length of time each garment is worn has been decreasing.
How to change the textile industry
However, despite the statistics, all is not lost. The fashion industry can become much more sustainable if, in addition to switching out our closet each season, consumers, retailers, and manufacturers also change the production model. The key is to rethink both how garments are produced (something that fashion brands have to do) and how that production is consumed (something that is in the hands of the buyers themselves).
In fact, huge amounts of textile waste are generated every year: 92 million tons of textile waste which, despite the growth of the second-hand clothing market, often end up in the garbage. Between 75 and 85% of this discarded clothing ends up in landfills or is burned, making it an environmental burden. Also, this glut of textile pieces from developed countries has flooded the markets of developing economies and stifled their local industries.
The solution must involve changing our relationship with fashion. Making the leap to greener and more responsible fashion implies, for example, supporting circular economy models, which are based on ensuring that products will have a new life once they end their cycle with each consumer. In fashion, this translates into reusing materials or the garments themselves - the second-hand market has exploded in the last decade - or the commitment to more creative models such as upcycling, in which the garment is reinvented.
This reinvention not only takes advantage of what has already been manufactured, but it also gives it a new identity, modernizes it, and creates a valuable new product. In fact, the useful life of the garment is extended, making it, once again, an 'object of desire'. The potential of upcycling can be seen when you discover that major fashion brands, such as Stella McCartney or Louis Vuitton, have already started to retrieve garments from their archives.
Likewise, making sustainable renovations can start from the design phase (taking the impact of the pieces or how to minimize it into consideration before creating them). The Spanish company Jeanología is one example, as they have developed tools and methodologies to produce jeans more efficiently. The look they offer is, they promise, the authentic jeans look, but with less environmental impact and reduced costs.
Innovation can also be a way of doing this, by looking for ways to change these bad patterns for the better. This transformation is not impossible. Nor is it a futuristic idea. Brands such as Ecoalf -which uses as raw material elements as diverse as coffee grounds or marine debris to create its garments - or Sea Threads -which converts ocean plastic into thread- are already doing so, positioning themselves with green alternatives in the different phases of textile product commercialization.
Change, however, ultimately has to come from the consumers themselves, who must ask themselves why they buy fashion and what happens to the pieces they buy each season. When it comes to switching out their wardrobe, they are, in the end, the ones who have the last word.
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