The environmental impact of clothing and textile manufacturing and how to buy ethically

The environmental impact of clothing and textile manufacturing and how to buy ethically

A wooden loom with indigo thread.

How did the fibers that make up your clothes become?

The shirt you are wearing right now: what does it consist of? Was it ever in its purest form ever on a field, on the back of a sheep, or on the bottom of an oil well?

We literally wear clothes every day, but few of us spend much time thinking about what’s needed to make different textiles and their effects on the environment.(environmental-impact-of-clothing-and-textile)

That’s interesting, considering how much we think about the food we eat or the skin care products we use.

Most of us do not know how intense the environment is in a single item of clothing, says Clara Vuletich, a fashion sustainability expert whose PhD thesis focuses on sustainable textiles.

“Textile supply chains are among the most complex in any manufacturing sector,” he said.

“When you think of a piece of clothing, as it should be in your back, it has gone through so many different suppliers and production processes.”

First comes the fiber, which, whether it comes from a plant, animal or crude oil, is almost always an intense process of energy and pollutants.

The fiber is processed until it can be spun into a yarn, which in turn is woven or knitted into a fabric. Somewhere bleaches and dyes are normally involved.

Eventually, the fabric becomes a garment.

Each of these steps is likely to occur in different factories, possibly in different countries.

“All these phases have an impact on the environment,” Dr. Vuletich.

“And we know that producing textiles generally uses up a lot of water because all these threads need to be washed all the time, go through all those chemical processes to make this material of high quality and very delicate, and then it becomes a different color than it is natural.

“Well, yes, that’s all very impressive.”

According to a recent industry report, “Measuring Fashion”, the clothing and footwear industries currently account for 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, almost the same as in the entire European Union.

By 2030, it is predicted that the climate impact of the apparel industry will be consistent with total annual greenhouse gas emissions from the US. US, emits 4.9 Gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent.

RMIT textile technologist Mac Fergusson said that textiles made in Australia are a good example for the rest of the world and that global industry is taking steps to be more environmentally friendly.

“We have a lot of recycling that many people are unaware of,” he said, like a Victorian company recycling recycled plastic bottles, which will be opened soon.

Because the manufacturing processes are so complicated and diverse, it is difficult to quantify exactly how much of an environmental impact they cause.

Lifecycles

So are some fibers better or worse for the environment than others? Should we avoid all cotton, for example because of the water and the pesticides?

It’s not that easy, Dr. Vületich: Cotton can be woven in a pullover shirt that is washed frequently and may wear out quickly.

Or it could become a special finely woven fabric, which is sewn into a kimono jacket to wash it in moderation and to preserve it carefully.

“We talk about life cycles,” he said.

“They have the impact of the production phase, but then the material is assembled and the garment is used by the customer, and that also has an impact on the environment.”

Near a woman wearing a buttoned chambray shirt and putting a hand in her jeans pocket.

Find information about the manufacturing practices of your favorite brands. (Unsplash: Amy Humphries)

If you know what making a textile product means, you can know what you are buying. The choice of recycled polyester, local or organic cotton or water-saving fibers such as hemp is likely to have little impact on the environment. They also send a message to growers about the demand for greener products.

To achieve a true environmental difference, the recommended recycling of Fashion Mode is combined with a shift to renewable energy, more efficient processes, a smarter design and different consumer models: you, the consumer.

Fergusson said local wool and cotton producers here in Australia wanted to see more textile production, but local energy costs were prohibitive.

“I know that cotton producers have analyzed the problem, but our energy costs are too high. The production of textiles is not an industry intensive work, but requires a large capital investment, “he said.

Buy in moderation, sweetheart, what you have

If it is important for you to buy clothing that respects the environment, it can be difficult to know where to buy it.

While some brands increase their environmental properties. Most of them do not provide information on how their fabric is obtained.

In fact, Dr. Vuletich, sometimes even the brand did not have much control over the origin of textiles. Mostly smaller brands that Australia did not have the economic power of a global chain.

“Obviously, the big players, it’s easier for them, the H & M, they have a big scale,” he said.

“Some of these smaller players simply cannot access the better material.

“You must be determined to try it in this room.”

Consumers who want to be informed can use applications such as Good on You. It qualifies brands according to their environmental impact, working methods and animal welfare. But these applications depend on brands being primarily transparent about their processes.

If you are really trying to limit the effect of the cabinet on the environment. Dr. Vuletich the best thing to do is to restrict the purchase of new products and appreciate what you have.

“Be careful, take care of yourself and add it in. Every garment has made this journey,” he said.

“It’s really complex, but I find it really exciting, our eyes are open to these amazing processes and the amazing materials we have. The new innovations that are opening up are really exciting.(environmental-impact-of-clothing-and-textile)

“I think that we are prepared as a consumer, we are hungry, especially the younger generation.”

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