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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Sustainability in the fashion industry is a long way away

The ideal solution to the fashion problem is to produce sustainable materials, produced in a green facility, shipped via logistics with net zero commitments, used by the consumer longer and to be disposed of and decomposed few months later.

But it is easier said than done. Overwhelming majority of readymade garments manufacturers are not geared up economically to move towards this goal. The cost of sustainability is high. The RMG manufacturers are ready to make the investments but the brands and retailers are reluctant to increase their purchase price of outsourced garments. Experts say that the garment brands could accelerate sustainability by only fractionally increasing the price at which they buy their products. Now many big brands are facilitating their suppliers in going green.

The fashion industry’s sustainability journey is currently at its very early stages. Although RMG producers are taking some big leaps, the final goal is still a long way away.

There is no doubt that RMG producers need to alter and align their manufacturing techniques and raw materials sourcing in such a way that the final garment, when thrown into a compostable bin, biodegrades in 60 days. That would truly be the most elegant solution to solve the fashion problem.

There is a major problem with our fashion, it is the second-biggest polluter, after oil consuming 350 million barrels oil annually. Fashion is responsible for 10 percent of global carbon emissions, according to the United Nations. The apparel industry is the world’s second-largest water consumer, accounting for 20 percent of the world’s water waste.

Moreover, the polyester and synthetic materials used in the apparel industry do not biodegrade, leaving behind microplastics in the ecosystem for hundreds of years. The issue of overproduction, oversupply, unfairly low prices, and poor working conditions is also a concern

To make matters worse, we are constantly chasing the next big trend, a phenomenon called ‘fast fashion’. Today we own five times more clothing than our grandparents ever did. Average consumption has gone up from 10 clothes a year from 1980 to 80 today. Moreover we throw them away much quicker, just after three or four uses on average. Each year, more than 10,000 crore items of clothing are produced globally, according to some estimates, with 65% of these ending up in landfill within 12 months.

“Circular Fashion” is a model of production and consumption, which involves reusing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible. In this way, the life cycle of products is extended. Another issue is would consumers be willing to pay higher prices?

From cotton seed, to yarn, to fabric, to garment and right up to the point when the end consumer trashes it into the bin, each and every step of this whole process needs to be reinvented and reengineered. We need to alter and align our manufacturing techniques and raw materials sourcing in such a way that the final garment, when thrown into a compostable bin, biodegrades in 60 days. That would truly be the most elegant solution to solve the fashion problem.

Bangladesh is taking steps towards sustainability. Its facilities have become sustainable by using renewable energy sources, harvesting rainwater and reducing consumption to achieve net zero carbon emission.  They are reducing wastage to the lowest possible level, ensuring safe working conditions, timely and fair wages and introducing numerous incentives and welfare programs for our workers.  But that solves only half the fashion problem.

The major challenge lies with raw materials used. But the main problem still persists; that is, these materials do not biodegrade quickly enough and the final garment ends up in landfills for years. To reach our ultimate goal, which is for the garment to biodegrade in 60 days. There is a need to use natural colour cotton, which doesn’t need to be dyed, so no harmful chemicals are used and not much water wastage is involved in the spinning, weaving and dyeing processes to make the fabric. In addition, the industry need to use trims and packing materials like buttons, sewing threads, poly bags and others that are made from materials that easily biodegrade.

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