Finding the right balance between fashion and sustainability
Naziba Ali |
April 18, 2021, 6:05 p.m.
Indonesia has embarked on a seven-year clean-up program to address the problem of dirty water in a river called Citarum, which causes widespread disease among the people, especially children, living in the area. What has led to this phenomenon is fast fashion.
What is that?
Fast fashion is, in the simplest sense, the practice of reproducing high-end fashion products in massive quantities at a lower cost. The fast fashion model has created a spiral where big brands outsource their production at lower cost. As a result, factory owners in developing economies often have to cut costs by reducing wages and safety regulations for their employees.
It has exploded over the past two decades. However, the field of affordable clothing has sparked a problematic culture of overconsumption and disposal. This in turn created excessive waste, leading to more environmental risks.
Despite being home to four million garment workers, Bangladesh has gained worldwide attention through incidents like the collapse of Rana Plaza (2013) which defined the image of the fast fashion industry. . Since then, however, global fashion players have struggled to meet their social and environmental responsibilities.
Sustainable fashion, a need
On the other side of the coin is the sustainable fashion movement which aims to counter the rapid growth of rapid fashion. Companies that emphasize sustainable practices adhere to ethical sourcing and production techniques, such as using organic, recycled or more sustainable materials. In addition, the workforce involved in the production of these garments receives decent wages and greater protection than their counterparts in the fast fashion industry supply chain.
Thus, sustainable fashion promotes ecological and social sustainability by placing more emphasis on quality rather than quantity. This is why it is often called eco-mode or slow mode.
Global fashion companies have now made sustainable initiatives a significant part of their budgets. Consumers, too, constantly ask the question: Have we deliberately closed our eyes or have we never even asked the question – “where do my clothes come from?”
Yet the slow fashion movement faces an uphill battle with cheap and counterfeit designs being mass marketed in a world where consumer appetites are on the rise.
Therefore, government policies, reorientation of supply chains and better consumer knowledge are essential to level the playing field between fast and slow modes. The leaders of the fashion industry began to think about the idea.
NawshinKhair, National Coordinator and Fashion Revolution Global Advisory Board Member, said: âSince 2014, we have been hosting Fashion Revolution Week where we promote sustainable fashion through curated exhibitions and advocate transparency.â Managing Director of the fair trade brand Aranya Crafts Ltd, she spoke about the need for innovation in Bangladesh.
âAs a fashion designer, I have had the opportunity to attend workshops of eminent dye practitioners from all over the world. As the world strives to produce leather from fish skin, Bangladesh still lacks the knowledge, technical knowledge and sufficient funds to carry out such research. “
âSustainability is not an option but a necessity for the Bangladesh garment industry. Our company has already signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change which aims to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. âsaid MA Jabbar, CEO of DBL Group. But, added, for future sustainability, a safe workplace environment must be the priority. âGarment factories across our country have many opportunities to collaborate with knowledge partners. To remain competitive as suppliers, we must ensure that our production facilities are both environmentally friendly and worker friendly. “
As of June 2020, Bangladesh’s annual garment waste was around 0.4 million tonnes, which would be a business worth US $ 4 billion if reused and recycled. âCommitments to sustainable development around the world have deepened during the Covid-19 crisis. Local garment factories must therefore aim to reuse and reprocess fibers and scraps in the most efficient way to achieve sustainability, âJabbar added.
The fall in the price of fast fashion has resulted in overconsumption. According to ‘The real cost(2015) documentary directed by Andrew Morgan, the world consumes about 400% more clothes than 20 years ago. We now live in a society where clothes are considered disposable. A report published by the World Resources Institute points out that up to 85% of textiles go to landfill each year. Fashion has thus become the second polluting industry after oil.
So where is the light at the end of the tunnel?
Implementation in Bangladesh
In Bangladesh, garment industry accounts 83 percent of the country’s exports. Statistics like this suggest that any sudden hiatus in the fast-paced fashion industry could hurt the economy as a whole. In addition, the slow fashion implementation could see thousands of garment workers lose their jobs. Therefore, the approach must be careful.
Mr. David Hasanat, CEO of Viyellatex Ltd, has worked with Sustainable Fashion for 15 years. Speaking to this author, he said: âSustainability goes far beyond environmentalism; rather, it covers the three Ps – planet, people and profit. For fashion to be sustainable, it must be both slow and circular. “
According to the American research company Wealth-X, Bangladesh ranks 3rd in the list of 10 countries with high population growth HNW (High Net Worth). âIf this segment of the population can vote with their pockets, ethical fashion will go far in Bangladesh,â added Mr. Hasanat.
Nonetheless, he swept aside the common perception that slow fashion is a threat to mass employment. In her opinion, this is just an excuse to buy fast fashion.
âIn an open market economy like ours, everyone is in a frantic race to make the maximum profit. Therefore, it becomes quite difficult to balance the three aspects of sustainability: economic, social and environmental. Given the monitoring of pollution and economic incentives, the government can encourage sustainable fashion to a large extent. “
The pandemic has made people realize that if they can go a few months without buying a new item of clothing, it can surely last longer. âIn the midst of the pandemic, I am delighted to see an emerging group of millennials choosing ‘quality over quantity’. If accessibility is an issue, we should at least recycle, reuse and recycle our clothes, âsaid Mumtahana Elahi, founder and designer of Abayaholic, a modest fashion brand in Bangladesh.
Green fashion is often stereotyped as boring. It is therefore necessary to glamorize it with young people, because they are the first to adopt fashion trends. âIt’s easy to ignore the power we have as consumers or the impact of our purchase. Therefore, educating people through mass media should be entrusted to experts and designers who have deep knowledge on the subject, âsays Ms. Mumtahana.
Patsy Perry, Senior Lecturer in Fashion Marketing at the University of Manchester, gives us great advice on reducing fashion fast: “Less is always more.” This simple step of consciously buying products will make the fashion industry focus more on sustainable clothing.
Naziba Ali is a third year student at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), University of Dhaka.