Sustainable fashion is nothing but corporate greenwashing

Pubali Neogy
·3-min read

I started off on this writeup to highlight the efforts of a pick of fashion brands committed to reducing their environmental footprint.

Halfway through it I realised I couldn’t be more deluded.

For all their assertions about sourcing materials sustainably, recycling and upcycling, these fast fashion and premium fashion brands have precious little to show.

In a clothes obsessed world, fuelled ironically by these very brands pledging to change the way they produce garments and accessories, such solutions are far from being viable and scalable.

Wanting to rake in profits by outsmarting their competitors in a crowded marketplace, these brands launch new collections every few months, offer heavy discounts and advertise aggressively.

The resultant insatiable demand only serves to exacerbate the problem: clothes are tossed out of the wardrobe no sooner than they are bought.

And with almost 80 billion items being produced annually, it’s almost near impossible to recycle everything. Correction: it’s near impossible to recycle even a small fraction of it!

Surveys show that about 87 percent of the material used for clothing go to waste – in a developed nation like the US, one truck full of clothing is landfilled or burned every second.

Excess inventory is offloaded overseas (read developing countries) too, to be sold or simply dumped in their landfills.

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Clothe waste, however, is just one part of the problem. The bigger threat of course is the whole production process that is straining our natural resources and polluting our air, water and land at an unprecedented rate.

It is said that the fashion industry is responsible for 10 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions every year, accounts for one fifth of the industrial water pollution and uses around 1.5 trillion liters of water annually.

Cotton, one of the most eco-friendly clothing materials, guzzles water like anything. The largest cotton exporting nation of India uses almost 22, 500 liters of water to produce a kilogram of the crop. Add to that high doses of agrichemicals such as pesticides and synthetic fertilizers administered to the crop - forget organic - and all you have is a surefire recipe for an environmental disaster.

The popular alternative to cotton, polyester fabric made from oil, is even more notorious. It releases plastic micro-fibers when washed in washing machines. These tiny particles do not get filtered out in water treatment plants and end up in the ocean eventually.

It is said that 2 million tons of micro fibers make their way to the ocean every year – let that figure sink in. Once it does, you’ll realize those have pretty much entered your food chain. Scary, isn’t it?

The production process is scarier. Popular fast fashion brands such as H&M, Gap Inc., Levis, Zara, Mango and others outsource manufacturing to developing countries like Bangladesh where labor is cheap. With no stringent mechanisms in place, the sweatshop like factories freely discharge toxic dyes, carcinogenic chemicals, salts and heavy metals into land and water.

Such is the disturbing truth behind the glossy world of fashion.

And, at the end of the day, we are all a part of this problem staring at us. If the fashion industry entices us with new fancy collections, we as consumers are equally guilty for buying those just to pose for photos and post them on social media.

To flip the narrative, overconsumption needs to stop first. Overproduction will stop too eventually and the rest will fall into place.

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