Do you know the volume of water actually required to produce one cotton t-shirt? Or how much money labourers in Bangladesh and China are paid annually to make products for brands? 2,700 litres of water per t-shirt, and $900 a year. That is a mere $2.46 per day. These answers should certainly shock us and and trigger the stark realisation that we must take serious heed of the impact our wardrobes have on the planet. What can we do about it? The answer is simple. Make better retail decisions.
The conversation needs to begin with awareness. With widespread claims of fashion royalty such as Burberry making controversial environmental decisions (pointing to reports that the brand burned £28 million worth of old stock), sustainability has recently been kicking up a storm on the high-street. Fast fashion retailers such as Zara have demonstrated an "awakening", and responded to consumer pressure to address unethical standards in the industry’s everyday practices. Many major brands like Adidas and The H&M Group (H&M, COS, & Other Stories, etc) are paving the way for ethical operations and working to produce sustainable garments. Adidas just announced plans to eliminate the use of virgin plastics in all its products by 2024 (Read More), while H&M continues to explore sustainable options with their Conscious Collection and clothing recycling efforts with the hopes of using one hundred percent sustainably obtained materials by 2030 (Read More).
These bold moves are driven via either public relations necessity and / or vested belief in environmental ethics, yet regardless of core motivations, the adherence of brands globally has emerged as non-negotiable in the name of survival. Our role as consumers has also matured to a degree that unless we fiercely question what we buy into as a population, brands turning a blind eye to the irreversible environmental degradation they cause will never be compelled to change their ways. The main question remains: why are we as consumers not doing more to align the fashion industry’s core practices with ones that are more sustainability focused?
One of the main perceived issues for many consumers is that sustainably-produced clothing is more expensive. And the reason ethically produced clothing is more expensive is because the brands are making sure to meet appropriate wage standards for workers, as well as use less toxins in the production of fabrics, which essentially adds to the final price tag. Yet at the end of the day, can we really put a price on the future of our Earth?
Although many people consume based on what they need in the moment, a recent report by the Journal of Market Research shows that a pricier buy that lasts longer has a better CPW (cost per wear) rate than its cheaper counterpart. Therefore, perhaps we need to start reassessing our shopping habits and buying behaviour based on what we will wear multiple times over many years, rather than during a moment of fleeting trends. We need to become conscious. The planet relies upon it.
We can only hope that the future of sustainable fashion goes from strength to strength, and that brands globally will take meaningful and lasting action against the destruction of our fragile environment.