Believe it or not, the fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries across the globe. The production and distribution of crops, fibers, and garments used in the fashion industry contribute to various forms of pollution, including water, air, and soil. The supply chain is so scattered that the retailers have no idea about how the fabric is made and who manufactures it.
Pollution from Fashion is a growing concern, and significant steps should be taken to resolve it. Here comes the concept of supply chain management into play. It is the management of the flow of goods and services and includes all processes that transform raw materials into final products.
A supply chain covers everything from production to product development to the information systems needed to direct these undertakings. It also focuses on ethical practices by any company and keeps the companies out of headlines and away from lawsuits.
But it is correctly said that the fashion supply chain is designed to hide rather than proclaim. The supply chain conceals all the malpractices and environmental issues making it challenging to identify and treat them.
Hazards of the Fashion Industry
“Fast Fashion is like fast food. After the sugar rush, it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth.”
- Livia Firth
The apparel industry accounts for 10 percent of worldwide carbon emissions and remains to be the second-largest industrial polluters, second only to oil. One of the primary reasons for this is the growing popularity of fast fashion. It is a term used by retailers to describe clothes that are inspired by recent trends seen on celebrities and runway for an affordable price for the consumers.
As retailers need to keep up the demand for these styles, they often cut costs that increase their carbon footprint. One of the significant fabric used in producing such clothes is polyester due to its low-cost, versatility, and wrinkle-free properties.
We often tend to ignore the fact that polyester is a synthetic petroleum-based fiber. More than 70 million barrels of oil are used for the production of polyester each year. The production of polyester not only affects the environment in a negative way, but the fabric isn’t biodegradable.
When we buy polyester clothes, plastic microfibers shed with every wash and enter the water supply harming everything from the food we eat to marine life. When thrown out, it ends up in landfills and takes over 200 years to decompose. Pollution from Fashion is caused by the use of fabrics like polyester, nylon, and rayon.
“Child is meant to learn, not to earn.”
Another major issue in the fashion supply chain is of Child Labor. According to the International Labour Organization, around 260 million children are victims of Child Labor. Within this, 170 million are making textiles and garments to satisfy the demands of consumers in the US, Europe, and beyond.
Fast Fashion has endangered a race to the bottom, pushing companies to find cheaper sources of labor. Child Labor is a particular issue for fashion because a major part of the supply chain requires cheap labor. In cotton picking, children are preferred for their small fingers that do not damage the crop. Also, there is no supervision, no control mechanisms, and no unions that can bargain for better working conditions in case of children.
Employers consider children as very low skilled workers who do not have a voice. Such innocent children are subjected to long working hours, exposed to pesticides, paid less wages, and made to work in the scorching heat.
The icing on the cake is that these employers get away with such malpractices since the fashion supply chain is enormous and complex, which makes it difficult for companies to control every stage of production.
The fashion industry also gives rise to Slave Labor. It includes children who are lured into work with the promise of education to the cotton pickers who are kept in bondage. As a country, a state, a city, and a society, we are encouraging modern slavery without even realizing it.
What can be done to clean up the fashion supply chain mess?
In the last few years, keeping in mind the malpractices of the fashion industry, a wave of change has been sweeping. An increasing number of brands are rejecting the principles of Fast Fashion and moving towards a sustainable approach. The beginning of Slow Fashion marks this wave!
Slow Fashion is an approach and awareness which considers the processes and resources required to make clothing focus on sustainability. It involves purchasing better quality garments that will last longer and values fair treatment of people, animals, and the planet.
Slow Fashion focuses on high quality, sustainable materials such as recycled polyester, organic hemp, recycled cotton, and Tencel. The garments are locally sourced, produced, and sold.
There are various Sustainable Clothing Brandssuch as Kowtow, Encircled, Vetta, and many more.
It is true that if the fabric in itself is sustainable, several of today’s fashion industry challenges around pollution and sustainability will be immediately addressed.
To combat Child Labour, there are specific practical steps that the companies can take. Brands can begin by creating a supply register. They can visit and start knowing who their manufacturers are. Brand representatives must look out for signs if the factory sub is contracting.
If the factory does not have enough amount of workers, it is clear that it subcontracts the order.
Companies must alter their purchasing practices as factories hire children to meet deadlines. By adjusting purchasing practices, companies can lighten the load on factories.
The workers must be aware of their rights so that they knew when to file a report.
Such steps can reduce child labor and Slave Labor.
While companies take some steps to clean up the mess caused by fashion industries, it is also the responsibility of a consumer to be aware of such malpractices. It does not mean that you start throwing polyester made clothes from your wardrobe, but the goal is to stop purchasing those fabrics going forward.
The motto is “quality over quantity” so that companies focus on slow fashion, which makes use of sustainable fabrics and does not require a massive amount of labor, which results in child labor and slave labor. Always remember, a better environment means a better tomorrow!