A few days ago, at the Louis Vuitton fashion show an activist, Marie Cohuet, burst onto the runway holding a white banner with the words, “Overconsumption = Extinction” printed on it.
Outside, 30 others wearing gas masks and representing environmental organisations including Extinction Rebellion protested the current state of the fashion industry as the 2nd biggest polluter in the world. But what does this mean for us in Sri Lanka as consumers and as producers of clothing?
Infographic courtesy of the Fair Fashion Industry
The facts: Fashion makes up for 10% of global carbon emissions and is responsible for 20% of industrial wastewater. Some of this is down to the fabrics used to mass-produce garments.
Take for example the growing market for athleisure. Workout pants and tops are usually made out of nylon, acrylic or polyester. These fabrics are composed of petroleum-based plastics. Instead of biodegrading naturally over time, they break down into microplastics that just stick around in the environment. When washed continuously they shed microfibres of microplastics which filter into oceans, rivers, organisms and eventually…us. Researchers from the University of Florida found that 82% of the microplastics found off the Gulf of Mexico originated from fabrics made of nylon or polyester.
So how does this apply to Sri Lanka? Our apparel industry is an integral part of our society, employing around 600,000 people and accounting for 7% of our national GDP. We export widely to places such as UK, Italy and Germany. In short, we are producing a lot of clothing for a lot of people but alas, research is slim on what the impacts are on our local environment.
Some brands and stores aren't waiting around for the statistics to come out. Places such as The Design Collective makes it a point to stock sustainable labels like House of Lonali and Selyn Fairtrade Handloom who implement more climate friendly practices. This includes using low-impact, recycled, and deadstock materials to construct clothes, relying on plant-based dye instead of chemical dye, and harnessing renewable energy.
In a recent interview Fouzal Hameedia talked of Hameedias' use of solar power to run its factories. Elsewhere, new brands such as 'Leo the Label' are committed to using compostable, recycled or recyclable fabrics. Speaking to its Founder & Director, Sashini Jinasena said - ‘natural fabrics such as linen are not only biodegradable and highly durable, but also require minimal water input in its production process than most of its alternatives. We feel like even the smallest steps are of utmost importance right now. After all, there is no Planet B!’
Interior of PR Concept Store which stocks labels such as MAUS, ANUK and KUR whose sustainable policies include using deadstock fabric and organic materials.
On the flip side the process of growing and producing materials like cotton, hemp and wool, require a huge amount of water, sufficient land and enough energy to grow and process it.
So what are consumers to do? We circle back to Marie Cohuet, whose words “Overconsumption = Extinction” might be the key. As climate conscious, fashion-loving individuals, perhaps one way is to read the actual label on the clothes to see what it’s made of and judge its impact.
At LOVI we are doing two things: Firstly, we use natural bio-degrading fabrics like cottons and silks, and avoid the plastics, nylons and polyesters that will clog our planet for centuries to come. Secondly, we design products meant to last and be worn lovingly by you for years to come.
On sustainability, the power is with you. How would you like to use it?