Travelling twice a year to highly populated and polluted cities in China and India first opened our eyes to the negative impacts on the environment that the fashion industry is no doubt contributing to. Back at home we receive daily reminders through credible reports and media of the reality of this impact. Fashion and clothing are huge contributors to the current crisis, and a quantum shift is needed if we are to stem the flow of pollutants into our oceans, water supplies and soil, slow down the industries’ contribution to greenhouse emissions and of course reduce our alarming contribution to landfill.
The degree of change required is at times overwhelming, but we recognise the urgency and are absolutely committed to driving change, both within our operation, as well as those of our suppliers. At times, as a small brand this has felt a gargantuan task, however it was during our recent trip to China in June 2019 that we noticed the evidence of a big shift happening. Suppliers’ awareness was high, they were more forth coming with information and there was much more development and sampling available of new sustainable fabrics. Whilst many of these fabrics are still at the early stages of their development, it gave us hope. To add to this we were encouraged that other buyers from other countries had all been asking the same questions. This is surely an indicator that a real change is happening, and is a motivator for us to continue to research and trial new approaches from design, to production, to distribution, including communicating with our customers who, like us, are on a learning journey.
The following information is therefore part of our efforts to both raise awareness of the issues, as well as being transparent about our own journey towards sustainability. More and more our community, friends and customers are asking us what they should be doing to support the changes needed. What is ‘doing the right thing” when at times information seems to be conflicting, solutions complex and certainly no fix for all. However, the fact is that whilst we accept we are not a leader, we recognise we need to do our best now, share our learnings and encourage those around us to do the same. We hope the following gives some clarity and will help you on your journey…….
The Fashion Industry is the third largest user of water globally (after oil and paper), using one tenth of all water used industrially.
Vast amounts of water are needed throughout the production processes for textiles and garments. Conventional cotton cultivation is the biggest user of all. According to WWF it takes as much as 2,700 litres of water to grow enough cotton for one shirt. Conventional spinning, dyeing, finishing then add further to this. However, cotton is not the only culprit … all fibres use large quantities of water in the processing of yarns and fabric.
Given that cotton is a fibre present in many of our fabrications, sourcing cotton from certified sustainable sources has to be our priority. Shifting to organic is a route we are exploring and one we encourage our customers to also seek as organic cotton uses much less water. Better Cotton (BCI) is another option on offer, but unfortunately economically modeled for the bigger brands. Again we encourage you, our customers, to look out for the BCI certification. Given our customers love the properties of natural fibres – recycled cotton would be the ultimate or organic Linen – but to date we are struggling to find qualities and prices that will meet our customer’s expectations. We continue our research and accept that in the meantime we may need to transition. Traceable linens and Ramie will be options that we will explore and consider.
Another initiative that we have started – although proving a challenge – is the investigation into how our suppliers are reducing or removing water from their dyeing processes. The majority of our fabrics are made in China where the Central and local governments are extremely active with their regulations, policies and targets around recycling and reuse of effluent water. Operations which do not meet regulatory targets are penalised or in the worst cases have been closed down. For this reason we are actually hopeful of the situation in China.
Whilst there is much work being done to develop advances in water-less technologies for dyeing and processing textiles for fashion, the availability is still very limited for brands such as ourselves, but we will continue to research.
In terms of New Zealand – the biggest impact we can impart here is to educate our customers on use of water for the wash and care of our clothes. We have this year developed our own Fabric Care Guideline with this in mind. One last point to take away …..don’t wash half loads and consider airing garments to freshen when suitable as opposed to washing.
Research is telling us that the Fashion Industry contributes to 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions. This is way too high and has motivated us to review our approaches from design through to our customer’s use and care of our products.
Another alarming fact is that if the industry continues on its current course, by 2050 it could use more than 26% of the carbon budget target.
Sourcing more sustainable raw materials to support energy efficient farming and manufacturing is a major focus for us. Current projects other than more sustainable cotton are exploring traceable linens and recyclable polyesters. Yes..polyesters !! Whilst conventional polyester has earned its bad reputation for contaminating water with micro – fibres and of course deriving from unsustainable petroleum resources, the fact is, that at production stage, it is actually one of the more efficient users of water and energy. If the micro- fibre pollutants can be resolved through washing machine filters or wash bags such as the Guppyfriend bag, RECYCLED polyester could eventually be an option. Saying that, we are still researching the actual impact of the recycling process and how circular the life cycle can be, as for sure we do not want to contribute to just another shift, with even more polyester sitting in landfill for up to 200 years !!!
Our China supply base has a high level of commitment and awareness regarding energy use. In fact China is ahead in many ways e.g. setting an example through their low carbon city pilot projects. In addition our suppliers assure us that they have always been energy conscious due to the impact of energy costs on their pricing! This we believe.
Often quoted is that around half of the carbon dioxide from the fashion industry occurs at the consumer end, from the wearing, washing, tumble drying, ironing and dry cleaning of clothes. For this reason we encourage our customers to be more thoughtful in the aftercare of our products and hope our Fabric Care Guideline goes some way to support this.
Whilst the carbon footprint of our office is no doubt diminutive compared to our supply chain, we do believe it is our responsibility to start tracking our own NZ footprint with a view to investing in carbon off-setting schemes. We are at the early stages of this but will be starting this initiative before the end of the year and are committed to being carbon neutral by 2050.
It is widely reported that 20% of the world’s pollutants originate from the Fashion Industry, which uses over 8,000 synthetic chemicals. Incredibly, whilst cotton only makes up 3% of the land’s agriculture consumption, it uses 16% of all insecticides and 7% of all herbicides. However on an individual basis, cotton is not the worst offender. If you are to compare kilo to kilo using an industry methodology called the Higg Index, then silk and wool are also poor performers. Conventional viscose is another fibre criticised for using highly toxic chemicals, along with evidence of a number of mills dumping untreated wastewater causing contamination of lakes and waterways. Polyester is of course in the daily news for its micro fibre contamination found in the oceans.
The information available is very alarming and we need to reassess our level of due diligence. Whilst many of our materials originate from Oekotex certified mills, which give us a good level of assurance, we have identified that further training within our supply chain and team is needed to better understand the risks and mitigation within our control.
Our first step however is to gain better transparency of our fabric and fibre suppliers with whom lie the biggest risks.
In addition we are again pursuing more sustainable and traceable options for cottons and linens, closed loop viscoses such as Tencel, Monocel and Modal. We advise you our customers to do the same.
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation – The Apparel Industry produces more than 150 billion clothes every year. Do the maths …… we only have a population of 7 billion humans. Over the last 15 years, clothing production has doubled and yet the average number of times a garment is worn before it is discarded has decreased by 36%. Many clothes are worn just seven to 10 times before they are thrown out and less than 1% of material used to produce clothes is recycled into new clothing. The statistics go on and most of us have to admit we have more clothes than we really need.
The simple answer to this issue is surely buy less, buy better quality and wear longer. This is at least one point we feel confident about in terms of the investment we have always made in the quality of our clothes, our avoidance of high fashion trends and our own in-house initiatives to ensure zero garments and fabric waste – with all our samples and rejects being donated to various worthwhile causes such as Women’s Refuge and City Mission. Our fabrics swatches go to preschools and primary schools. Could we do better … of course! Which is why we are now researching more recycled fabrications as we accept that the only truly effective means to eliminate waste is through re-using and recycling and how about sharing!!!! We are hearing about more groups of women getting together to share. We love that idea and encourage our community of customers and friends to unpack those abandoned Loobie’s Story items, share them around and ensure they live our mantra of a “life well lived”!!!