I was asked, “Isn’t sustainability a passing fad?”

In a meeting last week, I was asked by a very seasoned fashion professional, “Isn’t sustainability a passing fad?” I sunk down in my chair. Deflated. I can’t stop thinking about the exchange.

If one fashion mover-and-shaker thinks sustainability is just a trend, then others must too. I ask myself why? The information is out there. There has been (and are) so many workshops, presentations, seminars, speakers, and blog posts raising awareness of the need of more responsible apparel-production solutions that are less toxic to the atmosphere, land, water and biodiversity of our planet. There has been (and are) so many websites, films, factory exposés and news articles reporting on the mistreatment, underpayment and abuse of garment workers around the globe. There has been (and are) so many fashion companies implementing sustainability and CSR initiatives, and/or marketing that they’re repurposing old styles or utilizing recycled materials to avoid creating more landfill waste. Yet… there has been (and are) so many decisions-makers in fashion not thinking the movement is important…. or that it’s nothing more than a passing fad.

This is a problem. Our planet has now reached its carrying capacity and will soon be on overdrive as we have an upcoming population increase of 2 billion more people to produce for with 20% less resources. Yet to some, and many I fear, sustainability is a fad. This means that to those naysayers- sustainability is in the same category as silly bands, chokers, crocs, and beanie babies. A trend that starts quickly, gets loads of attention, then speedily declines into obsolescence –like last season’s cold-shoulder tee or this season’s top-knot bun. Many think the notion of sustainability is a fashion craze.

Actually I wish it were a craze. Then at least we’d have more celebrities and fashion professionals

Photo credit: Josh Sobel

tweeting and instagramming about it, instead of assuming it’s a notion that will soon disappear. It’s hard to comprehend why, with all the attention in the last few years focusing on the fashion industry’s negative impacts on our environment and factory workers, that still less than 20% of fashion companies are taking real steps to produce responsibly. Many say 20% is hopeful. I agree, it could be worse. However it’s been a very slow rise in companies transforming and changing their traditional apparel-making ways. And most companies are still running their businesses the same way they did for the last twenty years. Now that’s crazy! Industries worldwide have collectively caused the earth’s annually rising temperatures, rapidly melting icecaps, polluted ocean waters, and coral reef and forest devastation, so industries worldwide collectively must work to halt our impacts and work on reversing the effects of the past. Fashion must do it’s share, as sustainability is not a trend, rather a response to cleaning up the mess we’ve all made of our earth, which is our home.

If somehow you have missed all the workshops, presentations, seminars, posts, websites, films, exposés and articles…. then just google “fashion pollution” and take a look at all the images that appear…. now I ask, how can sustainability be a trend? It is instead taking ownership that companies producing clothing are part of the problem, and all companies (and stakeholders in these companies) can be part of the change and produce more responsibly. For those who really think it is a trend, here is a brief list of some industry facts from one website I brought up on the screen at last week’s meeting. These are from Responsibilityinfashion.org, a website created by Robert Bergmann, another change agent working to create responsibility in the fashion world.
The textile and clothing industry ranks second behind petrochemicals in overall global pollution output. (Source: Forbes)
Growing cotton requires more pesticides than any other crop and one-third pound of pesticides are used for every cotton t-shirt produced. (Source: Forbes and NRDC)
Five of the nine pesticides used on conventionally-grown cotton are carcinogens: Cyanide, Dicofol, Naled, Propargite, and Trifluralin. (Source: EPA)
Hundreds of toxic chemicals are used in manufacturing textiles; significant amounts of these poisons remain on clothing after multiple washings. (Source: Stockholm University)
The Chinese textile industry alone creates 3 billion tons of soot/year and contributes to 8.2 % of CO2. (Source: NRDC and Ecotextiles)
Fashion’s supply chain employs an estimated 60 million people globally and is the leading employer of child-laborers. In India, an estimated 400,000 children are employed in cotton cultivation. (Source: World Wildlife Fund)
The United States alone produces 25 billion pounds of clothing waste each year and an average American throws away 69 pounds of used clothing/textile waste each year (Source: Council for Textile Recycling)

Now I ask you, if these are the facts, then is sustainability just a passing fad? Is being responsible and taking ownership of a problem we helped cause the current rage? Fortunately most people in the industry do not have this attitude. Their eyes are open, they’ve been reading the news posts, seeing the images, and listening to their hearts. They are attempting to be sustainable because it is the right thing to do. They are not practicing sustainability to be in vogue or be trendy. They are concerned and wish to be responsible.

The current situation of our planet is extremely problematic, but the problem increases as we have seasoned fashion professionals holding the reins and hesitant to change; they think it’s just a fad. We must convince them this isn’t a craze.

Perhaps the problem is calling these initiatives new at all? Maybe we label them: common, standard, traditional, old hat… Maybe we make these practices sound ordinary and comfortable. Let people realize that being sustainable is the standard, and didn’t they know? Where have they been, we can ask; this isn’t a trend, it’s the standard. Perhaps we need to change our language- the facts and the images might not be working. Let’s consider changing the way we communicate and reverse everyone’s thinking so we all feel that the new ways are the traditional ways. If sustainability is commonplace, then we will all be participating in it. We’ll all be doing the same old thing, creating clothing lines with thoughtfulness and concern for the planet and all people. We’ll all be designing and producing responsibly and no-one will ask if fashion sustainability is a passing fad. It’ll be the new normal, it’ll be status quo.

-Andrea Kennedy

Let’s Talk About Water

Let’s talk about water. Our bodies are 60% water. Our planet is 70% water. Our food, it varies, but food can be made up of 40 to 90% percent water. Water is a pretty special thing… extremely essential to life… and of that 70% water that makes up our planet- only 1% is drinkable, and none of it is replaceable. Of that 1% drinkable water, some of it’s now so polluted it is now non-renewable.

In the name of fashion…. we waste and pollute this very precious commodity daily. That’s a well-known fact. Growing cotton, producing fabric, manufacturing, dyeing and finishing clothing utilizes a massive amount of water. From there clothing goes home with a customer, who continues to use loads of water by repeatedly washing the clothing they purchase. It takes roughly 1,000 gallons of water alone to perform all those steps in the lifecycle of just one pair of jeans. One pair. And how many jeans are we making? Enough for the U.S. to buy over 450 million pairs of jeans each year, per a 2013 CNN report. That’s 45,000,000,000 gallons of water annually for American jean-shopping. Just consider the amount if we also added the water consumption in the production and usage of our whole wardrobes… if we added our tanks, tees, dresses, sweaters, suits, jackets, shoes, boots, accessories…

Other than heavily expending water, our industry pollutes water. We discard chemicals and waste water from our factories into the waterways close by. This is contaminating water all over China and India. Fashion water pollution is aiding in the destruction of diverse aquatic and botanical water life, as well as the local creatures are at risk from the contaminated water. In August of this year, a factory in Mumbai was found dumping dyestuff into a local waterway. They were caught because people witnessed blue fur on the neighborhood dogs. When factories dump untreated waste water into local waterways, chemicals are then transferred in to the water, which makes the entire communities’ water undrinkable. Once water is made toxic and unsafe, well…. it is wasted… and we only have that 1%. And that 1% is already in very high jeopardy… I was recently trained as a Climate Reality Leader and, other than the obvious reasons of climate change, we learned about warmer water temperatures every year, changes in ocean salinity, increase in coral bleaching, decrease in aquatic diversity, and all about our sea levels rapidly rising. This is the time for us to act and to change as an industry.  As a giant global industry, it is urgent we focus on reducing our water usage and keeping our water clean.

Many companies have started already, especially large fashion brands. One brand making great strides is M&S. M&S recently introduced men’s low-impact jeans, which utilize five times less water during the manufacturing process by using laser technology. This and other new high-tech processes can greatly reduce our industrial water consumption in the making of all clothing styles. Of course that’s easy to say if you’re a large brand. Most companies are not the size of M&S.

The question is how can small- to mid-size fashion companies make a difference? How can we (and how do we) dictate our textile mills, factories, finishers and employees to save water? Well, we can ask our textile suppliers for natural fibers requiring less water in their irrigation, we can source waterless dyeing methods, we can choose to produce in factories that recycle their waste water and are committed to sustainable water management. We can commit to reducing water use for our brands, by first committing to the practice ourselves. I believe the first step any brand must take is to get the staff on board- we must start with ourselves. If we become conscious about our own water footprint, if we are able to walk the walk in our homes and offices, then we can truly talk the talk to our supply chain suppliers as well. Other than Climate Reality… I also recently attended an eye-opening presentation at Grace Communications in Manhattan. I learned that the water waste in the food industry is as bad as the situation in fashion. For instance, it takes 42 gallons of water to make one slice of pizza and 56 gallons for a plain

cheese sandwich. I was shocked to have found out that 25% of fresh water used each year to make our food is wasted because we throw away 25% of our food.  Grace created an assessment that allows you to measure your own water footprint. It’s a water calculator and very thought-provoking. Go try it out at: www.watercalculator.org. It will determine how many gallons of water you use

each day. I learned the water usage in my home is below average. Yahoo! What was interesting is we waste most of our household water at the kitchen sink! Who knew? Well I know now and can make a few lifestyle changes accordingly. There are tips on greywater systems, collecting water and fixing leaks to explore that can help improve and reduce your water usage at home- but in your design offices and showrooms too!

When I became really aware
of the global fashion water situation several few years ago, I started researching water-responsible suppliers. Those are the suppliers we suggest to our clients now. I cannot in good conscience refer brands to textile and trim suppliers who are still using water the way they have always used water, because then they are still wasting water the way they always wasted water.  Water scarcity is an immediate threat to our planet, it is as urgent as the rising annual global temperatures and our climate crisis. We must act.  We are the fashion industry- we are an industry that sets trends. Let’s not sit back and just let other industries make all the impacts. Let’s set trends in creating fashion with clean water (and waterless) practices. Let’s start by looking at our own water usage, then try and reduce our water consumption at home and in our work. We must produce our lines responsibly and ask our factories to practice sustainable irrigation systems, waste-water recycling, start capturing rainwater, and use waterless initiatives to replace those traditionally very water-intensive processes.

The world’s water cannot be replaced and our fashion businesses use a lot of it. So let’s start using a little less of it. Together we can reduce the water footprint of our lives and of the clothing we design and manufacture. We can dive in and produce more responsibly.

Together we can make a splash!

-Andrea Kennedy, New York