As fashion week in New York starts to come to a close, we can't help but be aware of the impact on the climate. Between waste from show production, food, and paper invitations Fashion week represents many of the sustainability issues of the industry. Researchers measured the impact of over a 12-month period, over 5,0000 retail organizations and ready-to-wear designers participating in international fashion weeks, over the four major fashion seasons. They found the amount of carbon emitted in one year was about 241,000 tons, enough energy to power a small island nation.
But the organizers of Copenhagen Fashion Week, occurring just a week prior, are setting a new industry standard by accepting accountability and self-regulating the event.
Denmark has sought to establish their fashion week and community as a true sustainability advocate and organizers of the smaller fashion week event are taking action to support their vision. These reforms include acquiring carbon credits to offset the travel of attendees as well as regulations akin to those set by the EU that must be met by the 28 participating brands. The designers must meet requirements around materials, labor, and business practices or they will not be able to take part in the week's events.
New York, the largest emitter in the fashion week industry accounting for approximately 37% of total annual emissions in the industry still has a long way to go to achieve anything similar due to the size and large brands that dominate the space. However, real impact won't take place for this Industry unless these larger events take similar steps to ensure sustainable shows in the future. Fortunately, Designers like Jacques Agbobly of Black Boy Knits are helping nudge the industry.
Agbobly’s Company, Black Boy Knits, uses a made-to-order business model to control the waste produced from excess production. Both their fashion pieces and packaging are biodegradable, and all pieces are made with natural material fibers. They have even accounted for travel emissions incurred during delivery and take steps to internalize these through self-pickup and delivery for New York Customers, allowing them to easily keep track of emission outputs they are responsible for. As a team of one, they have the ability to maintain full control to make sure the environmental impact from business operations stays small.
“Our waste from knitting within the last two years can fit in a 14 x 19 Ziploc bag, which we are planning to integrate into our design process for future products,” Agbobly says to ESSENCE. “We are committed to providing custom and durable products while making sure we keep our own carbon footprint as low as possible by consuming less energy, wasting fewer resources, and overall contributing to less waste.” Agbobly debuted at New York Fashion Week in September after just 2 years of operating his business.
Unfortunately, the Industry problem that still has yet to be addressed successfully is textile waste. This huge problem affects our planet and its people more than we may realize. Textiles are the second-most polluting industry after energy production, with 10% of global carbon emissions coming from textile manufacturing alone. The clothing industry uses 40% of all natural resources including water, which means it has a much higher impact on resource depletion than other industries like food or travel. Furthermore, the textile industry relies heavily on chemical substances such as dyes and flame retardants which may pose health risks to workers and consumers alike.
Textile waste also causes problems at the end-of-life stage due to its high volume: each year over 300 million tons of clothing are discarded globally. And this number is expected to rise if fast-fashion trends persist in influencing consumers to buy more clothes per year than ever before. According to WRAP UK figures published in 2018, there are about 590 million items disposed of every year within Europe alone and expected to rise to 700 million at least by 2025. WRAP’s more recent publication states that these are only estimates as tracking this data accurately is difficult without separate waste facilities and could be underestimating reality.
Slow Fashion - As the name implies, this model attempts to influence the market to purchase fewer clothes of higher quality to slow consumption within the market. This involves building resilient and sustainable products with a trusted supply chain, small-scale production, and local materials. Unfortunately, this model depends on a major behavioral shift in business economics, selling fewer products, and customer habits, paying a sustainable premium.
Circular Fashion - A model more focused on producing minimal waste by keeping materials within the production-to-consumption loop as long as they can. Clothes are designed with this in mind, using durable for lasting use, crafted with reusable materials, and including removable zips and fasteners for easy recycling.
Smart and Instant fashion - Similar to a made-to-order mode, instant fashion leverages smart technology to customize products as the customers desire before production takes place. This is more easily deployed by smaller brands and may not curb the current consumer trend to over-consume, but will ultimately address overproduction within textiles.
Virtual Fashion - A different solution to address the fashion trend of celebrities and influencers who are looking to appear in new clothes and fashion trends on social media. Some companies are already offering digital collections that can be applied to photos, very fitting as we move further into the digital age.
The EU presented its vision for sustainable and circular textiles that was in March of 2022. The strategy outlines regulations concerning ecodesign and ways to empower consumers to make sustainable decisions.
New ecodesign regulation - This will outline minimum requirements for all products to improve lifecycle longevity. Features like durability, reliability, reusability, reparability, upgradeability, and recyclability will be taken into account and proven by manufacturers.
Digital Passport - The regulation looks to introduce widespread adoption of a digital passport for textiles and fashion brands to provide information on any harmful chemicals, repair, and material composition in addition to the publication of how unsold materials are disposed of.
Preparing customers for the green transition - Many of these proposals are aimed to empower consumers to make better individual choices in purchasing durable and reparable products. By requiring a commercial guarantee of durability and repair score, along with the digital passport, consumers are made aware of what they are purchasing and can take advantage of more durable, sustainable, and ultimately cost-effective products.
Substantiating Green Claims - Of course, none of these strategies are very effective without business integrity being demonstrated by sellers and producers. To ensure this, the EU plans to tie shared information to the standardized product environmental footprint methodology (PEF). This will be seen in the form of more regulations and proposals in the coming years.
We can all help reduce textile waste, as customers, and it starts with making smart choices in our daily lives. The easiest way, however, is for businesses and organizations to take accountability and take steps to reduce their own operation, production, and supply chain emissions. Making that choice possible and reasonable for consumers. As many attend fashion week in New York, we hope those able to enjoy the events are more able to think critically about emissions and waste and plan for the sustainable future of the Industry. If you're looking for more information about choices that can positively impact your business, customers, and the world around us (and vice versa), check out some other articles on our blog!
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