The fashion industry has a clear opportunity to act differently, pursuing profit and growth while also creating new value for society and therefore for the world economy. The goal of sustainable fashion is to increase the value of local production and products, to prolong the lifecycle of materials, to increase the value of timeless garments, to reduce the amount of waste, and to reduce the harm to the environment. It also aims to educate people to practice environmentally friendly consumption and promoting the production of “ethical fashion wears.” Sustainable fashion resist fast fashion and it utilizes only eco-friendly and qualitative materials. This article is done to express my views on the sustainability efforts initiated by all the available agencies and buyers and my vows to go far long to attain this goal.
The current architecture of the sustainability drives by all the agencies available is inherently weak. I am not saying that the current sustainability efforts are bad and we should have done away with it. Neither am I suggesting that we have an immediate option for this. There are many facets of sustainability out here some of which are working and some are not. This is a weakness much akin to what happened to ‘Achilles’ heel’ (Greek mythology), Achilles mother dipped him in to the stacks having holy water hoping both his heels will be armed with vigor and encouragement, later figured out that she only dipped one leg not the other.
It’s not my contention to decry the current sustainability drive which is happening. The industry has gone through enough trials and tribulations associated with pollution and other related calamities. So this move will certainly be a healer to those situations as a point of redemption. But is that enough? Many of the issues that afflict the industry because of our overarching dependency on the form rather than on the substance of systems we have adopted. There are enormous examples in this context which I will be highlighting, realizing this is a weakness which can be changed to a strength.
We need the reforms within the current systems available and those reforms need to happen, as a course correction within the domain of the existing arrangement. If we don’t hit at the edifice itself that the reforms covering all facets of sustainability, we are not going to get enduring changes. My analysis here is pertain to more ways and innocuous methods attainable covering all facets of sustainability.
Harnessing the good options for educating and training floor and management staff, effective alteration in the supply chain management, consuming natural resources, energy, process and product amalgamation possibilities, reducing effluent load and quantity, efficiently utilizing the bio waste as performance products, possibilities of utilizing natural products without structural modification as finishing products to substitute synthetic surfactants and toxic polymers…etc. are few among many facets of sustainability, which will not come in the domain of current agencies advocating this movement.
How do we define sustainability in most simplified way?
To deem anything sustainable – comes with a series of implicit values, cultural perceptions and deep environmental thoughts. ‘Sustainable’ is something that does not deplete through material extraction, does not exhaust through production and does not pollute through either of above and can act as a raw material for a new product when it reaches end of life. A circular economy or “cradle to cradle” production.
From raw material extraction to production of fashion wears, this industry upstream process rely heavily on our worlds finite resources including land, water and energy. Once the designs are brought to life, the impact of the fast fashion model of production and consumption is apparent in the growing volume of low quality apparel that quickly becomes textile waste for which there are ‘limited positive end of life’ solutions.
The choices that we make, as individuals in every single job that we have, no matter how high or low you are in the pecking order, have an impact on all of our eco system. When we produce materials, they are designed in such a way that they can easily be extracted from the environment and avoid the various negative impacts on environment. We have to find ways if we’re actually going to address sustainability of inter-locking those complex systems and making better choices that result in net environmental gains.
Learn to do more with less is a catch – cry in sustainability movement. In order to ensure this we must go all the way back from the extraction of raw materials, manufacturing, packaging, transportation, and their uses and down to the end of life. At every single stage we do have an interaction with the natural environment and we can monitor how that interaction is actually affecting the systems and services that makes life on earth possible.
Biodegradation is the naturally-occurring breakdown of materials by microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi or other biological activity. It is the most used phrase when we are talking about sustainability. But ‘bio-degradability is just a material property and not a definition of environmental benefits’.
For e.g. when something natural, something that’s made from a cellulose fibre, or a slice of bread, or any food waste, or even a piece of paper, ends up in the natural environment, it degrades normally.It’s little carbon molecules that it stored up as it was growing, are naturally released back into the atmosphere as CO2, but this is a net situation of a life-cycle. Part of a ‘self-balancing eco system’ by nature.
Thought of consumption is sustainability
Control and minimize the usage of product, packing, time, energy, finite resources…etc. We need to find smarter, and more systems-based innovative solutions to these problems, if we’re going to start living sustainably in this world. We can start radically altering the sustainability agenda where ‘consumption is the biggest problem and intelligent product designing’ is one of the best solutions.
‘Product functionality or Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)’
Life cycle assessment is a methodological frame work for estimating and assessing the environmental impacts attributed to the life cycle of a product. In the realm of sustainability, the functionality of a material defines the environmental impact, where re-usable or recyclable is more beneficial.
All activities or processes, during the lifetime of a product’s result in environmental impacts due to consumption of resources, emissions of substances into the natural environment, and other environmental exchanges. Environmental impacts commonly assessed include climate change, stratospheric ozone depletion, tropospheric ozone (smog) creation, eutrophication, acidification and many others.
The basic principle behind this tool is the identification and description of all the stages that are involved in the life cycle of products, from the extraction and pre-treatment of the raw materials, the production, transfer, distribution and use of the final product until the possible reuse, recycle or disposal of the waste deriving from this product.
Intelligent Product designing (IPD): Green Chemistry
In contrast to non-sustainable and non-renewable stoichiometric chemicals, oxidants with potential risk of exposure to handling storage and transportation, fossil fuel and polymer based products, synthetic resins etc., we can introduce green chemistry with highly-efficient (fewer steps, fewer resources, less waste) and stable under ambient conditions, much more eco-friendly microbial enzyme based (platform chemicals) products, synthesized natural organic products and synthetically developed renewable molecule compiled with bio chemicals, natural products without molecular alteration – ‘only physical modification’, bio waste materials synthesized to performance products (Cradle to Cradle) etc.
Green Chemistry (Clean Production) helps to deal with most of the bitter pills of garment / textile wet processing. Which are:
- Manufacturing Toxicity
- Heavy metals and other xenobiotic elimination
- Amalgamation of Wet Process
- High strength retention
- Reduction on utilities
- Not hurting nature
- Prevention of toxic waste formation
- Create new knowledge pertinent to sustainability
- Take on both life cycle and functionality based approach to reduce potential risk throughout the process
Sustainable fashion wear: Look good feel good
On both the supply and demand side of fashion wear the acknowledgement of the plurality and heterogeneity interests and values connected to clothing is necessary. This acknowledgement is needed because clothing will continue be soaked with all kinds of socio-cultural distinctions and norms in all societies across the globe.
The challenge is then how a plurality of pathway towards sustainability and responsibility can co-exist in fruitful interaction with the very basic human desire to look good, elegant, cool, and clean. The increase in consumerism makes us “look good and feel good. The fashion and its pulchritude comes in look good category then the sustainability and anti-sweatshop” efforts come in feel good category. There is a plethora of fashion brands globally out which few only cover snob value where cost of production is not a concern. This is only meant for upper echelon and can easily cover both look well and feel good values.
For the upper middle class and others we should have more coherent and visible ideologies that evoke sentiments of customers by creating an aspirational value on the fashion wears offered to their class with elegant fashion, sustainable values and affordable cost. This is kind of trousseau building.
Relationship marketing to promote sustainability
Sustainability – We must preserve its soft power to surge ahead in fashion business and effective ideas must develop to cover its internal accruals of business. We must aspire for a vibrant and ebullient industry that always values customer loyalty and customer retention. It’s a fatal weakness of the current architecture of fashion business, that the element of relationship marketing is missing and we don’t have “clothing behavioral bank pattern.”
Apart from the pulchritude of clothing we must check the behavioral pattern and endurance of colour, accessories, tensile strength and attributes wooing the customer to buy the garment that will sustain with the abysmal laundry facilities available in our cities. It’s a part of effective marketing to develop a strong bonding between customers and the laundry facilities to identify the behavioral pattern and durability of fashion-wears to ensue long wearing life, thus covering one more face of sustainability.
The paradox and fatal weakness with in current system of certifications and agencies pursue the implementation of sustainability in chemicals management:We can’t have an overarching body control the whole system and deny the people the very basic healthy working atmosphere. There is an inherent weakness in the kind of system we currently practice, those flaws need to be ironed out or course corrected with in the domain of available system.
Some of the issues which are hampering the movement often are the sustainability or certifications used as the crutch. Few facets of it may be covered by certifications, but we need to term with other atrocities. For anything that goes wrong we ascribe it to ‘never mind we have certifications or validations for use of such materials’! No need of bothering about human concerns, or other implications because the product is certified. Can it be an excuse! I would imagine not. The certifications have been used to ward-of any conceivable good options and welcome it whole heartedly and that’s worry. These are the realities that we come into terms with.
Today, we have decent system hampered by the structure of it. My contention is certification as an absolute term must never exist as an option for perpetrating the sustainability drive in all its means. We found peoples have been doing it with great aplomb.
Sustainable chemicals production and management
One face of sustainability is to reduce the environmental impacts and atrocities associated with chemical designing and application in the processing of textile and garments. This is a kind of detox programe for avoiding the use of products which can potentially create affluent load and toxicity in environment. The most important points to be addressed are….
Identifying safe substitute of surfactants and polymers and phase out its application on priority.
These were responsible for a significant portion of the toxicity of the effluent. These compounds were important determinants of toxicity of the POTW effluent. Measurement of two general classes of surfactants in the test effluent (polymers), nonionic (surfactants) indicated that there were sufficient concentrations of these compounds to be of toxicological concern.
The identification of surfactants as potentially important toxicants in a primary effluent is not particularly surprising in light of their concentrations in untreated or inadequately treated wastewater. Since these components are not exhausted or consumed in the bath, it create complete load for the effluent. There are safer methods available to phase out these products now. Most of the current agencies certify these surfactants as safe.
Must put a time limit to phase out the possible hazard of GMO enzymes (genetically modified enzymes):
The major risk factors which can potentially affect by Altering species to human and eco system are pointed below.
- Gene mixing – sanctity of species
- Human health effects as gene escapes and can generate new breed of potential pathogens
- Escape of gene can ruin ecology
- Damage the resistance and sustainability of ecology
- Non-organic and clueless method
- Effect on non-target species
- Generation of super weeds and pathogens
- Transferred genes could mutate and cause unexpected risks
- Bio diversity could negatively affected by destruction of other microbes, weedsand even competing microbes
- Cross species formation could spread highly resistant genes and could create super pathogens.
Genetically engineered enzymes has DNA from bacteria, fungus or virus spliced in to its DNA to help it tolerate extreme conditions or accelerating performance. The incriminated outbreak of these create a whole new species of microbes that have never occurred in nature and the vicissitudes are unknown.
The genetically engineered enzymes had its DNA artificially altered in the laboratory by genes from other bacteria, virus or other unicellular organisms in order to enhance its property. This type of genetic alternation is never found in nature and it can be too detrimental can ever thought of. The use of GMO enzymes in the denim processing is not a safer choice at all though it’s been used as an economical option.
Use of pumice stone in denim abrasion finishes
Pumice stone is a volcanic stone used for the stone washing of ring dyed (indigo, sulfur & pigments) garments. This product has been used ever since the introduction of stone washed jeans in the early 1980s. Fresh dyed raw jeans are loaded in to large washing machines and tumbled with stones to a faded or worn look. It abrades the surface of jeans like sand paper, removing some dye particles from the surface of the yarn. This product was popular because of its light weight and strength.However, the stone washing with pumice stone has some severe drawback.
Major drawbacks of using pumice stone in garment wet processing:
- The quality of the abrasion process is difficult to control. Too little will not give the desired look and too much can damage the fabric, particularly at the hems and waistbands
- The outcome of the wash lot is never uniform, with significant percentage always getting ruined by too much abrasion
- Everything in the washing machine gets abraded, including the metal buttons and rivets on the jeans as well as the drum of the washing machine. This substantially reduces the quality of products, the life of equipment and increase the production cost
- Environmental problem created by the disposition of waste of the grit produced by the stones
- Health hazardous created by the dust particles
- Maintenance cost by the disposition of grits on the drainage lines, tank and systems
- High labour cost
- Low productivity by loading the machines below capacity to accommodate stones and difficulty in removing stones from garments while offloading from the machines and dryers
- Dust removing need repeated rinse
- Need additional operation in the finishing department for the removal of dirt from pockets
- High labour cost
- Reduced machine life
There are safe and innocuous chemical methods available to substitute this
Do away with inorganic Alkalis – Caustic Soda
It is one of the strongest alkalis, known as caustic soda or lye. It is a highly reactive substance. It dissolves in water with evolution of huge amount of heat which may ignite combustible materials nearby, or cause physical damage. Its reaction with other metals, like zinc or aluminum yields hydrogen gas which ignites in the presence of oxygen. Moreover, this substance is extremely corrosive. It imparts a slippery feeling to touch. This is due to sodium hydroxide transforming the skins’ fats, in a process similar to one used to make soaps (saponification). Sodium hydroxide will also coagulate tissue protein by reacting with the skin and dehydrating or causing salt formations to take place. Extended skin contact with sodium hydroxide can lead to ulceration and scarring. Vapours of sodium hydroxide is also toxic. There are very safe and efficient substitutes available for this product.
Hydrogen peroxide and other similar REDOX products
Hydrogen peroxide is a colorless liquid at room temperature with a bitter taste. Hydrogen peroxide is highly unstable, decomposing readily to oxygen and water with release of heat. It is a powerful oxidizing agent that can cause spontaneous combustion when it comes in contact with organic material. Extremely dangerous in storage and disposal. Even traces of chemicals in empty cans can make high explosion. Due to high exposure hazard, not at all recommended using by hand.
Ingestion of even dilute solutions of hydrogen peroxide may result in vomiting, mild gastrointestinal irritation, gastric distension, and on rare occasions, gastrointestinal erosions or embolism (blockage of blood vessels by air bubbles). This can be effectively replaced by safe enzymatic substitutes.
SMBS (Sodium Meta Bi Sulphite)
Create high COD in the effluent treatment plant. SMBS can cause allergy like reactions (intolerances), most commonly asthma symptoms in those with underlying asthma, sometimes allergic rhinitis (hay fever) like reactions, occasionally urticarial (hives) and very rarely, anaphylaxis (severe allergic reactions). Wheezing is the most common reaction.
Sodium meta bisulfite causes extreme allergic reactions in certain sulfite-sensitive individuals, resulting in Broncho constriction, shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, gastrointestinal disturbances, rapid swelling of the skin, flushing, tingling sensations and shock.
Chlorine: (AOX and TOX)
Discharging of waste waters containing chlorinated aromatics formed during chlorine based bleaching of textiles and garments in to receiving waters has been proved to have cytotoxic and cytomutagenic effects on various living organisms. In the chlorination process chlorine combines with natural organic matter decaying vegetation to form potent cancer causing trihalomethanes (THM) or haloforms. Trihalomethanes collectively include such carcinogens as chloroforms, bromoforms, carbon tetra chloride, bischlorathane and others. The amount of THM in our drinking water is theoretically regulated by EPA. The maximum amount allowed by law is 100 ppb and most of the water systems exceed this limit.
Chlorine is so dangerous; putting chlorine in the water is like starting the time bomb. Cancer, heart trouble, premature senility- both mental and physical are conditions attributed to chlorine. It makes us grow old beyond our time by producing symptoms of ageing such as hardening of the arteries. Chlorine could very well be a key factor for cancer and heart diseases. Chlorine creates THM and haloforms. These potent chemical pollutants can trigger the production of excess free radicals cause cell damage. Excess free radicals can cause normal smooth muscle cells in the arterial wall to go haywire, to mutate. The required chlorine content at the most distant point in the water distribution system is from 0.5 – 2.5 ppm. If the laundry is near the treatment plant, the added level of chlorine can measure several ppm. Chlorine content higher than 0.5 ppm degrades many type of water softening resins.
Potassium permanganate comes as dark purple crystals with blue metallic sheen is being used in the garment wet and dry process for the bleaching of indigo dyes and other colours. Manganese like other heavy metals, presence a characteristic which leads to “metal fume fever” if dust or fume is inhaled beyond certain level. Chronic exposure to manganese compounds can cause bronchitis/pneumonitis and manganism.
Manganism is the effect of chronic manganese poisoning. This disease, which arises from damage to the central nervous system (CNS), usually begins with psychological symptoms such as hallucinations, emotional instability and disturbances in behaviour. These may be followed by neurological symptoms such as muscular weakness, speech disturbances and headaches. If exposure is terminated soon after the neurological symptoms appear the individual generally recovers, but some speech and balance problem may remain.