Ever wondered about the environmental impact the t-shirt you're wearing had on the planet? Here is a mind-boggling eye-opener for you. According to studies, it takes around 2,700 liters of water to produce the cotton required to make a single basic tee, which is almost three years' worth of drinking water for a person (WWF, 2013). The textile industry is under meticulous scrutiny due to the excruciatingly alarming circumstances it is creating for the generations that are to follow as well as for the planet itself. It continues to be a havoc by perpetually consuming and polluting the scant freshwater that remains, releasing toxic dyes into water sources, emitting carbon dioxide and textile waste in the atmosphere as well as exploiting the skills of helpless workers along with forcing them to work in hazardous working conditions (Claudio et al., 1970).
The industry further stimulates in marring the planet due to the exponential rise in the trends of fast fashion. Fast fashion refers to affordable but short-lived clothing items that are produced in voluminous quantities, consumed more often, and disposed of almost instantaneously while having a strong adverse impact on the environment and thus progressively contributing to the slow death of our planet. Due to the constant changes in trends, habits, and styles, the apparel industry has shot up production by more than double since 2000 (Remy, Speelman, & Swartz, 2019). The industry perniciously contributes around 10% of global carbon emissions – that is equal to the emissions radiated from all the airplanes flying in the world (UN Environment, 2018). Moreover, the waste generated from the fast fashion sector is heedlessly discarded in landfills. Around 85% of textiles are disposed of in landfills i.e. up to 2.1 billion tons of waste produced in a year (UN Economic Commission for Europe, 2018). Needless to say, we are to blame as much as the fashion industry itself. Studies show that individuals purchased 60% more clothing items in 2014 than they did in 2000; and only kept the garments for half as long (Remy, Speelman, & Swartz, 2019).
With people eagerly waiting for the next collection to drop, standing in overwhelmingly long and tiring queues, and spending a fortune on abundant clothing items that will only be worn once, the fast fashion industry continues to sweep its way into Pakistan. The local fast fashion giants unceasingly triumph by their perennial clearance sales to facilitate the disposition of their old stock as their latest clothing line is ready to make headlines. Every season is characterized by a distinguished wardrobe with designer lawn to signify one's social ranking in society. There used to be a time when mothers would pack away garments to pass on to the next generation however we have taken this obsession of hoarding clothes on an entirely new level.
While being a water-stressed developing country whose economy desperately relies on the textile sector and makes 20% of all exports, Pakistani retail brands continue to further aggravate the water predicament to multiply their already sky-rocketing profits while keeping costs at a minimum (Workman, 2020). Moreover, Pakistan counters a detrimental position of being one of quite a few dumping localities for international brands where obsolete, defective, and unsold clothing items are sold in places such as Zainab Market at a portion of its original cost. Hence, Pakistan not only faces textile wastage from local retail brands but also international fast-fashion giants (Ahmed, 2020).
Consequently, this is where sustainable fashion comes into play. The sustainable fashion movement is an emerging industry that ensures that the entire life cycle of a good (from manufacturing and selling to recycle and reuse) undergoes a rigorous process that is beneficial for the environment and does not harm the planet in any way. It has created considerable uproar in the industry and strives to tackle the cult of fast fashion. Pakistani brands need to recognize the responsibility they have towards the environment and encourage practices that will alleviate sustainability for the planet. They can minimize their carbon footprint through the use of recycling. Instead of disposing of items, they can recycle their leftover stock into several goods such as blankets, pillow stuffing, etc. and distribute it to those in need (Ahmed, 2020). Brands should choose suppliers that are aware of their ethical duty towards the planet. Moreover, they should incorporate resources that are more organic and environmentally friendly such as lyocell fiber, bamboo, hemp fiber, etc.
Pakistani brands such as Export Leftovers, Generation, and Behbud are taking steps to ensure a sustainable environment. ELO purchases wasted material from export quality producers in Pakistan and manufactures clothes from it. Generation is planting a forest at its premises to reduce its environmental footprint. Behbud is a non-profit that engages in women empowerment and is involved in making excellent hand-made quality garments using pure fabric that will be passed down to generations.
It's easy to forget the power we hold as consumers. We Pakistanis eagerly need to change our buying practices in order to create a more long-lasting environment. You must be pondering over how a sole individual's purchasing patterns can possibly make a positive difference in overthrowing several decades of dominance and pinnacle success of the fast fashion industry. Turns out it is most definitely possible! Just by purchasing second-hand goods instead of a whole new wardrobe and wearing your attire nine months longer, you can reduce up to 6 pounds of CO2 emissions – this is equal to removing half a million cars off the road for a year (Bokhari, 2019). One can purchase in limited quantity which will lead to a significant reduction in the textile wastage that is dumped in Pakistan. We need to buy less but of better quality. One can recycle and repair clothes before throwing them out. We need to invest in everlasting items, limit our outfits in a day as well as let go of the stigma of wearing clothes only once. These minute steps can surely make a positively impactful difference on our planet.
The Impact of a Cotton T-Shirt. (2013, January 16). Retrieved July 31, 2020, from https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/the-impact-of-a-cotton-t-shirt
Claudio, L., Siegle, L., MA. Sant'Ana, F., S. Akhter, S., G. Gebremichael, A., & TP. Lyon, A. (1970, January 01). The global environmental injustice of fast fashion. Retrieved August 03, 2020, from https://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12940-018-0433-7
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Workman, D. (2020, June 02). Pakistan's Top 10 Exports. Retrieved August 02, 2020, from http://www.worldstopexports.com/pakistans-top-10-exports/
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Ellevate. (2019, October 07). Why Sustainable Fashion Matters. Retrieved August 03, 2020, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/ellevate/2019/10/07/why-sustainable-fashion-matters/
Bokhari, H. (2019). Fast Fashion Fallacies. Retrieved August 03, 2020, from https://www.thenews.com.pk/magazine/instep-today/577537-fast-fashion-fallacies