The Need for Sustainability in the Fashion Industry

by Iman Bint Abdul Wajid, January 5, 2020


The global fashion industry is one of the largest, most resource-intensive industries, and a powerful engine for global growth and development. In its current state, it also presents a danger to the planet, as it accounts for;

  • 4% of greenhouse gas emissions,
  • 20% of industrial water pollution,
  • 10% of global carbon emissions.

Additionally, textile dyeing is the world’s 2nd largest polluter of clean water. Furthermore, the clothes produced by the industry are discarded and the materials used are incinerated or sent to a landfill.

In short, the Fashion industry has a powerful and negative impact on our environment, and every actor in the value chain from producers to consumers bear some degree of responsibility for this outcome, and all need to be part of the change.

Some consumers and producers have started to accept this obligation: eco-friendly shopping is becoming increasingly popular along with a rise in the demand for more sustainable fashion. These emerging trends need to be encouraged on a global level to make brands and retailers become more accountable for their choices.

The first step is to raise awareness and encourage the momentum of change, otherwise, these encouraging developments could be another one of the many fads that consumers latch onto for a short period of time. 

Here is a sampling of some of the organizations driving change toward sustainability in general in the fashion industry.

Fashion Act Now

Fashion Act Now is a team of fashion insiders who aim to “radically challenge the industry’s environmental record.” Their work is built on the belief that “non-violent direct action and civil disobedience is a vital component to holding the fashion industry to account and calling for climate justice.” They focus on the “use of dialogue, research and campaigning” to “strengthen and inspire the work of activists around the world that are using non-violent methods of bringing about the change we need.”

Fashion Takes Action 

Fashion Takes Action believes that there is a disconnect between the consumer and the sustainable fashion movement and that there is a need to bridge this gap. As such, they aim to  “empower the next generation of consumers to make more responsible purchasing decisions when it comes to their clothes”.  Their work involves advancing sustainability in the fashion industry through “education, awareness and collaboration”.

Global Fashion Exchange

The Global Fashion Exchange takes a simple concept and uses it to promote sustainability: Bring a clean piece of clothing (or more) that’s in good condition to the Global Fashion Exchange, hand it over to the staff and then pick a garment from their stock. This is done as part of their desire to “empower brands and consumers to take action for a better environment”, working to “build communities, help brands get on the right track and create roadmaps that catalyze positive change.”

Sustainable Apparel Coalition

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition has a vision of a future where the fashion industry stops producing “unnecessary environmental harm”.  As such, it’s working to reduce the environmental and social impacts of apparel, footwear, and textile products around the world.” They developed the Higg Index, which is “a suite of tools that enables brands, retailers, and facilities of all sizes—at every stage in their sustainability journey—to accurately measure and score a company or product’s sustainability performance.”

The New Fashion Initiative

The New Fashion Initiative is raising “awareness of the environmental and social impacts of the fashion industry, through data-centered communications, educational programming and policy” in order “to lessen the environmental and social impact of fashion through collaboration, education and consulting”. As such, they work with “academics, designers, businesses, and other non-profits to bring sustainable solutions to a broken system”; helping them to collaborate, share research, and “convene in order to effectively address systemic issues.”

Global Fashion Agenda 

The Global Fashion Agenda believes that both brands and retailers in the fashion industry are at the centre of “securing comprehensive change and increasing the industry’s sustainability performance across the value chain to ensure that sustainability is a strategic priority”. As such, they are working towards developing a digital platform that helps both to “connect with innovators, for creatives to integrate sustainable practices into their design thinking, and for the industry to interact and share knowledge at-large.” They also advocate for policy change and “supportive measures that reinforce sustainability targets, establish circular systems and incentivize necessary change.”

In conclusion, these organisations and groups are working to educate the public so that they understand that there is a need to change. Only time will tell how successful their work is, or will be in changing long-established norms and habits by fashion consumers and producers. However, a movement toward a more ecologically conscious fashion industry is underway and  you can follow this movement  through the websites referenced here and through The Security and Sustainability Guide, which is tracking these important developments. .