As We Demain (French magazine) points out in its new issue through the article Slow Fashion, clothing is the most polluting industry in the world behind the oil industry! 80 billion garments are manufactured every year. How many of them are under dramatic social and environmental conditions?
Unfortunately, there are significant events that are causing reactions, such as the collapse of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh in 2013 with its 1,135 deaths. And there’s the daily routine that no one talks about:
- Conventional cotton is the most polluting crop in the world
- The 8000% increase in the price of GMO seeds in India
- The hundreds of thousands of suicides of Indian cotton farmers over the past 20 years
- The drying up of the Aral Sea due to the cultivation of conventional cotton
- Pollution of rivers and soils with heavy metals and other toxic substances from dyeing plants
- The intoxication of people throughout the supply chain
- Deplorable social conditions in many factories
- The toxicity of certain clothing to consumers….
In its regular reports, Greenpeace publishes the state of play and the improvements made by some brands.
Can we consider that things are moving in the right direction?
Yes, some companies are implementing a real progress-oriented approach.
Is that enough?
Announce 10-year plans to convert 30% of its production to organic. It is better than nothing, but it is far from sufficient, especially if the rest of the production is not traceable. Some entrepreneurs launch their ethical brand with a sincere approach and real solutions, but they are only a drop in the bucket.
On the one hand, you have the chemical companies that use every opportunity to own plant species by selling their ever more expensive GMO seeds every year, along with, of course, their chemical inputs and other pesticides.
On the other hand, signs that are after the cheapest labour. The new Eldorado of the moment being Ethiopia.
Some brands green their image either out of opportunism (and in some cases cynically) or in a real but still insufficient way, with a few too rare exceptions.
In 2004, when we created Ekyog, there was almost nothing in terms of ethical and organic clothing on the market. No one cared how the clothes they bought were made.
How did it come to this?
Over the past 30 years, the brands have grown at a high speed. More and more SQM in more and more shopping centres. Always the same products, the same brands, the same shopping centres… everywhere in the world
This frantic race to “critical size” no longer makes sense. Retail has been in crisis for 10 years because there are no more customers in the stores. By pouring containers into the shelves and selling promotional items all year round, we quickly fill the cupboards… and we end up disgusting our customers who prefer to bleed themselves to buy an iPhone for 800 €… The disposable garment killed the garment!
Purchasing priorities have changed. It was predictable. Why shouldn’t consumers enjoy cheap clothes?
But these brands, embarked in the competition of ever more (or ever less!) and market share, did not want to ask themselves the right questions. As a result, an oligopoly is taking over the market worldwide. These people have taken all the best commercial sites and leave only the crumbs to the others, the losers of the party.
New actors are now faced with an inaccessible entry ticket. But the game is not over yet, since we may go from an oligopoly of retailers to a single global digital player… Amazon!
All the players, including those involved in luxury or “accessible” luxury, offer materials from petrochemicals or conventional cotton (which is therefore highly polluting). Some are vigilant about compliance with international social standards.
We all have our share of responsibility.
Is the situation shifting?
Expectations have changed. Global warming, the explosion of cancers and other diseases, of which various types of pollution play a crucial role, now show us every day that we are paying the price of blindness or stagnation.
What are the solutions ?
The solutions exist in a very concrete and operational way provided that they have a 10-year vision, are ready to make commitments and respect them.
It is easy to convince cotton farmers to convert to organic if we are willing to support them during the conversion period and if we are willing to buy their organic or converted cotton at a decent price in the long term.
It is easy to stop using heavy metals or chlorine to dye clothes. As it is easy to treat wastewater rather than discharge it with impunity at the exit of the plant. It is easy to ensure that children go to school rather than to tailoring workshops. It is more complex to set up circular channels.
The solutions are therefore first (and almost exclusively) in the hands of the leaders of the clothing companies to really make a difference. Provided that these managers have a vision for more than 3 months and that they do not work in their sole interest or that of financiers.
Entrepreneurs have the solution to the environmental problem. They are the ones who are able to really engage and make the changes the world needs. However, it is important to know that a company cannot have as its sole goal to be ecologically virtuous.
The good news is that, if in 2004, customers did not rush to buy organic and ethical clothing. Today, many are ready and looking for an offer that meets their values. However, this offer must be available… The challenge being that it must also be attractive and accessible.
If we have, on our own scale and with our own small resources, demonstrate that it was possible to make 100% of his collections organic and fair trade; Jeff Bezos should also be able to do so… right?