The fashion industry’s duty to lead the change towards sustainability
by Teresa López
Today most of us know that fashion is among the top most polluting industries in the world – competing with transportation, oil and gas production, farming and agriculture. This has been going on for decades, but somehow the textile sector has managed to get by and keep its shiny public appearance.
It has only been in recent years that more and more scandals have sprung up around exploitative labour conditions and environmental outrages in the clothes production process. This has led to consumers starting to wonder where the clothes they wear come from and what the story behind them is.
“When you know the industry first hand you understand that doing things right has a price,” says Carol Blázquez, Head of Innovation and Sustainability at Ecoalf. “When you buy a t-shirt for 1,99€ you know that things have not been done well”.
Carol works for one of the fashion companies aiming to change the production model to make it sustainable. Ecoalf, founded in Spain in 2009, uses innovation as a tool to reduce the negative impact of the fashion industry and its indiscriminate use of natural resources.
“Together with the president of the company we thought about recycling as a way to minimise resource consumption,” she explains. “Garbage stopped being garbage and became a raw material with which we could create garments with the same design as any other”.
The idea was a success and now Ecoalf uses recycled material – from plastic bottles, fishing nets, coffee grounds and tyres – in most of their products, showing things can be done differently and gaining international recognition.
The hidden production chain
When we take an item of clothing at a mainstream shop, it often gives us very little information about its origin. Even if we asked the manager of the store, he or she may know only back until a certain point in the long journey that the precise item made.
“The fashion industry has such a long supply chain” says Carol, “and consequently a very high environmental impact, especially at the beginning of it”. There is the trick, the darkest spots of our clothes’ production are in fact so far from us that we tend to detach ourselves from them.
The beginning of the textile chain includes the cultivation of matter in the case of organics and the creation of synthetic materials, both very resource demanding processes. As Ecoalf’s website claims, the production process of recycled yarn is much shorter than the conventional one, consuming 25% less water and 27% less energy.
Even though it is easier for consumers not to ask about their clothes’ environmental footprint, there is an overwhelming amount of information about it out there. “The big players in the fashion industry are aware and they are starting to move, and when they move, the market moves. Even fast-fashion companies are little by little making changes to be more sustainable – they just have no other option!”
Certifications as guarantees for customers
Ecoalf prides itself on carefully monitoring the sustainability of their whole production chain. In addition to controlling their fabrics’ origin, they pay attention to further steps such as dyeing processes, searching for alternatives to the chemical substances with a high degree of toxicity.
“We always try to work with providers who are doing it better, that is why we want to know their work personally and still give so much importance to external certifications, to give guarantees to our customers about the real origin of their clothes”.
And then, “When it comes to our own premises, we truly have 100% power to decide how we do things. That is where the EKOenergy ecolabel comes in!”. The company has been using EKOenergy certified energy since the end of 2017 through the Spanish renewable energy seller ecovatios, and they are excited about their shift as part of all the little actions that add up to a bigger change.
“Of course I encourage both individuals and companies to make the change to 100% renewable and sustainable energy, it has no negative effect on the consumer, it is easy and the change it generates is huge.”
A real paradigm shift in the fashion industry, as in any other market sector, would need consumers, brands and governments to be aligned and motivated. We all have our share of responsibility and it’s time to take action. One way to do it? Through our consumer choices: thinking twice who we reward for their work, and what is behind the price of things.