Climate change and sustainability are firmly established globally as issues that business can no longer ignore. The recent COP21 climate talks in Paris saw global leaders from business and government collectively discuss a set of targets for maintaining or reducing current planetary temperatures. Aside from many debates and discussions about the effectiveness of these proposals, this event demonstrates that businesses who use natural resources and emit non-recyclable or biodegradable waste, need to account for their environmental (and social) impacts. The fashion industry is no exception.
In Europe and the UK, the conversation in the fashion and textile sector is increasingly focused on circular economy ideas and the potential business opportunities around ‘closed loop’ fashion. But what level of engagement with sustainability is the Australian fashion industry demonstrating? When talking about climate change impacts from business in Australia, it is most obvious to focus on energy companies. Australia is one of the highest per capita emitters of greenhouse gases, and the energy sector plays a large role in these emissions. The relationship between the fashion industry in Australia and their impacts on the climate is less obvious, but I would suggest is no less urgent.
Since I have relocated back to Sydney, I have been interested to observe the activities and conversations by Australian companies, designers and brands. The conversations are primarily based around the social impacts and workers rights issues within the industry, always the easiest conversation for fashion companies to have since the first ‘sweat shop’ scandal in the 1990’s. In Australia, these issues have again been on the agenda since the Rana Plaza factory fire tragedy in Bangladesh in 2012, and the release of the first Australian Fashion Report in 2013. Yet there needs to be more engagement from fashion companies and consumers about the environmental impacts of fashion, from the impacts of producing fibres such as cotton and its impacts from pesticide use and water pollution, to the washing and care practices of people in their homes.
I admit it’s a complicated issue, but there is no excuse anymore for fashion businesses to not engage with the environmental impacts from production of fabrics and garments. The majority of Australian fashion businesses source materials and produce garments ‘off-shore’ in China and Asia, which makes it easy for Australian businesses and consumers to ignore the issues. However, this ‘out-of-sight-out-of-mind’ phenomena cannot continue if we are to work towards neutralising the climate impacts of our business activities in the next hundred years.
As a fashion brand, are you able to create ‘climate neutral’ clothes? Do you know how the fabrics in your products are made? Have you had a sustainability assessment done on your collections? Can you take responsibility for the garments once the consumer has finished with them? These are some of the questions that fashion brands need to begin exploring in order to demonstrate to consumers that they are actively taking responsibility for their business activities.
Image: biodegradable hemp/linen jeans by Freitag.