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Sustainable fashion

  • Category
    Internal Security
  • Published
    4th Mar, 2020

Context

Recently the Union Textiles Minister launched Project SURE, which is a move towards sustainable fashion. 

Background:

  • Project SURE: SURE stands for ‘Sustainable Resolution’. It is the first ever holistic effort towards gradually introducing a broader framework for establishing critical sustainability goals for the Indian textile industry.
  • Objective: The project aims to move towards sustainable fashion that contributes to a clean environment.
    • It is commitment by India’s apparel industry to set a sustainable pathway for Indian fashion industry.
    • Project SURE aims to contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030, especially SDG-12 for responsible consumption and production.
  • Partners: Clothing Manufacturers Association of India (CMAI), United Nations in India, and IMG Reliance; organizers of Lakme Fashion Week.
    • Top fashion and retail brands like Shoppers Stop, Max, Lifestyle, Raymond etc. Are signatories to the project, and have pledged to source or utilise substantial portion of their total consumption using sustainable raw materials and processes by 2025.

Analysis

Five-point Sustainable Resolution

  • Environmental impact: Develop a complete understanding of the environmental impact of garments being currently produced by our brand.
  • Certified raw materials: Develop a sustainable sourcing policy for consistently prioritizing and utilizing certified raw materials that have a positive impact on the environment.
  • Sustainable traceability: Make the right decisions about how, where, and what we source across the value chain by selecting sustainable and renewable materials and processes and ensuring their traceability.
  • Consumer awareness: Communicate our sustainability initiatives effectively to consumers and media through our online and physical stores, product tags/labelling, social media, advertising campaigns and events.
  • Sustainable supply chain by 2025: Through these actions, shift a significant percentage of our supply chain to a sustainable chain by the year 2025, addressing critical global issues such as climate change, contributing to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and building a world that is safe for the future generations, as an acceptance of a responsibility we all share.

Environmental impact of fashion industry

  • The fashion industry has some startling statistics on environmental degradatio For instance, it can take 2,700 litres of water to produce the cotton needed to make a single T-Shirt.
  • As per World Resources Institute, 9 trillion litres of water are used each year for fabric dyeing alone.
  • Around 20% of industrial water pollution in the world comes from treatment and dyeing of textiles.
  • 8,000 synthetic chemicals are used to turn raw materials into textile.
  • According to a report, every second, an equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is either burnt or landfilled.
  • As per Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the global textile industry emits 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent per-year, close to the level of emissions from the automobile industry.
  • Some materials such as cotton and linen can be composted, but petroleum-based fibres such as polyester have little chance of reuse or bio-degradation.

Need for Sustainable fashion

  • High demand: With India’s high share of global population and increasing purchasing power, it would be quite soon that India starts accounting for a major share in textile related environment degradation statistics.
  • Under developed recycling: There is no credible recycling chain for the billions of tonnes of fast fashion items sold every year. Majority of them are made from non-biodegradable fibres.
    • Each year, about 60 million tonnes of new fibers are used to make garments, and no plausible concept exists on what to do with them when they are no longer needed.
    • As a result, three-quarters of these products are disposed off in landfills or incineration plants.
  • Need of the hour: India’s apparel market will be worth $59.3 billion in 2022. In order to gain a competitive edge, organisations need to follow the sustainability approach to differentiate themselves and promote growth. Sustainability is no longer an option for global organisations.
  • Consumer preferences are changing: Consumers, especially millennials, are emphasising on the quality of product and sustainable manufacturing is considered as a new method for measuring quality.
    • Awareness about climatic and social changes is also leading to changing preferences for consumers.

Circular economy

  • Concepts such as circular economy are creating benchmarks in the apparel sector and meeting consumer demands.
  • A circular economy is an economic system of closed loops in which raw materials, components and products lose their value as little as possible, renewable energy sources are used and systems thinking is at the core. It includes:

    • Use of natural fibres, zero hazardous chemicals, recycled fabrics, sustainably grown cotton;
    • Diversity and inclusiveness at the workplace, transparency, no human rights abuses and full rights advocacy;
    • Digitisation (providing convenience through digital networks);
    • Welfare programmes for labourers and secondary and tertiary supply chains.

 Other efforts in Sustainable fashion

  • Khadi promotion: Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) promotes khadi products. They have tied up with leading brands—Arvind Mills and Raymonds—and are also working with Air India to promote khadi products.
  • Bamboo promotion: NITI Aayog’s Forum for North East has highlighted the role of bamboo in development of North East region. Over 60% of India’s bamboo is grown in the North East.
  • Hemp promotion: Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand governments have policies geared towards sustainability, like ones on hemp production.
    • Hemp is one of the most eco-friendly fabrics, uses less water and can be cropped multiple times a year. This helps increase farmers’ income, too.
    • Certain bamboo products such as bamboo charcoal fibre can be used in fashion industry.
  • Vegetable tanned leather: Vegetable tanned leather refers to the tannage, or method of tanning the cowhide into leather. It’s called “vegetable” because of the natural materials used in the tanning process like tree bark. Since vegetable tanning is a natural process, it’s also eco-friendly.
  • Designers leading the change: H&M, a Swedish multinational retail clothing company recently unveiled a Conscious Exclusive collection made entirely from sustainable materials, including organic silk and hemp; recycled linen and glass; Tencel, a fabric made from sustainably-grown wood fibre; and Denimite, a material made out of recycled worn-out denims.
    • Mumbai-based fashion designer Anita Dongre recently presented her Earth Song collection featuring handwoven fabrics like matka and Tussar silks, hand-block printing, hand embroidery, etc. all using natural dyes and made by artisans.
  • Collaborating with farmers/artisans: Marks & Spencer (M&S), for example, is working with Better Cotton Initiative (an NGO that works with farmers across the globe to grow cotton in a sustainable way) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
    • These changing dynamics of the fashion industry make a shift in consumer choices, environmental impact and also empower local artisans by creating demand fir their projects.

Policy suggestions

  • Prioritise sustainable fashion: Sustainable fashion should find a seat whenever textiles industry is brought to the table.
  • Product labelling: Government can ensure that industry posts details of resources consumed while producing a particular product. For example, litres of water gone in producing t-shirt.
  • Campaigns for consumer consciousness: Campaigns such as #wearlocalgoglobal or #Indiaforindigenous help promote local textiles, and create consumer consciousness for purchasing environmentally sustainable products.
    • Products such as bamboo, khadi, hemp, etc, need not be washed as often, and the same can be communicated by the government.
  • Leverage in international trade: The textile industry operates on global supply chains (GVCs) —where Vietnam and Bangladesh account for 6% of the market share, China for 34%, while India accounts for 4%. Over the years India can attempt to gain a competitive advantage in sustainable fashion.
    • Sustainable fashion can be used as a lever for FTAs, given that the West continues to push for better working conditions and resource efficiency.

Conclusion

Project SURE is a responsible and timely taken step by the apparel industry of India. It fits well with the Jal Shakti Ministry’s vision on conservation. The pledge under project SURE sends a strong message to various stakeholders and producers in the apparel supply chain and encourages a wider sustainable approach to production that reduces the adverse environmental and social impact of textile industry. It will address the needs of an increasingly conscious consumer who would prefer to buy from a brand that is environmentally conscious and engages in environmental protection. It will also underline the need for collaboration across the sector in order to bring about innovation and transformative change.

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