Since ages, mankind has depended on flora and fauna to get the required raw materials for producing fashionable textiles and clothing. Fabrics are woven from fibres obtained from silkworm, trees and even palm leaves. Similarly, furs from sheep, deer, beaver, etc. are used to make clothing. The impact of the fashion and apparel industries on the forests has been hardly recognized but its footprints are widely growing.
The trend to utilize these natural resources to make different kinds of fabrics and clothing still continues. Moreover, with advancement in technology, researchers have developed man-made fabrics in the past years. There are two main types of man-made fibers. One that are made from natural cellulosic fibers and other that are solely made from chemical compounds (non cellulosic fibers).
Rayon is made from purified cellulose mainly from wood pulp or cotton. As it is obtained from natural polymers, it adds many natural characteristics to the fabric. It is comfortable, soft and economical. Rayon is known as semi synthetic fiber. Today, the fabric is popular and successful due to its versatility and is also famously called "the laboratory's first gift to the loom".
Viscose, modal and lyocell are specific types of rayon. Each has different manufacturing process and properties. Viscose fibres are also made from cellulose from wood pulp. The cellulose goes through various processes before it is regenerated into fine filaments.
It is a fact that fabrics like rayon and viscose are in great demand and have captured the markets for trendy apparels.
According to a report by non-profit environmental organization, rayon, viscose, modal and other fabrics are being manufactured from world's most endangered forests. The global apparel industry is an enormous sector worth $1.2 trillion. Forest based fabrics comprise of 5% of the total global apparel industry and is expected to grow further.
To cater to the needs of this huge industry every year seventy million trees are cut all over the world and this figure is expected to double in the coming 20 years. The trees are cut from the tropical rainforest of Indonesia to northern Boreal forests. It is noticed that almost five million tons of viscose fabric is produced from these forest wood.
Therefore, it would not be wrong to say that fashionable fabrics are leading to deforestation. Deforestation also poses risk to the endangered species living in the forest. It is found that the rain forest of Indonesia are disappearing in such a startling manner that vulnerable species like orangutan may be completely wiped out, if cutting trees are not stopped.
All over the world trees from the forests are cut, turned into wood pulp, processed and transformed into fashionable shirts, dresses, tops, jackets etc. The rayon/viscose industry is on the road to expand this sector, which further increases the threat to the forests globally. Research shows that 30% of rayon and viscose used by the apparel industry comes from these endangered forests.
It has been observed that uptill 2010, the endangered forest of Canada, Indonesia and Brazil have provided for 2/3rd of China's requirement of dissolving pulp for viscose. Out of which, 75% was used to manufacture viscose fabrics. The demand for dissolving pulp is estimated to increase at the rate of 9% yearly.
Moreover, timber from the Indonesian rainforests has been sourced out and clothing produced from it is being sold all over the world. Till now the connection with clothing industry and deforestation - to make rayon, viscose, modal and other wood cellulose fabrics had been left unrecorded. But, now this trend is changing and the apparel industry is coming up with solutions to preserve forests and support key environmental problems.
It is a crucial situation which needs immediate attention. The good news is that with the support of fashion and clothing industry this problem can be resolved. Recently, two big global fashion brands have come ahead to save the endangered forest and are changing their supply chain for viscose and rayon fabrics.
These brands have taken sustainable initiatives to curb this problem and have promised to come up with a solution that would create a win-win situation for the industry as well as the environment. The fashion brands know that their customers will never want to purchase garments which are sourced from ancient forest.
Today's consumers have good awareness about the products they use and expect the clothing and the fashion companies to produce fabrics and apparels in a sustainable manner. According to environmental leaders, 14 eco-friendly designers have planned to create forest friendly policies, at the same time eliminate the usage of forest fiber in their clothing.
Supporting this cause, a renowned denim brand has issued a new policy to exclude forest fiber from their supply chain that comes from endangered forest. This step was taken to encourage pulp and paper companies around the world to prevent needless deforestation of rainforests, which are neglected. This is a great beginning from leaders in the fashion industry who have set a target within the industry to inspire and encourage other global fashion and apparel brands to save forests.
Today, the unseen harm done to different rainforests situated in different parts of the world have caught the attention of the environmentalist around the world. Hence, the apparel companies want to show that fashion and environment are not two opposite ends of a string but go together hand in hand.
So, one does not need to compromise for other to succeed. It is all about taking the correct steps to create a balance between fashion and the forest. For the people who love fashion and our earth can see apparel and fashion industry settling for a greener earth in the future.