Consumer awareness has led to changes in production techniques and strategies so as to optimise output and reduce harmful effects on the planet, writes Harsh Shah.
Fashion trends in India vary and change with each season, and although companies do their absolute best to keep their customers happy, there is a lot that is invisible to the naked eye. Fabric is the primary good required to meet production standards set by any organisation, and there is a profound change in that area these days.
While textile forms a significant component of the export sector of India, its production involves heavy duty costs. These costs are both monetary, as well as environmental. Due to the difficulties in cotton production, the supply is not able to match the demand. One consequence of the same is a switch to synthetic fibre that is made from the eucalyptus tree. The wood of eucalyptus is processed to form the alpha fibre, which is used to produce viscose staple fibre which is then woven into thread to manufacture cloth. However, this manufacturing process, too, is extremely harmful to the environment. So much so that this fabric is classified as unsustainable despite being made of natural material.
Turning a blind eye
An NGO focused on environmental issues using new and advanced business technology, Canopy, estimates that millions of trees in endangered forests are cut each year in the name of fashion. Factories around the world turn the chemical pulp that is generated into viscose filaments. From here, we have only two ways out-paying control costs, or treatment costs. Because the treatment costs here would mean covering up for the lost forest cover, and the increased greenhouse gases it releases; the better alternative is to control the environmental damage.
While the damage caused by procurement of raw materials directly affects the environment, the repercussions of the production process multiply this devastation.
As the world is becoming aware of the environmental degradation, it is demanding a shift to raw materials that are renewable in the short run. This demand has marked a change in production techniques and strategies to optimise output and reduce its harmful effects on the planet.
Designers and apparel brands including H&M and Zara, Lululemon athletica, Eileen Fisher and more have committed to eliminating endangered forests from their fabrics. "We are fully committed to exploring our supply chain and doing our utmost to avoid these fabrics within the next three years," says Henrik Lampa, environmental sustainability manager at H&M.
Sustainable fashion has an impact on the way these fabrics are introduced to the world-with more earthly tones in queue, there's a rejection of harmful dyes. A brand that takes this into account is Organic Threads that makes its fabrics with the help of 100 per cent organic cotton.
Another brand that produces its products using 100 per cent organic cotton is Nudie Jeans. With the efforts this brand makes to keep in check their ethical ideals, they use 91 per cent less water than what is usually used in the production of fabrics. Besides this, all workers are paid a living wage and they uphold the values of recycling and the reselling of their products. The best part about Nudie Jeans is that their checks on quality production are reported and available online for everyone to see.
One of the most prominent names in the industry, Guess recently joined this bandwagon. As a part of its policy, it is working in collaboration with the Rainforest Action Network (RAN). RAN is an organisation that works towards an Out of Fashion campaign that focuses on the risks that are propelled by wood-based fabrics. Tracking their rayon and viscose use, they'll assure their materials don't come from endangered sources. Brands walking in the footsteps on these companies are Patagonia, Nau, Olderbrother, Veja and Outerknown, among many others.
The right direction
Back in the day, India's textiles were famous worldwide for being the best homespun cloth. The British, however, ripped India off its raw materials and flooded its market with mechanically produced textile blowing the indigenous industry off by competition with newly introduced mechanised products.
It is clear that using endangered raw material will increase costs. Waking up to this fact, the people are demanding an alternative. Therefore, there is a huge potential in the market of environment-friendly textiles. Just like leather was replaced by faux leather and fur by faux fur to save the ecosystem and wildlife, it's time to take a step further in the direction of environment-friendly fabrics. Ritu Kumar, to name one, is one such revolutionary designer who is experimenting with organic denim.
Shifting to other natural resources like bamboo, organic cotton, and corn has proven to be a remarkable move to turn to the flipside of production. These methods have more relevance for alternative clothing fabrics as compared to traditional cotton. Bamboo fabric, which is known to be strong and soft, is also easily renewed. With the government's growing focus on bamboo production in its Budget of 2018, there's a booming opportunity for the textiles industry to make use of.
A big leap
E-commerce sites and applications can capitalise on and execute this change using informative descriptions of the materials used in their products and collaborating with more environmentally friendly companies. This, along with keeping in sync with the latest trends to attract more customers can prove to be an effective marketing strategy. These applications can use the Ecomark for such products and their packaging, a step that would affect and influence the choices their target audience makes in the future. An application or website that acts as an interface has already taken a step in the right direction. It is establishing an association with companies that have a stringent policy on the use of endangered materials works in favour of this environmental change.
About the author: Harsh is the co-founder of Fynd, the first-of-its-kind, e-commerce fashion platform, with a live inventory of 8K plus stores catering to more than 8 million customers. He is an engineer from IIT Bombay and has 7 years of experience in fashion retail, hospitality, management consulting and human resources.