The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world. About 9.5 billion kilogrammes of clothing and textiles end up in landfills in the US each year, with the average US resident throwing away 70 pounds of clothing annually. It’s a systemic problem that involves all of us, and industry-wide change is needed.
Movements that reflect consumers shifting towards more conscious purchasing and brands enhancing their sustainability efforts are gaining ground worldwide. But this isn’t enough. Sustainability as a concept has to be fundamentally normalised – it’s not just a kind of fashion that is “niche” or an alternative. Challenging this perception is no small feat and begins in shifting the way we see clothing. For instance, what if brands took a seasonless approach and made clothes to last? Product designs become more thoughtful when process is also considered in addition to purpose and style. Matter, for example, cannot partake in the world of fast fashion given the principles and seasonality of our artisan production. So, what we do is to work our model around that and adhere to seasonless styles and seasonal fabrics rather than runway trends.
“Sustainability as a concept has to be fundamentally normalised”
The discussion around sustainability should also widen. There is definitely perceived tension between profit maximisation and business sustainability, but it is not a zero-sum game. Do sustainable business decisions come at the expense of profits? Yes. But it is also possible to run a long-term sustainable business while having healthy profits. Every founder has to choose their lenses of time to map growth and profits – sustainable brands have to understand their own parameters of time and risk.
Boutique companies such as Matter have the opportunity to engage in more direct relationships with their customer base and have deeper conversations around behavioural change. There are people who write in to us to share how their wardrobes are full of our pieces but who are now wondering how much is too much and what a sustainable amount is. Customers are realising that they have the power to ask questions, and as such, they’re holding brands accountable.
Many perceive donating their used clothing as a sustainable measure, but this isn’t always the case. Developing nations are not prepared to handle the overabundance of discarded clothing items from Western countries, and so they are left to decompose in soil and waterways. Worse still, much of what we donate to charities is usually not needed and is often sold to textile recyclers. From there, they’re repurposed as used clothing, and sold to African countries as direct sales, not donations. This process actually harms local retailers in already struggling economies.
What we can do isn’t just limited to how we purchase or repurpose, but also includes extending the life of what we have. The way we wash and dry our clothes affects 80% of its life cycle and can impact the earth by using up water that cannot be recycled. Choices like washing clothes less frequently, using energy-efficient washing machines, switching to biodegradable detergents and sticking to line-drying all add up. There’s more to sustainable fashion than the schema of how we see it to be. Ultimately, the goal is to reach a point where transparency and sustainability are no longer utopian ideas, but a required standing point for all fashion brands.
This article was originally published in the December 2018 issue of SilverKris magazine