Monday, May 28, 2012

System Wide Sustainability

To start, here are a few interesting factoids from the first articles we read for class:
  • Worldwide more than 26 million people are employed in the clothing production business (it is an important component of the world's economy)
  • In 2011 H&M was the biggest user of certified organic cotton in the world (but I think it's deceiving because of their scale)
  • Garment producers typically waste 15% of the cloth needed to product one garment (in trimmings from how the pattern is laid out)
  • 5% of the world's population uses 25% of the world's energy resources (yes that's us)

Making a sustainable garment
Reflecting on ch. 2 Sustainable Fashion and Textiles, Kate Fletcher

Fletcher explains that the best practices in fiber and fabric processing are to cause the least amount of impact or to prevent impact from happening at all. To make a garment, there are many process to go through; from growing and harvesting the source of the fiber, to treating the raw fiber, to yarn manufacturing (spinning), to fabric manufacturing (weaving/knitting), and finally to product manufacturing (cut, sew, & trim). Throughout each of these processes harmful chemicals, water, and energy are used. The best practice is to minimize the number of processing steps, by using ‘cleaner’ processing techniques with ‘cleaner’ chemicals (less harmful), reducing energy and water consumption, and reducing waste.

The problem is that most of the time one company is responsible for just one step in the processes and then hands the garment over to another company who will do the next step. On an individual level there is no incentive for a company to spend more money to use ‘cleaner’ chemicals or make large changes in operations because the sustainability of the garment also relies on those other companies who may or may not be using sustainable practices.

While the whole systems improvement is widely recognized, it is little practiced because of the highly fragmented structure of the textile processing chain, typically involving a large number of small and medium size companies who tend to work on bringing change to processes that chiefly bring benefit to themselves.
Pg 43, Sustainable Fashion and Textiles, Fletcher

It seems the biggest problem in making a sustainable garment is to enact change throughout the supply chain. Each level of the supply chain must must change their practices so that the end result is sustainable. But the question is how to do this? With legislation and government enforced standards? Or should the initiative come from the fashion brand that is selling the product? I know that companies like C&A (Belgium), and Patagonia have taken it upon themselves to ensure that each level of garment production meets their sustainability standards. However it seems to me to be a complicated problem that will take a lot of work to solve on the larger scale. 

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