Monday, May 18, 2009

A Loss or Gain?: Going Green in the Fashion Industry

In Canada, consumers spent $21 billion on clothing in 2002, a high number when compared to the $23 billion that was spent on motor oil and gasoline by motorists also in 2002. The apparel and textile industry is growing at a rapid pace and the media appears to have a heightened focus on the fashion industry. Within the last five years fashion focused television shows such as, ‘Project Runway’ and ‘The Fashionista Diaries’ have gained in popularity along with an increasing number of fashion related websites such as, ‘The Satorialist’ and ‘Style.com’. Fast fashion retailers, H&M and Forever 21 as well as high end fashion designers, Isaac Mizrahi and Karl Lagerfeld have capitalized on this by producing collections inspired by high fashion designs for a fraction of the cost. However, what effect does this increased production have on the environment? In Canada, 18,010,801 tonnes of waste disposal was produced in 2006 by non-residential sources including, manufacturing companies such as an apparel manufacturing company. Flame retardants used in textile products to manufacture uniforms for fire fighters have been known to contain the chemical polybrominated diphenylethr (PBDE) which has been known to be a harmful chemical to the environment and human health. 100% cotton t-shirts may seem to be environmentally friendly however, the processes that a cotton fibre must go through in order to be manufactured into a finished product, include herbicides, pesticides, bleaches and dyes that all pollute the environment. To attack this growing environmental concern and reduce the carbon foot print of the apparel industry, clothing companies such as Espirit are using FoxFibre, a company that distributes cotton that naturally grows in shades of brown and green to manufacture t-shirts. Also, there has been an increase in eco-boutiques, which are online retail stores that provide environmentally-friendly products. Despite the increased efforts made by clothing companies and retailers, there is still a downside to the green movement. Developing new ways to produce environmentally friendly clothing can be costly and time consuming. There is no official standard that certifies environmental products as being environmentally friendly and this can lead to companies using the green movement as a marketing ploy rather than an actual implication. Regardless of the negatives associated with environmentally friendly clothing, the long term affects of going green in the apparel industry out way the short term hindrances.

Clothing and manufacturing companies in North America are beginning to take notice at the negative effects the apparel industry has on the environment as well as taking note of consumers growing concern for the environment. Consumers with an interest in green products has risen 21% from 2002 to 2007 and to assist this companies such as, Bagir, Wal-Mart and Deja Inc. have invested in producing apparel and shoe products out of recyclable materials. Bagir applies the environmentally friendly movement to their manufacturing process by taking recycled plastic bottles and using them to create ECOGIR men’s suits. Retail giant, Wal-Mart does the same by producing t-shirts blended with cotton and recycled plastic Coca-Cola bottles. Deja Inc. has focused on non-biodegradable diapers, a product that is frequently used and filling up expensive landfills, by taking the trim from disposable diapers and recycling it into yarn that is used to weave into shoe fabric. The actions taken by these companies are thoroughly benefitting the environment by making efficient use of non-biodegradable products in apparel and using recycled materials that require less energy opposed to processing natural fibres. However, similar to the cotton t-shirt example mentioned earlier, only a percentage of these products use recycled materials. What about the remaining dyes and finishes that are applied to T-shirts, men’s suits and shoes? Also, Wal-Mart being a hugely successful retail company may use recycled materials in their t-shirts but they also use a significant amount of plastic bags when packaging their products for consumers. The positive effect that recycled plastic Coca-Cola bottles have may be minimal in comparison to the negative impact that a number of Wal-Mart’s other practices have. The going green movement encourages an increased amount of environmentally-friendly dyes and finishes which limits the colours and textures of a finished apparel product. Many garments and footwear that use recycled materials also blend those materials with other materials that provide the designed hand of the finished product but may not be environmentally friendly. Higgins Natural, a dye company that is known for using natural dyes to colour various apparel products, find that the colours produced from the natural dyes are not fashionable. In fact, in 2007 a poll taken from, “Shopping Smart; The Environmental Movement is Spawning its very own Brand of Fashion Retail: The Eco-Boutique” indicates that only 6% of consumers are actually buying green products. Even though, a small amount of apparel products are 100% made of recycled products every little bit counts toward a healthier environment.





Amanda
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