More is more

Why is the environmental impact of clothing so great? Part 1.

It is already a well-known phrase that "the clothing industry brings more than the world's shipping and air traffic combined". So where exactly is it coming from?

Garment manufacturing is an industry

Large-scale clothing production is an industry in the same way as other industries. When it comes to industry, many work steps are done mechanically.

As the focus of the clothing industry shifts to developing countries, where infrastructure and legislation do not support the most environmentally friendly manufacturing methods or forms of energy, the environmental impact is likely to increase.

The global nature of the clothing industry also increases COXNUMX emissions in the form of transportation.

The garment is a complex product

Although we all wear clothes, not everyone is, of course, so familiar with clothing manufacturing processes. We can imagine a human in front of a sewing machine, but it is difficult to see from that image where such a great environmental impact really comes from. As clothes become available to us in large quantities and cheaply, we may imagine that they will also be created effortlessly, easily and quickly. However, that is not the case.

Although the garment may appear as a simple product, the manufacture of the garment with its work steps from the production of the fiber to the finished product is the result of a long process. 

The following describes the life cycle of a garment at its simplest and only in outline. With this, I want to show that, even in its simplest form, garment manufacturing is a multi-stage job. Before we have a garment at our disposal, a great deal must have happened.

Steps of making a garment
The life cycle of a garment starts with the production of the raw material and environmental impacts arise at all stages up to the disposal of the garment.

 

The garment always needs a fibrous raw material from which the yarn is spun, and the production of the raw material itself has a great impact on the environment. Even before ready-made fiber is available, a huge amount of resources have been used. And only then does a multi-stage process begin, in which the fiber is shaped for further processing, spun into yarn, often combined with other fibers, woven into a fabric, cut into patterns according to patterns, and finally sewn.

Less often, however, our clothes are so simple that no extra steps would be needed. They include a wide range of treatments: dyeing, bleaching, washing, wear, prints and embellishments. In addition, buttons, snaps, lining fabrics, zippers, quilts, down, cords, sewing thread, etc. are still needed for the final garment. 

Many steps require a lot of water and chemicals. With the help of chemicals, among other things, the cotton crop is repaired, the yarn is spun and the fabric's ironing, mold resistance or water resistance is improved.

A garment is the sum of various work steps and parts.

Clothing contains many components and materials.
A small piece of clothing = cotton, spandex, paint, wear, laundry, chemicals, staples and sewing thread.

More clothes, more effects

However, nothing here is in itself revolutionizing the world, or catastrophic in itself. Improvements in methods could and should be made, but we would hardly be in difficulty on this scale now if all of the above did not happen to such an extent.

So if the problems of the clothing industry were to be summed up in one word, it would be: AMOUNT. An unsustainably large amount of clothing is constantly being produced in the world. All the resources, fuels and chemicals used to make a garment are constantly recurring to unsustainable proportions.

There is a lot of focus right now on how we produce more ecological materials and production methods and this is, of course, a really, really good thing! They are needed! However, they will not save the situation if the production of clothing throughout the period continues to grow in volume. Industrial production when, as a rule, there is no environmentfriendly, but more is always more. More material manufacturing, more mechanical work, more transportation and more waste.

This is problematic, for example, in the case of eco-collections: if an eco-collection is made in addition to the normal selection, it will only further increase the environmental impact. Only by replacing weaker alternatives with better and longer-lasting ones can the real environmental burden be reduced.

Just less is enough

Alongside and in anticipation of new material innovations, we would already have an easy way to reduce the environmental impact of clothing: simply do it less.

-> the need for new material would be reduced

-> spinning, weaving and sewing, ie the amount of machine work would be reduced

-> the number of transports would decrease

-> the amount of waste would be reduced

However, the clothing industry is also based on the goal of growth and, unfortunately, growth is currently driven by cheap and excessive production. However, cheap is not less than the environmental impact of production, and the effects are repeated with the production volume.

Few producers dare to go around but reduce their own production, but need a strong signal from consumers that we are willing to buy less but better.

Producing fast fashion is only worthwhile as long as it is purchased.

Cause and effect

Indeed, the causes and consequences are intertwined in many ways, and the amount is fixed in relation to the price of the clothing. Quantity and price are also closely linked to the global nature of the clothing industry.

In the following sections, I will continue the blog series on causes and consequences, the price of clothing, and the internationalization of the clothing industry.

 

Also read:

Part 2. Cheap clothing is also an ecological problem

Part 3. Made in the World

 

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