Is sustainability a fad? Numbers speak for themselves.
Every time a brand commits to offsetting its carbon emissions, or reducing water consumption, or waste generation, it needs to explain why it matters. It's at that moment that the brand needs to emphasize why what it does, why it should matter to us. That's when some of the industry's most chilling and oft-repeated facts emerge: the fashion industry produces and sells between 80 and 150 billion garments a year worldwide; almost three-fifths of all these clothes end up in landfill each year; and between 8 and 10% of all global greenhouse gas emissions come from the fashion industry.
It doesn't take much more than that to realise that these figures are indeed alarming, although there is something odd about them: the range of garment production is really wide, the amount of garments discarded varies greatly depending on it, and the two existing estimates for greenhouse gas emissions vary between them by a billion tonnes, a large enough amount to be considered. Is it possible that this data, compiled from prestigious reports by reputable bodies such as the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, the United Nations or the World Bank, is false?
It's hard to believe... but yes. Of the 12 most commonly cited facts when talking about fashion, only one, that 4% of total global waste is textiles, is based on any kind of science, data collection or peer-reviewed research. The rest is based on gut beliefs, broken links or marketing ploys.
And yet, the reality is clear: there are unmistakable clues all around us that something is wrong, from the polluted rivers of Bangladesh and Indonesia, to the clothes that are incinerated season after season, to the microplastics that are released in every wash of our clothes.
If we go back to the only proven fact, the statistic that 4% of global waste comes from the textile industry, we come to a report by the Waste and Resources Action Programme(WRAP, a British non-profit organisation) on the lifespan of garments and the waste generated. It is then that we realise that this data, taken only from the UK, is then extrapolated to the global percentage of waste generated. What makes it remarkable though? Transparency when it comes to getting to the source. Transparency as a guarantor of data that is really important, not only for the fashion industry, but to know the true sense of sustainability of our world and its resilience. Transparency and its ability to point out and guide practices in an industry that needs to change, but still has a lot to discover.
The answer to this enigma lies in the fashion brands themselves and their ability to measure the impacts that define the practices they have used to create their products, starting with their own definition. Transparency is essential in order to know what we buy, to be able to make informed decisions and to really know the impact of our lifestyle on the world we live in.
If we want to change, we must start by knowing ourselves first.