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How Textile Industry is staining the Nature’s Fabric?

textile industry

The debate about climate change is not new but the rise in climate change issues is also quite alarming. The impact of which can be seen all around the world. There are several factors that are affecting climate and one such is customer product. For a layman, it is very difficult to figure out exactly what products have high or less impact on the environment. The textile industry is one of the oldest industries in the world and plays a significant role in negatively impacting the environment. In addition, it is also known as one of the most polluting ones amongst the other industries.

In the past, the textile industry has undergone several changes. According to Mckinsey & Company, the number of garments produced annually has doubled since 2000 and exceeded 100 billion for the first time in 2014: nearly 14 items of clothing for every person on earth. The growth in sales can be seen all over the world especially in the emerging economies where the large numbers of customers are from the middle class. The sales grew eight times faster in the five large developing countries such as Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and Russia as compared to developed countries like Canada, Germany, UK, and the US.

The term fast fashion is can also be held responsible for the rise in the textile market. It is inexpensive clothing produced swiftly by the mass-market retailers depending upon the latest trends in the market. These garments are easy to produce using a low tech production system. This system is affecting the environment on a big scale as the requirement of water and chemical to produce fast fashion garments is very high, resulting in the emission of a significant amount of greenhouse gases. Every year, the textile industry is producing 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas which is one of the shocking facts provided by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The other factor like the high demand for such products is also leading pressure on the industry to produce the products with underpaid workers and at many times leading them to work in an unsafe and unhealthy working environment. Furthermore, with the increase in profit margins and high production rates, most of the companies are ignorant of the fact that it is also impacting the environment vigorously. The availability of streamlined supply chains and businesses aiming at cutting the cost are some of the other factors responsible for the increase in production rate.

Non-decaying Fibres’ Impact on Nature

Every textile and clothing industry can be broadly divided into five different stages such as spinning, weaving, dyeing, processing, and garments. These different stages have various negative impacts on the environment at several levels including wastage of freshwater, energy emission, chemical usage, and waste creation.

The material used in the textile industry can be broadly categorized into two parts: natural and man-made fibres. Synthetic fibres are one of the most common ones which are made from petrochemicals and no wonder; it is one of the most found fibres in the wardrobes. The main reason being it is so popular in the textile industry is the nature of the fibre. It is one of the cheapest and easy-care fibres available in the market. But the main drawback of it is that it creates pollution and it is very hard to recycle. For example, nylon generally takes nearly 30-40 years to decompose completely. Moreover, the impact of pollution can be seen in soil, water, and air. Due to the disposing of waste in landfills, it is affecting the quality of soil and the quality of crops is also continuously declining.

The textile industry uses surface water for dyeing, printing, sizing, bleaching and other processes which are then mixed with the river water and the polluted water is further degraded. Since ages, industries are releasing many harmful gases such as carbon dioxide, aerosol flumes and gases, toxic gases and smoke and dust. It is one of the major contributors to air pollution and it has undergone various different processes. During the latter stages of the process, the coating of the fabrics includes plasticizers, lubricating oils, paints, and water repellent chemicals essentially, and organic compounds, such as oils, waxes or solvents.

Alarming Fashion Industry Stats

According to the report published by the global fashion agenda, nearly 79 billion cubic meters is consumed by the fashion industry which is enough to fill nearly 32 million Olympic size swimming pools.  Further, GFA and BCG anticipate that water use will increase by 50% by 2030. The most water usage is done during the time of production of raw materials. Additionally, water consumption is done by consumers to wash their clothes also adds some amount of distress. The reports provided by the latest earth system research reveal that the level of atmospheric CO2 is already exceeding more than 20% which is over the safety mark. By 2030, it is expected to increase by more than 60% to nearly 2.8 billion. Heavy use of fertilizers by farmers to grow natural fibres is also degrading the quality of soil and leading harmful chemicals into the groundwater and other water sources.

Re-use, Repair, and Up-cycling Garments

The number of garments purchased each year has almost doubled and is continuously increasing with years passing by. The fall in the price of the garments is one of the major reasons for such a rapid increase in sales. Migration towards a better solution is the need of the hour. Slow fashion is the alternative where consumers can shift towards buying fewer clothes that will have a longer shelf life. This solution is for the new business models where they can promote fashion as a service. In Fashion as service, companies can offer clothes on lease instead of selling them, where it can also rent these clothes for a special occasion such as a wedding and other once in a lifetime occasion. Customers can also rent these clothes on a monthly basis and can pay the fixed amount. It eases out the burden on the environment. Another way to tackle the issue is to re-use, repair and up-cycling of the garment. Companies can offers used clothes and ease the second-hand buying option of the customers as well as allow them to warranties along with repair or replacement guarantees of the same clothes. Smart and instant fashion is one of the most popular terms in recent times. The clothes can be customized according to the wish of the customers. Going forward, these clothes could be the future as it will allow the companies to control the demand and supply of the garments.

It is equally important for companies to increase awareness amongst the customers. Companies can start campaigns to provide information related to various stores and the need for sustainable options available for preparing the garments. Further, companies can also invest in research where more environment-friendly options can be made available to customers. Eco-fashion is the term where Eco-clothes are produced from organic raw materials without the use of pesticides. These eco-clothes can be further categorized into Group I (baby wear), II, III, IV. Labeling the clothes with the environment-friendly label and providing customers access to the information about the material of the clothes used and how important it opts for such clothes. Companies can also do their bit by guiding their customers on how to use less water.