Over 150 world leaders have been meeting in Paris for the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and fashion has been quietly contributing to some of the worst of the environmental issues for many decades.
Ben Muis decided a long time ago that Conceptable donates money to charity at Christmas every year and in 2015 he has selected WaterAid – a charity that promotes and develops solutions to the water crisis facing our planet. The problem is extreme, it has already caused the Aral Sea to disappear. At one time the Aral Sea was the fourth largest inland lake in the world, but as a result of irrigation to grow crops, for a large part cotton, it has all but disappeared. In 2014, during an exceptionally dry period the southern part of the lake dried out completely and only a purpose-built dam has preserved the a small amount of water in the norther part of the lake.
Cotton is a major contributor to the water problems facing the world, and non-organic cotton, produced using high levels of pesticide has a doubly negative impact: it drains the local area of water and it leaches toxic chemicals into the surrounding soil which, because it is arid, builds up concentrations of pesticide that destroy the local ecosystem entirely. Unsustainable cotton production has been a major contributor to the creation of dust plains around the world.
Cotton becomes even more damaging when it’s turned into denim. They call Xintang the Denim Capital of the World and the Chinese government estimates that this town makes more than 200 million denim garments every year. Satellite views show that the Pearl River, which runs through Xintang, is deep blue, not naturally, but as a result of the massive water pollution that denim-dying and washing produces. Local people are so frightened of the effects of toxic chemicals they refuse to work in the factories so migrant workers from other parts of China are relocated there, unaware they are risking their health.
Fashion is greedy for more than water – The Rainforest Action Network (RAN) claims that rare and precious forests in Indonesia are being destroyed to create fashion items from bags to beaded dresses. At one time there was a belief that paperless offices would bring an end to deforestation, but the demands of fashion for rayon and viscose – made from wood pulp – have increased forest destruction. Together, water stress and deforestation lead to huge climate change impacts that will affect the whole planet, not just the unlucky inhabitants of Xintang or Indonesia.
So what can we do to help?
Conceptable goes beyond donating to charity to drive sustainable fashion issues through the heart of its consultancy work. As a result, we’ll be offering three free workshops in 2016, to show fashion entrepreneurs how to build sustainability in both design and production. The workshops will be available online via conceptable.com and fashionbasecamp.com and will also demonstrate how process improvements and material choices can create immediate benefits for the planet, whilst supporting high quality, values led, sustainable fashion.