As climate change becomes more pertinent by the day, the fashion industry is not exempt. We examine the status quo, its implications in Africa and the West, and the steps to be taken towards the sustainability of fashion.
• Fashion brands and consumer’s attitudinal shifts towards sustainability.
• The myth that all made-in-Africa goods qualify as sustainable.
• Going carbon neutral may be the future, now it remains an ethical gray area.
Today, dialogues about a sustainable future for Earth are no more being shrugged off as something to deal with later.
Sustainability of Fashion
The sustainability of fashion has been called into question. The fashion industry is identified as one of the most polluting industries in the world. Fast fashion propagates much of this unsustainability, through the vast number of items produced, poor disposals in landfills, water pollution from synthetic dyes, copious use of water, and worker exploitation.
Sustainability, in the context of fashion, means an application of systems-based thinking in design and production processes. Thinking from the perspective of the many stakeholders involved—producers, users, other living species, and the Earth.
The onus of fashion sustainability also lies with consumers. Knowing where your clothes come from, treating fashion as an environmental responsibility that mustn’t change with every season, and disposing less often are sustainable practices on the consumer side.
Is Recyclable Clothing the Solution?
Today’s consumers are more inclined with these attitudinal shifts, with the growth of the resale industry serving as a clear marker. For the future of sustainability in the fashion industry, U.Mi-1 believes production must be consumer demand-driven, to reduce waste production.
Recyclable clothing will minimize the use of land and water in production. Furthermore, the use of animals is an unsustainable practice that should not continue. Plant-based leather is an environmentally friendly and innovative substitute. Will it be the future for every clothing shop?
Certain standards have been set, to monitor the sustainability of fashion brands:
• The Organic stamp — certifying that clothing was made from eco-friendly materials, such as organic, pesticide-free, non-GMO cotton — is one such standard.
• The Fair Trade stamp, which states that a piece of clothing was made without the exploitation of farmers, sweatshops, or child labor.
Fashion Sustainability and Africa
Since its vast adoption, fast fashion has affected local African designers adversely. Clothes donated to charity shops find their way to African countries, where their cheap prices create an insurmountable competition for local designers.
One regurgitated myth about sustainability is that all made-in-Africa clothing should be classified as sustainable. It does not take into account the emissions of generators in countries with poor electricity supply; unfair wages, unequal pay for men and women, unsafe working conditions, and limited access to healthcare, which are unsustainable practices.
A possible impact of a sustainable future in Africa is that fashion can become a tool that artisans use to rise from poverty. The value of local garment makers will rise, and consumers should be more willing to pay their prices, to keep up their sustainable practices.
At the moment however, local designers who wish to practice sustainable fashion will have to overcome some hurdles and the consumer’s tendency to purchase fast fashion due to its cheap prices. Maintaining sustainable practices requires more time — especially without the latest technology — and that is time that may prove too costly for artisans who are poor
Sustainability of Fashion Brands
In the Western nations, big fashion brands have signed a sustainability pact, which includes reducing carbon emissions at their shows. A buzzword you might hear is ‘carbon-neutral’ which means that brands pay UN backed carbon offsetting companies to remove the same amount of carbon from the atmosphere as the amount they emit at their shows. This action comes with some criticism.
Some say that it gives these brands a reason to keep emitting carbon at fashion shows; others believe that the nascence of the offsetting industry make its estimations scientifically inaccurate. Bad actors have also shrouded the industry’s legitimacy in doubt, most infamously ‘KlimaFa’ who claimed to plant trees for the Vatican, but did no such thing. At U.Mi-1 we believe that going carbon-neutral is a step for the better.
Sustainability: What About U.Mi-1?
What is U.Mi-1 role in sustainable development? We work closely with small factories, double-checking their awesome job to ensure they respect the high-quality standard of our clothes. We manufacture in Europe to reduce our carbon footprint and we pay the right rates because we admire people that work with us.
We use mostly natural fabrics and natural blends. We shy away from polyester and synthetics. We limit the items produced to the necessary: our products are limited edition and unique. One of our goals is reducing waste and going toward a “no-return items” policy which will help you make better decisions on your purchases with us.
We are working with communities in Nigeria, in particular artisans. We educate them on our sustainable concept. Is this the future of sustainability? At U.Mi-1 we have already started a small and important revolution. It won’t end up in the back of it that’s for sure.