The Circular Economy in Fashion

Look down at what you are wearing. Perhaps a t-shirt, a hoodie? A mundane item, one you wear every other day or so, not really considering it when you throw it on. However, what if I told you, this tee shirt, along with many others just like it, are one of the leading factors towards environmental damage?

Many are not aware of the environmental hazards of the fashion industry. Numerous studies, articles and testimonies reveal that the fashion industry is one of the most polluting businesses in the world. Take your t-shirt for example. That one tee needs 700 gallons of water to be produced. To put that into perspective, that’s enough water to keep someone hydrated for 900 days. With that knowledge, walk into a Zara or H&M, and revel in the piles and piles of clothes — the waste produced from the fashion industry is absurd! In fact, H&M has been accused, in an article written by Fashion United, for incinerating 12 tonnes of unused fabric per year since 2013. It was reported that they burned a whopping 60 tonnes of unused fabric from 2013-2017. 

Eileen Fisher, a clothing magnate herself, compares the damage of the clothing industry to be second after the oil industry. Can you believe that? Yet, it doesn’t get nearly as much light shed on it as the oil industry does. In addition to that articles such as “Waste Couture: Environmental Impact of the Clothing Industry.” by Luz Claudio describes the business to not only produce dangerous emissions into the air, but also byproducts which can contaminate wastewater from manufacturing plants. 

Consider Uzbekistan, one of the leading cotton producers in the world. Uzbekistan is a prime example of how the fashion industry can demolish a healthy ecosystem. In order to sustain cotton production in the country, two rivers which originally lead to the Aral sea were redirected. This led to the Aral Sea progressively drying up, while additionally contaminating the water in the area. This instance is not uncommon for textile producers all over the world. India! Bangladesh! China! Pakistan! All countries which have suffered at the hand of the fast fashion industry.

Other articles such as “Fast Fashion Is the Second Dirtiest Industry in the World, Next to Big Oil.” by Glynis Sweeny reveal the copious amounts of oil needed to produce certain materials. For example, it takes 70 million barrels of oil to manufacture raw polyester each year. The article also points out the production of materials like nylon can emit greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide, a gas that has an impact on global warming equivalent to 300 times that of carbon dioxide. It is evident, through all of these facts, that the fashion industry is hugely detrimental towards the environment.

The reason why I feel so close to this topic, and why I felt that it was important to share, is because I feel like I am partially responsible. Like the majority of you, I am an avid consumer of clothing products and items, which has contributed to the decline of the environment. In this age of consumerism, we are tempted to buy and shop for new items, leaving old items to waste. As reported by Planet Aid, the average American throws out 82 pounds of textile waste per year. These textiles are then thrown out to landfills, where they pile up to produce greenhouse gases in the air and contribute to global warming. These clothes won’t go away anytime soon either, as most pieces of clothing take 40 years to decompose.

With the fast fashion industry continually growing, it seems like the disruption of this industry is a herculean task far into the future. However, there are current solutions which can begin to dismantle this detrimental industry. These solutions are rooted in the growing movement of the circular economy. 

The concept of the circular economy, in simple terms, is to eliminate waste through reuse. Aside from the obvious ways such as thrifting or passing down clothes, there are new methods of production which can also embody the circular economy movement. At Iris, we combined the methods of upcycling and closed loop production to create a new way to produce garments. We exclusively use surplus materials — which were meant to go to the landfill as waste — to produce our clothing. Essentially, we are taking waste and making it into a completely new product. Therefore, at Iris, you can purchase a product guilt free. 

As we move forward, we plan to incorporate more sustainable methods to our production… with the goal of being the framework for the fashion revolution. 

— Sani Ali

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