Text by Avant Shretha
The fashion industry is an unstoppable juggernaut when it comes to shelling out new products every season. The modern day trend of consumerism has ushered a term ‘fast-fashion’ that basically means an inexpensive method of producing apparels rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends.
According to The Economist, 80 billion items of clothing are manufactured every year. Today, the global fashion market is estimated to be $1.34 Trillion a year industry which is about 2% of the world’s GDP. Fast fashion has allowed consumers to buy more and at a cheaper rate, but in hindsight these clothes are being worn and used less often and are discarded at an alarming rate.
Nepal, a relatively small nation in the grand scale of the fashion industry is no different. Regardless of how the local garment industry performs, the nation doesn’t lag behind when it comes to importing garments and adopting the latest fashion trend in an attempt to mimic the runways of New York or Paris. As reported in a national daily, the garment industry and the boutique business is booming with customer attraction towards designer dresses and rise in the purchasing power. Additionally, Nepali customers have become more brand and fashion conscious due to which demand for designer wear – both local and international – has swelled. Evidently, such trends have become profitable for the industry but proven to be very unsustainable for the environment.
Poor Fashion Choices
Activist, startups and companies have taken a stand for sustainable fashion to be fully embraced in the country. However, they have an uphill task as more and more generic and arguably counterfeited and inexpensive apparel enter our borders and into the thriving market place. As the spending capacity of the citizen increases so is the demand for imported western apparels. Eventually, as both the international and domestic fashion industry continues to gain momentum while racking in huge profits for the stakeholders, it is important to acknowledge that the fashion too comes with a hefty environmental cost.
Haushala Thapa, Co-Founder, Haushala Creatives explains, “Nepali fashion is growing very fast but at the same time we do not have the concept of fast fashion instead we want everything very fast. We are focused on following a trend and I think that is very scary in Nepal because when you’re working with trends, we don’t really know where our clothes are coming from and who are making them,” she adds. There is a direct correlation between the Nepali garment industry and the fashion industry. In fact, Nepal imports textile from neighbouring countries such as India, China and Bangladesh as well as Thailand and Indonesia. As reported, in 2017, Nepal imported textiles and clothing worth $ 391,498.35 from the world (US $), with South Asia accounting to$ 201,672.28. This huge textile imports are vitally necessary for the thriving market however, due to the lack of regulation regarding sustainable textiles, even low quality textiles is bound to get imported as well.
As mentioned, due to the exponential rise of the fast fashion industry; consumers today buy more clothes that are easily and readily available. What’s even more alarming is how little thought goes behind how people easily discard them. Manish Thapa, Founder and the CEO of Antidote Nepal shares, “We grew up having this mentality of buying new clothes every time there is a special occasion. And I believe this is more evident today, in a cultural way and socio economic aspect as well. We cannot point a finger at anything at this moment, but this trend of over indulgence needs intervention,” Manish adds. Additionally, the process of manufacturing new fabrics and clothes is harmful for the environment and consequently these discarded clothes leave behind dire environmental implications as well. Lastly, cotton farmers and garment factory workers suffer various health issues, raising the questions about contentious human right practices.” As a result, the fashion industry today is the second largest polluter in the world only behind the oil industry.
Cost of a T-Shirt
To simply lay it down, let us take the example of an average T-shirt and its environmental impact. Initially, cotton required to make a T-shirt requires more pesticides and insecticides than any other crops in the world. They also require lots of water to grow. In fact, cotton production is being blamed for depleting resources and contaminating the environment with pesticides. Secondly, chemical from clothes manufacturing plants have devastated rivers and water sources in Asia as the toxic dyes used for coloring pollutes surrounding rivers and waters sources. These pollutants can be carcinogenic and harmful to humans and damage surrounding ecosystems. And lastly, about 2700 liters of water is needed to produce an average T-shirt and it is estimated that the fashion industry is on the course to create a quarter of projected global carbon emissions by 2050. According to Carbon Trust, the estimated carbon footprint of a cotton T-shirt over its lifespan emits 15Kg of Co2. That is a single t-shirt lifespan and it is nerve-wrecking to comprehend the amount of carbon footprints a small segment of the fashion industry is responsible for.
Understanding Sustainable Fashion
Sustainable fashion is an ideal of fostering change to fashion products (specifically to textiles in our context) towards a sustainable social practices and for environmental and ecological improvement. The idea behind sustainable fashion is to make products that have high utility value and produce them with the least environmental cost. According to Haushala, “Sustainability is something that is ‘long term’ that should not be damaging to the earth and the people who wear them. If you can rebrand, reuse something that is sustainable.”
Ayush from Antidote Nepal explains, “Fashion entails that you buy new clothes every time because clothes get old and wears off and you have to buy new ones. And to make new clothes requires a lot of resources which creates lots of pollution and requires lots of money. And these are the factors which in the near future might limit our over use of cloths. And through our research and efforts to mitigate over use of cloths we can call them sustainable fashion”.
One of the best methods local entrepreneurs and activist have utilised is the cloth swap event which undoubtedly is even one of the best ways to reduce textile waste. Additionally, there is a plethora of locally produced resources and methods that can be applied to create appealing solutions. While buying clothes, choose garments made from eco-friendly, natural fabrics such as bamboo, silk, organic cotton and hemp can be the right track towards sustainability.
As Haushala explains, “First take care of clothes that you already have. Second is repairing the things that you have. Third is reusing or recycling your clothes. I believe if we follow these methods then it could be an important step towards sustainable fashion. So if we are to bring forth a mass change we need to look at repairing, reusing, and taking care of your fabric,” she stresses.
Manish theorises, “Maybe we can use the available resources in the form of clothes. We can reuse it multiple times and increase their lifespan. With this the demand for new clothes decreases, the wastage of clothes gets reduced and we can minimise the requirement of scarce resources that are needed to make fabrics.”
Manish claims, “In Nepal, clothes are so cheap and we generally lack the knowledge about climate change and the fashion industry’s implication on it. I believe talking and raising awareness about sustainable fashion would be good but this has to start with changes in individual behaviour. Plus fashion is easy to show off and in a developing country like ours, when people’s economic power increases, they have the desire to flex their purchasing power and hence fashion comes first.”
Sustainable Fashion in Nepal
Haushala expresses, “It’s very tricky in Nepal because we are a very small country and we are very easily influenced by modernisation and Western culture. It will take time but eventually people will realise and adopt a sustainable way of fashion if there’s enough awareness.”
In the long run sustainable fashion is the future. But as for the time being, it is important to open dialogues about the negative implication of the fashion industry and the benefits of sustainable fashion to the environmental and the individual.
Sustainable living is ingrained in our society. “Our ancestors have lived sustainable lives for a very long time; I think our generation will revitalise it,” expresses Manish. The idea of implementing sustainable fashion in the market as well as our personal lives could be a slow process. It does not require taking radical approach and never buying new apparel or never changing outfits. It basically means being responsible for what you buy and what you discard. According to Ayush: moving towards sustainable fashion means giving more emphasis on quality rather than quantity.