Almost 3,000 Facebook users said they were interested in the opening of a new fashion store in Bratislava.
Every bigger city now has its own shopping centre or more where brands such as H&M, Zara, Reserved and many others can be found. New ones are still opening, such as Forever 21, which opened their first stores in Bratislava in mid-September 2016, adding to the plethora of fashion chains on the Slovak market offering relatively cheap products produced on a mass scale. But the massive production of clothes requires increased resources of material as well as creating more waste.
These are some of the main challenges that fast fashion poses to the environment. Fast fashion is a contemporary term that labels the philosophy of quick manufacturing at an affordable price, used by large retailers such as H&M, Zara, Peacocks, Primark, and others.
“It is said that the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry for the environment,” Ivana Kohutková, coordinator of toxic campaigns for Greenpeace Slovakia, told The Slovak Spectator.
Manufacturing clothes presents a problem first with the large amounts of pesticides used to grow cotton. Consumption of natural resources used while growing plants, breeding animals and transporting clothes add up too, Kohutková added.
Producers of environmentally friendly textiles usually mark their products to distinguish themselves but about 100 different marks exist and it’s important to check to make sure the brand is not merely “greenwashing” with their mark.
“Many brands use their own ‘eco-marks’ but these do not automatically mean the clothes are ecological,” Kohutková explained. Some legitimate marks she listed include OEKO-TEX®, “Cradle to cradle” system, Global Organic Textile Standard – GOTS, and Fair Trade.
In response to fast fashion, the slow fashion movement has arisen, calling out the fashion industry’s pollution, shoddy workmanship, inhumane working conditions and emphasis on brief trends over classic style.
Ľubica Skalská built up her brand of sustainable slow fashion upcycling old clothes. She sews dresses, backpacks, shirts and skirts from worn-out jeans, shirts and other pieces of clothing from second-hand shops.
“In the past I rarely bought clothes in fast-fashion chains,” recalled Skalská. She says she preferred second-hand shops, offering more originality.
“Clothes that I didn’t find at second-hand stores or I didn’t have time to sew myself, I bought in chains,” she adds.
Skalská studied in the fashion industry. She was shocked to realise how non-ecological, unsustainable and unethical the fashion industry is, so much so that she was considering quitting the industry altogether.
“Luckily, at that time I rediscovered the upcycling I learnt as a child,” Skalská said, explaining how she began her brand.
Upcycling is not only about prolonging the lifetime of products, but also a way of thinking, a protest against the current behaviour of the fashion industry, Skalská said.
Aiming for toxic-free fashion
The environmental watchdog group Greenpeace has been addressing this problem for some time. In 2011 they launched their “Detox Catwalk” campaign, asking the textile industry to urgently take responsibility for its contribution to toxic pollution. It divides 19 fashion companies worldwide into three categories: Avantgarde, Faux-pas, and Evolution Mode.
Avantgarde includes the most progressive companies, such as Inditex (which owns Zara, Pull&Bear, Bershka and others), H&M, and Benetton.
“These are on the best way to purify their contractor’s chains,” said Kohutková, “and make sure that the contractors they use follow through on their claims of environmentally friendly practices.”
Brands like Victoria’s Secret, Esprit, Nike or LiNing ended up in the ‘Faux-pas’ category. To date they have not been able to fulfil the requirements of transparency in contractor chains, removing dangerous chemicals from production, or fulfilling the plan to stop destroying the environment with production waste by 2020.
In the middle, the so-called ‘Evolution Mode’, are brands like C&A, Mango, Adidas, Primark, and M&S. These companies are committed to Detox and have made progress in implementing their plans, but their actions need to evolve faster to achieve the 2020 Detox goal.
Reduce, Reuse, Upcycle
What are some practical ways to reduce our clothes consumption and reuse what we already have? Here are some tips experts usually suggest for having a more environmentally friendly closet:
- Shop smaller retailers and manufacturers, especially those creating local products from upcycled material. Second-hand shops are another good option.
- Only buy clothes you actually need. Even though you may really like an item of clothing, do you really wear 50 shirts?
- Buy one quality piece instead of several cheap items that quickly wear out. Even though it may be more expensive, buying good quality saves money in the long run.
- Instead of throwing unused clothes in the garbage, organise a clothing exchange, sell them online, or donate them to charity.
- Reuse fabric by making handmade decorations, sewing upcycled clothes, or cutting it up into rags (double points if reducing the amount of paper towels used).
Very last option
The last option is giving clothes to big companies to recycle into fabric. However, clothes usually contain fabrics that are non-recyclable.
“In the case of the H&M initiative, it was possible to recycle only 1 percent of collected clothes,” said Kohutková.
Moreover, during its recycling week, H&M gave away discounts or vouchers to buy new clothes. That’s definitely not how ecologically conscious customers should behave, according to Kohutková.
“Every attempt to be minimalistic in fashion is beneficial for the environment,” she summed up.
The Spectator College is a programme designed to support the study and teaching of English in Slovakia, as well as to inspire interest in important public issues among young people. The project was created by The Slovak Spectator in cooperation with their exclusive partner – the Leaf Academy.