How ecology is important and shapes fashion

Ecology and Fashion

How ecology is important and shapes fashion

Ecology can be defined simply as the study of how people interact with their environment. It has been very important to us and many have considered it as part of their lives in order to secure their future and provide better life. However, a number of people still do not care about ecology and the environment. These people end up destroying the world day after day. In order to change these people’s attitude, it is important to develop a research question to understand the importance of ecology and how it shapes art, especially fashion. The research question thus developed is: how does the use of ecology in fashion help to preserve the environment in today’s society. Preservation of the environment will be measured through the carbon footprint of ecological designs. This question is developed from the thesis statement which is that fashion designers and other stakeholders in the fashion industry have come to understand the importance of conserving natural resources and avoiding environmental pollution which though may be fueled by many companies and organizations that have gone green also has other reasons for adoption.

Sustainable consumption and production

In this day and age, many people care more about aesthetics than naturalism. They do not care about destroying the environment provided what they have looks good. What they forget is that there are other materials that are easier to gain and cheaper and also conserve the environment. Fashion designers who have adopted this are said to enjoy the benefits of sustainable consumption and production. A fundamental advantage that these designers have enjoyed is that they have been able to cut their own niche in this very competitive fashion world.

// / argues that there are three approaches that can be taken in sustainable consumption. The first is ‘consuming differently’ which simply means that environmentally sound and resource-efficient products are used to produce the products. The second is ‘responsible consumption’ simply meaning that a fair amount of products is consumed. The last is ‘reduced consumption’ or ‘consuming less’ which simply refers to the reduction of consumption of certain products. Over the years, the fashion industry has attempted to adopt the three approaches differently. However, the trend indicates that the ‘consuming less’ has lost its importance over the years and at present only receives marginal consideration

The main priorities of sustainable consumption are to achieve relative improvements of ecological and social impacts when this is compared to the status quo. This means that attempts should be made to improve the energy efficiency of production and to substitute harmful substances with more ecofriendly ones. Another priority in a more strict sense is to reach beyond the demands of consumption to identify the consumption level that best balances between the environment and needs of the present and future generations. One possible reference point for this is the amount of carbon emissions per capita per year from the chosen consumption level.

Green fashion

In order to achieve green fashion, an organization first needs to identify the ecological hot spots in its production chain. These will be the first areas where measures will be implemented. Since the early 1990s, organizations have identified the central points of ecological problems in the global textile industry. These include natural fiber production where pesticides are used and water consumption is extremely high; synthetic fiber production which uses non-renewable resources; textile finishing where various chemicals are used leading to high water consumption and high amounts of waste water; use phase of the raw materials where energy consumption is high and many products have short lifespan; water phase where there are low rates of recovery and recycling and high amounts of old materials

Steinberger et al. (2009) identified the carbon dioxide emissions resulting from various aspects of fashion and found that the emissions from cotton production in India and its consumption in Germany is 29% while that of polyester production in China and consumption in Germany is about 72%. Additionally, carbon dioxide emissions as a result of retail and use of the two aspects are reversed thus when a cotton shirt is produced in India for consumption in Germany, the emissions are at 71% while for polyester produced in China and consumed in Germany, it stands at 27%

The authors also found that other factors such as washing temperatures, use of dryers, and use of washing machines that are energy-efficient led to varying carbon dioxide emission levels from 71% to 62.8%. Therefore they proposed air-drying and cool washing in order to ensure efficient appliance usage. However, for certain products such as the polyester jacket, the production phase leads to most carbon emissions and should be the target of control measures.

Working conditions are also a major social problem in the fashion and textile industry especially in low and middle income countries where it is characterized by low wages, long working hours, temporary work, and sexual discrimination. Furthermore, workers in these countries also face the risk of exposure to health risks and hazards as a result of insufficient and inefficient occupational health and safety policies and inadequate measures to ensure environmental protection.

In order to achieve green fashion that is environmentally friendly, the consumption of resources and carbon dioxide emissions should be reduced considerably by about 80% depending on the area of consumption in order to ensure ecological objectives are met. Other problems such as waste water load, amount and variety of pesticides and other chemicals used, water and energy consumption and working conditions should also be focused on .

Strategies to achieve green fashion

Three major strategies have been pursued by organizations to meet ecological objectives. The first is testing clothing for harmful substances. Second is the use of natural textiles and last are specific ecological improvements to improve clothing.

Testing clothing for harmful substances

This involves analyzing of clothes for chemicals by doing toxicological analyses. This ensures the clothes comply with regulations and defined thresholds for forbidden substances. The major focus here is on toxic chemicals whose risks and toxic levels have already been identified. The Oeko-Tex Standard 100 is used for this measure. When a manufacturer’s consumption and processing stages are analyzed to meet the standard, they are allowed to hold the mark “Confidence in textiles.” This means the clothes have been tested for harmful substances according to the standard. Currently over 9,000 manufacturers have been assessed and are currently certificate holders

. One thing that makes this standard efficient is that the textile or clothing manufacturer is scored separately depending on the type and sourcing of fibers and textiles. However, the downfall for this is that only the end product is considered. Ecological and social considerations are not included.

Use of natural textiles

This is an integrated approach that covers all production stages from the sourcing of materials to other social considerations. This is therefore a wholesome approach to process and product-related testing. It is done majorly by the International Association of Natural Textile Industry. Once ecological and social requirements are analyzed to meet the criteria, the textile or clothing manufacturer is allowed to use the ‘IVN zertifiziert BEST’ label or the less ambitioned one ‘Global Organic Textile Standard’ (GOTS).

Organizations that choose this strategy use organic cotton which is free from excessive use of pesticides and other biocides alongside other social considerations such as fair compensation, good working conditions and occupational health and safety. Though many organizations have chosen this strategy, the market share of organic cotton in the global cotton production is still extremely low at 0.76%. This could be as a result of lack of transparency in these companies regarding how they fulfill the specific social and ecological requirements. Another reason is that organic cotton products are majorly targeted at the high-income consumers.

Ecological improvements of textiles and clothing

Conventional textile and clothing companies focus largely on broad and heterogeneous products and processes rather than on isolated innovations. These ecological improvements could refer to isolated implementations on single stages or on a broader scale such as a whole product line. These improvements include both synthetic and natural fiber garments. These strategies include closed-loop water processing which reduces water consumption and waste water load, abandonment and substitution of hazardous substances, energy saving measures, organic materials and implementation of an environmental management system towards including aspects such as fair trade principles and fair working conditions

As a result of these improvements being varied, they remain largely vague on whether they help organizations meet ecological requirements such as reduction in chemical inputs and efficient processes. There is also a lack of transparency similar to that in the use of natural resources which makes it difficult to compare and judge products. Interested customers are, however, given information of highly different levels

Further innovations in the fashion industry have been made though some have only been partly implemented if at all implemented. These include the substitution of ecological or toxic harmful substances such as chemical dyes with natural plant dyes, substitution of resins made of formaldehyde and production of antimony-free polyester. Other companies and organizations in the industry have also found ways to optimize the production and finishing processes of their products to ensure they meet the requirements of green fashion.

Potential for sustainable production and consumption

Several companies in the fashion industry have come up with impressive alternatives to the products and services produced by conventional manufactures. Notwithstanding this, there is a fundamental problem exists in trying to measure how these different innovations and alternatives helped to achieve the objectives in sustainable development. In testing for harmful substances in products, these strategies may be deemed to be successful in the mass market. They address the ecological aspect of green fashion adequately by ensuring end products are free from substances that may harm the environment. However, as earlier identified, they have a weakness in not being able to meet the social objective of green fashion. Another thing is that by solely testing the end product, it is not possible to achieve crucial improvements in the production stages. This is because it may be difficult to identify the stage at which the levels of a particular substance become high. In the use of natural textiles, huge achievements can be made. However, the major limitation in this is that though considerable improvements will be made, organic textiles only have a meager market share therefore the effect is largely limited. In the broad sense of sustainable consumption and production, natural textiles help to meet the standards but in the narrow sense of achieving green fashion, they are still deficient.

From a sustainability perspective, though the measures identified help to reduce environmental pollution which can be measured through reduction in carbon emissions, as well as to ensure sustainability, they still require substantial effort in order to achieve the optimum levels while maintaining and developing fashion trends. In addition to this, studies that have been conducted on the significance of ecological and social considerations to fashion show that consumers hardly care about how sustainability comes into fashion

. One of the major reasons behind this is that consumers have extreme difficulty finding information about the sustainability of the manufacturers since the latter lack transparency.


The justification for textile and clothing manufacturers to shift towards sustainability shows this is supported by many advantages. However, it is necessary that the strategies adopted cascade all the way down to the most basic raw materials that the manufacturer uses. Cotton and polyester are the most predominant textiles used and the former is a highly water and pesticide intensive crop. Additionally, the adoption of organic cotton shows that its market share is still meager despite clothing giants promoting measurable improvements in key ecological and social aspects of production

Other strategies have also been adopted as companies try to align themselves with the rise of eco-couture. These include ecological improvements to textiles and clothing and testing for harmful substances. Though these have their own advantages and disadvantages, their adoption is still minimal which makes it hard to reduce the overall carbon footprint of the fashion industry as a whole.


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Fletcher, K. Sustainable Fashion and Textiles: Design Journeys: Earthscan Pub-S, 2008.

International Association for Research and Testing in the Field of Textile Ecology. Oeko-Tex Standard 100 (Edition 04/2010). Zurich.

Marin, a.W., and M. Tobler. “The Purpose of Lca in Environmental Labels and Concepts of Products 18th Discussion Forum on Life Cycle Assessment.” The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment 8, (2002): 115-116.

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ADDIN EN.CITE International Association for Research and Testing in the Field of Textile Ecology<

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ec-number>117011706International Association for Research and Testing in the Field of Textile Ecology,< itles>< itle>Oeko-Tex Standard 100 (Edition 04/2010)Zurich?International Association for Research and Testing in the Field of Textile Ecology, Oeko-Tex Standard 100 (Edition 04/2010) (Zurich).

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ecNum>1172U. BRONFENBRENNER, (Boston, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009).<



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