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Sustainable clothing consumption

Sustainable Clothing consumption


The word sustainability is derived from the Latin word “sustinere” which means to maintain, support or to endure. Sustainable consumption could be related to aspects such as sustainable development, production and consumption, globalization, etc.

“Sustainable consumption is the use of goods and services that satisfy basic needs and improve quality of life while minimizing the use of irreplaceable natural resources and the byproducts of toxic materials, waste, and pollution”.

Sustainable consumption related to textile has not yet received systematic research attention as a result of which there is no clear cut definition of it which prevails and is largely accepted. However, in lay man’s term- sustainable textile can be explained as a textile which is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable for every player in value chain from the primary producer till end consumers.

Consumers all over the world are increasingly becoming environment and health conscious and the demand for organic and eco-friendly products across all categories is boosting. Textile is no exception to this global trend.

Consumer behavior is the key to the impact that society has on environment. The action that people take and the choices that we, as consumers, make to consume certain products and services or adopt a certain lifestyle have a direct or indirect impact on the environment and our personal or collective well-being. (

A few trends in consumption can also be outlined like increased and easy access to consumer goods and services (shopping malls, online purchasing, etc), intensity of advertising leading to increase in impulse gratification and increase in consumption, and availability of convenience goods.

This is why the topic of sustainable consumption or green consumerism has become a central focus for national and international policy but in India our development model does not confirm to the parameters of sustainable consumption. Before it’s too late we need to work on it before ruining it like U.S and U.K facts and figures.

What is “Sustainable” Clothing?

Ideally this is clothing that maximises positive and minimises negative environmental, social and economic impacts along its supply and value chain. Clothing that is sustainable does not adversely impact people or the planet in its production, manufacture, transport, retail or end of life management.

A range of practical examples of sustainable clothing are on the market. These vary in the level of sustainability improvement they achieve focusing on environment, fair trade and/or labor issues to varying extents. Some examples of actions to improve sustainability of clothing are: clothing made from certified Organic cotton, using non toxic dyes; detergents that enable us to use less energy when washing our clothes and are less polluting; washer and dryers using less energy; clothing reused at end of life on the second hand market; polyester clothing recovered at end of life to be remanufactured into more clothing; Fair Trade certified clothes enabling more equitable trading conditions, ensuring labor standards are adhered to in practice and preventing exploitation e.g. child labor along the supply chain.

Why is it important?

Sustainability is important because all the choices we pursue and all the actions that we make today will affect everything in the future. We need to make sound decisions at present in order to avoid limiting the choices of generations to come.

The reasons for environmental destruction are mainly due to population levels, consumption, technology and the economic system. The issue in thinking about the global environment has less to do with population growth than it does with levels of consumption by those living. (Public understanding of sustainable clothing,n.d)

Following diagram shows the environmental impact of clothing lifecycle. There are four stages of garment lifecycle beginning from raw material processing followed by its production and distribution and then its usage by the customer and finally the end life which could be waste or recycled.

Clothing Lifecycle-its impact on environment

The impact of clothing and textiles on the environment accounts for 5-10 per cent without any steps being taken to control the effect the percentage would increase.

The processes involved throughout the entire life from production to consumption, contribute to emissions of greenhouse gases, farmland erosion, excess sewage, avoidable waste, and loss of species, to name only a few of the negative consequences.

When combined these factors are responsible for enhancing the appearance and quality of our garments. Thus, the consumers should be aware of the impact of these processes on the environment. (Update on clothing roadmap, n.d)

The textile industry’s focus is on cheap productions and distribution of the garment without giving a thought to its impact on the environment. Another noticeable fact being the ‘fast fashion’ trend i.e. excess buying by the consumer. And what goes unnoticed is the production of the garments may be unethical and large amounts of energy consumed in their processes; the garments not even being recycled or reused.

Efforts are on by the green activist to impress upon all players in the supply chain that the carbon foot prints along the complete chain must be reduced to have significant impact on the environment. This involves the consumer. Research by M& S and Otto group studying the lifecycle of cotton apparel shows that 80% of the garment industries energy and green house gas is actually in the hands of the consumer in the washing, drying and pressing stage. (Sustainability the only way forward for players in supply chain, 2009).

The relationship between the green marketing movement and consumer behavior is an important topic to a wide range of subject areas. (Montero, 2009). Sustainability concept cannot be achieved without involving the consumer. The key role of consumer behaviour (and household consumer behaviour in particular) in driving environmental impact has long been recognized.

In the end, it is the consumers who dictate where the market will go. Consumer wants and needs create a cycle of consumer demand, industry catering to that demand, and finally, consumer acceptance with the purchase of merchandise in the retail market. The overview of this study could assist in marketing efforts by the eco-friendly fashion lines and their knowledge of consumer behavior. It could also assist fashion apparel companies in determining whether or not to produce an eco-friendly line.

Mahatma Gandhi said “The earth has enough resources for our needs – not for our greed”. He propagated simplicity of life marked by compassion to overcome the evil of over consumption.

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