Fashion and water
We keep returning to the beach. Every time we are looking for inspiration, need to clear our head or want to take a break, there we are, standing barefoot in the shallow water, watching the ocean breathe. As we observe, we remember that our clothes, just like our bodies, are connected to the ocean too.
Water scarcity is one of the growing pressing challenges of today. Even though about 70% of our planet is covered by water, only a tiny bit of it is freshwater, suited for human use. As a result, more than 1 billion people today lack access to safe drinking water. Climate change is only intensifying this problem.
But what do our clothes have to do with it?
The answer is very straightforward: everything.
This World Water Day (March 22nd), we would like to explore the connection between water and fashion and talk about how we are rethinking it as a brand.
We need Water to make Clothes
At least with the current technology, it is impossible to make clothes without using water. We need water to grow crops, make fibers and yarns, dye, and further process the fabrics. However, this has not been a problem until recently in history.
Because of today's massive and fast production, the fashion industry uses 79 billion cubic meters of water annually. That is enough to fill in nearly 32 million Olympic-size swimming pools and is, according to some estimates, more water than what we need for energy production. While this is not yet critical, considering the total global use of water, it may increase by 50% in the next decade.
This is more than many areas can bare. Some of the biggest textile manufacturing countries, like China, India, and Bangladesh, face severe water scarcity. The increasing need for water affects people living in those areas the most.
The most significant water footprint in fashion comes from how we manufacture clothes. Let us explore that further.
A lot of the industry's impact comes from our choice of fibers. After polyester, cotton is the fashion's most popular material. Despite being natural, the impact of cotton is high. It takes more than 20,000 liters of water to produce just 1 kilogram of cotton. To make just a single cotton t-shirt, we need the same amount of water an average person would drink in three years. The growing of cotton also depends on large irrigation systems, which can sometimes have terrifying consequences to the areas where it is done intensively.
Probably the most infamous example of this is the disappearance of the Areal Sea. What used to be one of the largest bodies of fresh water in the world reduced almost to nothing, mainly because of the intensive cotton production.
But the choice of material is not the only issue here. Regardless of the crop or fiber, they work with, most manufacturers today use a lot of water to process it.
Textile processing includes everything from dyeing, bleaching to washing and printing. According to some sources, to dye just 1 kilogram of yarn, a textile factory uses about 60 liters of water. All that water has to go somewhere too.
Water that Leaves the Factories
The UN estimates that the fashion industry is responsible for 20% of wastewater globally. As a result of fast production, cutting costs, lack of investment, as well as weak regulations, the wastewater from the factories often ends up in the environment. In most cases, this water carries toxic chemicals and synthetic dyes that enter nature directly. Those toxins spread and reach rivers, lakes, and other natural water systems with time.
About 70% of rivers are polluted directly because of the fashion industry in China alone. It means that the industry is not only affecting the water life but also people around the factories. The massive and unsustainable manufacturing is posing a severe health risk for communities worldwide.
With time, the wastewater reaches the oceans, affecting marine life. Unfortunately, there is more.
The majority of clothes today are made out of synthetic materials that are products of crude oil, aka plastic. The production of such materials has a high water footprint on its own. They are also usually dyed and processed with toxic and synthetic chemicals. Moreover, every time we wear and wash synthetic clothes, they release microplastics. These tiny bits of plastic are too small for most filters and easily end up in the waters and, eventually, oceans.
The fashion industry is responsible for almost 35% of global microplastics pollution. Like any other kind of plastic, microplastics don't biodegrade. Instead, they accumulate in nature, affecting life in the long run.
Rethinking our Relationship with Water
Learning how our clothes impact water, life, and communities around the world was the first step for us. Since the start, we have known we want to create clothes that celebrate rather than take away from this planet. To do this, we needed to know where exactly we could make a difference.
We have firmly decided to use only natural and sustainably sourced materials since our latest collection. Avoiding synthetics and choosing better materials is our way of rethinking our need and relationship with water. For example, we work with hemp, a crop that uses less than a third of water compared to cotton. We also use organic cotton and bamboo for the same reason. Our processing of these fibers and yarns is minimal to preserve their natural wonders and reduce water consumption. Our dyeing relies only on using natural dyes, which are much more gentle for the environment. When possible, our suppliers also reuse water during production.
Most importantly, we create timeless, versatile, and durable pieces. We know that overproduction of anything, even the most sustainable garments, can never be sustainable. This is why we produce slowly, mindfully, and in small batches.
As a brand, we know we can make more sustainable choices that can help to conserve water and protect all the life that depends on it. We hope that the next time you consider ways to help save water, you think about the clothes you wear and buy.