As the world’s second-largest GDP contributor, the fashion industry contributes $2.4 trillion in value to global manufacturing and employs 300 million people worldwide, according to the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion — an initiative under the UN that aims to coordinate actions in the fashion sector to contribute towards its SDGs.
Regrettably, it also plays a significant role in climate change. The fashion industry is major polluter, producing an estimated 2.1 billion metric tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2018, or around 4% of global emissions for that year, and it accounts for nearly 20% of global wastewater, much of it contaminated with hazardous textile chemicals and micro-plastics as a result of irresponsible dyeing and washing practices. On the social side, laborers' welfare is frequently jeopardized by unsafe working conditions and unequal pay. The growth of fast fashion, which provides fashionable clothing in large quantities at a low price and durability, has continued to incentivize consumerism, with piles of clothing going unsold and dumped, preventing circular models from establishing a foothold in the fashion industry.
The pandemic period has seen a greater focus on environmental issues and increased consumer consciousness of the impact of their consumption choices and habits. Consumers, particularly the younger generation, are gradually increasing their demand for more sustainable products, and this is now influencing their purchasing decisions. Recognizing that sustainable fashion is the way of the future, retailers and brands must transform their business practices and abandon a profit-first mentality if they wish to thrive in the post-pandemic era.
However, how far must businesses go to be considered 'sustainable'? The United Nations Alliance for Sustainable Fashion defines sustainability as the chain of production, manufacturing, distribution, consumption, and disposal of raw materials – a virtuous circle covering the whole lifecycle of a fashion product. It addresses environmental concerns such as pollution as well as social concerns such as working conditions and worker compensation.
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