How your decision matters: the impact of consumer decisions on the fashion industry
Hi, it's Kuba from KABAK again! I'd like to invite you to read the second episode of my new series: "With balance about sustainability", covering topics around #sustainablefashion. I think that in order to be able to reliably answer the title question, you must first consider the costs and consequences of a single decision related to the purchase of clothing. And I do not mean costs and financial consequences, as these are an individual matter for each buyer and as such are highly subjective. In my reflections, I would like to focus first and foremost on environmental costs, which are universal and common to all of us, and show what a difference a single (wise) purchasing decision can make.
Intuitively, it may seem to us that our individual purchasing decisions in a clothing store cannot make a significant impact, whether positive or negative. In the meantime, however, if we take a thorough look at the data on the consumption of natural resources in the production of clothing, it becomes clear that in such an environmentally-burdensome industry (I mentioned it, for example, in the first episode of this series), every single purchase can make a difference. Let's take, for example, jeans, a pair of which probably everyone has in their wardrobe. According to the data of the UN Environment Program, the production of a single pair of jeans consumes around 3,800 litres of water in the entire process - from the production of the cotton required to sew them up to the delivery of the final product to a shop. To illustrate the scale: 3,800 litres of water is roughly as much as 19 standard bathtubs filled to the brim. Is that a lot? Certainly enough to make us realise the true environmental cost behind our consumer choices.
However, does this mean that the only right strategy in the fight to protect the environment is not buying clothes at all?
Well, it is certainly a vision that is as appealing as it is unrealistic. We can’t turn the tide, but we do have the comfort of being able to make informed choice, because nowadays we have access not only to a wide and varied range of clothing products, but also to knowledge that enables us to make more rational decisions. The truth is that if we choose wisely, even such a small product as, for example, socks (I know what I'm talking about! :)), we can make a significant difference to the environment. Suppose, for instance, that instead of socks made of conventional cotton you choose ones made of organic cotton. With this one simple decision alone, you can make significant savings in the production process* as estimated below:
- approximately 520 litres of water, the equivalent of 58 1.5-litre bottles
- approximately 0.05 kg of CO2 - the equivalent of the emissions of one train over a distance of around 1.7 km (per passenger)
- approximately 0.55 MJ of energy, which is about as much as a 60-watt bulb uses in 2.5 hours of operation
So what should we pay attention to in the case of clothing to make sure that our choice is indeed a wise one? You can find many expert publications on the subject online, so instead of repeating them, I would like to refer you to the one by Mr Przemysław Poszwa, who looks with a cool scientific eye at the clothing industry and the declarations of the manufacturers operating in it.
Finally, it is worth remembering that no market will change if consumers do not push for improvements on it from the bottom up and thus teach producers what they need. If local products with a good composition and high added value gain popularity in the market, the market will inevitably start to shift in this direction. Of course, changes certainly will not happen overnight, as if by a magic wand. It is an arduous and long-term process that requires the active involvement of each and every market participant - from the biggest players through small, local brands, to the buyers themselves. So is it worth it? I leave this issue for you, the Reader, to decide individually ;)
* The calculations provided are based on publicly available data from The Soil Association study and as such are estimates. This year, however, as KABAK, we are working hard to carry out similar calculations based solely on our production and to ensure that the data we present is as accurate as possible.