Water is fast becoming a rare commodity. It may not feel like it to us in rain sodden Britain but in other places in the world it is now a serious and life threatening issue. There has always been tensions over water supplies throughout history but these problems are on the increase due to population growth and climate change. Less than 1% of our planet’s water is accessible for us to use and most of this is used to grow crops while about 1 billion people cannot access safe drinking water. Now let’s think about how the fashion industry comes into that as one of the largest users of water.
The Indian textile industry uses 425, 000, 000 litres of water a day to process their fabric production. Cotton, which 40% of our clothes are made of, is a thirsty plant and is often grown in very dry regions. It can take around 1800 litres of water to grow the cotton needed for one pair of jeans, but then add on the processes used in manufacturing and how much we use to wash them and Levi’s reckon it works out about 3,781 litres!
According to the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) it takes 2,700 litres of water to make a t-shirt. To put that into perspective this is what a person could drink in 900 days! Contamination of water supplies is also a massive problem with 20% of all industrial water pollution being due to printing, dying and treating textiles. These are applied in water baths are then often discharged straight into the local waterways.
The fashion industry is in fact the second largest polluter in the world second only to the oil industry. An estimated 8000 chemicals are thought to used in textile processing which are devastating lives in the industrial areas nearby. In some places you can tell what the colour trend of the season is by the colour of the rivers. These issues prompted river conservationist Mark Angelo to produce a film released last year called Riverblue that has won various awards – watch it if you can.
However, there are many initiatives around the world now working to help reduce water usage and contamination in the fashion industry. The BCI & World Wildlife Fund are helping farmers to reduce their water usage, Levis are pioneering their Water<Less method of recycling water in their denim production and Clevercare set up by designer Stella McCartney, is encouraging consumers to wash their clothes less. Furthermore the need for sustainability within the industry is driving many exciting new technologies such as AirDye, ColorZen and DyeCoo which are dyes that penetrate using air instead of water and advances are being made in digital textile printing that should start to replace the water thirsty mathod of traditional screen printing.
We can all play our part too: by buying organic cotton – where pesticides are not leaking into the water tables, by choosing ethical and environmentally aware labels that keep a strict eye on their water usage & discharges, to wash our clothes less ourselves and with greener laundry products and to buy less and wear longer. Loving our clothes more thoughtfully means loving our planet too.
#WaterandFashion #TextileProduction #Riverblue #Clevercare