One Life, One World
Understanding BioDiversity in Fashion
How seriously would you take us if we told you that all 1 million species on Earth are about to be extinct?
If we’ve managed to get your attention, we can move on together. We can state that biodiversity is in great danger as well as the climate crisis. The fashion industry, of course, has a big part to play in this. In 2019, a United Nations report says as many as 1 million species are about to disappear completely from the face of earth. And let’s also mention that this figure is about 1,000 times higher than the natural flow.
How is the fashion industry involved?
Cotton and cotton cultivation, which accounts for a third of the fibers in our clothes, largely leads to soil degradation and habitat change. In addition, it can greatly harm different species with the use of harmful drugs and pesticides. On the other hand, we can also consider livestock, which plays a 70% factor in the destruction of the Amazon rainforest due to the skin obtained from animals. An average of 150 million trees is cut down every year to obtain viscose fabric.
Producing fabrics such as silk and cashmere largely lead to soil degradation and land loss, while synthetic fabrics such as polyester are derived from fossil burning. This, of course, does not lead to habitat loss. Considering greenhouse gas emissions and millions of micro-displacements scattered across the oceans, she can see the role the fashion industry plays.
It should be mentioned that apparel companies have started to play an active role in the fight against climate change, especially in recent years. Biodiversity and climate change are two different issues, but they are both interconnected. For example, protecting forests helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This reduces the risk of rising global temperatures and extinction of species.How are brands mitigating their impact?
Avoiding using high impact fibres is the main area where designers can really play their part.
Tibetan brand Norlha, for example, and London clothing brand Tengri make handmade clothes made from yak wool. The Swedish retailer, which is part of the H&M group, has started using yak wool as an alternative to cashmere for knitwear.
Swedish footwear and accessories brand ATP Atelier uses vegetable-tanned skins and metal-free nappa wherever possible to reduce its impact on biodiversity.
Britain’s famous Stella McCartney continues to supply a recycled cashmere yarn called Re.Verso™, derived from post-factory cashmere waste in Italy.
Today, fashion brands are also actively trying to restore biodiversity by supporting applications such as regenerative agriculture. Thanks to regenerative agriculture, which is used to improve soil health, increase soil water retention capacity, reduce pest pressure and minimize carbon, they can prevent damage while being part of the solution.
Finally, we must state that brands need to ensure that their efforts to mitigate the effects continue to grow in order to make a meaningful impact…
How can others start this process?
For students, graduates, designers and fashion professionals who are involved in materials sourcing:
Look at mapping your impact on an individual, personal scale. Start with tools like World Wildlife Fund’s Environmental Footprint Calculator or the Global Footprint Network’s Footprint Calculator to see how your day-to-day life impacts the planet.
Look at mapping your fashion footprint with tools like ThredUp’s Fashion Footprint Calculator.
Look at choosing certified lower-impact materials – such as those certified by Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Organic Content Standard (OCS), or Global Recycled Standard (GRS), Leather Working Group or the Responsible Wool Standard.
Phase out or eliminate non-renewable options, conventional cotton, synthetics and regenerated cellulosics.
Develop a portfolio or materials library of less common fibres or native plant-based fibres, decreasing the use of cotton, polyester, viscose and nylon.
Move sourcing and materials selection to early in the design process, so that designs respond to materials rather than driving material choice.