The impact of the textile and clothing sector on nature: can we still make a difference?

We face with the textile every day. Probably because of this, there is a growing desire to rethink, what it is like today. What it will be like tomorrow? Not just in a global sense, but also for everyone personally. One thing that is really obvious, is that textile has come a very long way: from craft to the way of thinking, to form of culture. Today, it not only highlights or raises problems, but can also contribute to their solution.

The negative impact of textile production on nature is – enormous

Huge amounts of drinking water all around the world are being used to grow cotton. This constantly thirsty plant, is one of the main engines of the textile industry. It is estimated that 10 thousand liters of water is needed to produce one kilogram of cotton, and the global cotton industry consumes more than 250 billion tons of water a year.  Not only that, cotton fields are being sprayed with about a quarter of all pesticides and insecticides used in the world. These toxic chemicals kills insects that are vital to nature’s natural course, exhaust the soil and destroy entire ecosystems. The excess of pesticides is flushed into the rivers, from which they enter groundwater or reach the oceans.

Approximately the fifth part of the world’s water pollution is caused by textile dyeing and processes of treatment; untreated toxic effluents from textile mills are often discharged directly into rivers. In addition, according to various data, most of the world’s grown cotton  – about 90%. – is genetically modified. These are very, very bad news for the health of all of us and the rest of nature. The negative impact of textile on the environment occurs at all stages of its production, from the cultivation of raw materials to the utilization of waste. It is estimated that about 85 percent of all clothing is disposed to the landfills, where it takes 40 to 200 years to break down, depending on the materials from which they are made. Mixed with plastic and organic waste in landfills, textile contributes to the release of extremely toxic methane gases into the atmosphere. The textile industry is already exceeding the capacity of the earth.

Textile is one of the oldest crafts in the world, its history dates back to Paleolithic times (textile dates back to more than a hundred thousand years). Currently the continuous growth of global textile industry is being bserved: the EU textile industry generates 3% of the Union’s total GDP and 4% of workplaces; the sector, which accounts for 2 percent of global GDP, employs about 60 million people. Textile covers a very wide range of products – from fibers and fabrics to yarns, clothing, household products (beddings, curtains, tablecloths, car seat covers, etc.).

Fast fashion impact

According to Ieva Budraitė, Director of the Green Policy Institute, during the webinar “Where does fashion ends and pollution starts?” organized by a non-governmental organization “Development Cooperation Platform”, the constant growth of global textile industry is being observed: the EU textile industry generates 3% of the total Union’s GDP and 4% of workplaces; the sector, which accounts for 2 percent of global GDP, employs about 60 million people.

Clothing plays an important role here. In the last couple of decades, from 2000 to 2014 global clothing production has doubled and is projected to grow even more in the future. One reason for this is the growing world’s population. Another important aspect is the fast fashion, which is a business model that aims to produce fashionable clothes as quickly as possible and in the largest volume as possible for every consumer.

The fast fashion sector is also artificially promoted through various marketing tools: for example, the number of collections presented by the brand is increasing every year. Previously, only summer and winter collections has changed, now, according to the Institute of Green Policy, the fast fashion network Zara releases as many as 24 new collections every year, and H&M from 12 to 16.

It has been estimated that the average wear time of clothes has decreased significantly over the last couple of decades, for example, in Europe they stay in the closet for no more than a year before being discarded. In addition, the average European does not wear more than a third part of the clothes they buy once a year.

It is projected that ecology and sustainability will dominate the textile in the future. It will be increasingly important to work with existing materials by deconstructing them, rather than creating new ones. For this reason, the LATIA project implemented by LATIA export development aims to develop the LATIA, as a cluster , for Lithuanian products in the target markets.

Companies participating in the LATIA cluster – LTD „LTM Garments“, LTD „Sabalin“, Algirdas Valiuškis company, „Eustilija“, LTD „Mittet“, LTD „Textilis“, LTD „Vitameda“, LTD „Šilta mada“, PE „Dizaino vėjas “, LTD „Kanta Sport“ until now, they only sold their products on the Lithuanian and international markets and provided specialized services. With the help of the LATIA Export Development cluster, the mentioned companies are consolidating their forces by introducing a unique product line to the market.Cluster LATIA Export Development is developing an apparel and textile product line to represent itself in foreign countries. The uniting factor of the products will be keywords: sustainable, functional, ergonomic.