THREADED: Cleaning Up The Fashion Industry From The Top Down

ColumnVogue, Clean by Design and the CFDA collaborate to clean up the fashion industry.

In a new initiative, leaders of the mainstream fashion community from the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and Vogue have joined forces with the NRDC’s Clean By Design program in an effort to reduce the impact of the textile industry on the globe’s environmental state. With the backing of Vogue’s “Nuclear Wintour” herself and the CFDA’s President Diane von Furstenberg, could Clean By Design now have the potential to push the issue and bump environmental and social issues associated with the textile industry toward the front of prominent designers’ methodologies? The NRDC’s National Media Director Jenny Powers tells EcoSalon that engaging industry opinion leaders gives them a powerful and enhanced edge.

“Clean By Design aims to make the way we produce our clothing more sustainable by cutting water and energy waste and reducing pollution,” Powers tells EcoSalon. With the intention of utilizing the buying power of multinational corporations as a lever to reduce the environmental impact of their suppliers abroad, Clean By Design is stepping up their media presence and future goals with this recent collaboration. As shown by the above diagram, the spectrum of Clean By Design’s approach to bettering the textile industry’s impact starts with the raw materials and goes full circle through to addressing the way consumers are caring for their finished garments.

Spearheading the research abroad, the director of the NRDC’s health and environment program, Linda Greer has traveled to Asia in hopes to better understand the four core impact areas of the supply chain. Through visiting a range of factories that create clothing for major retailers, Greer has been able to secure pilot programs with The Gap, Levis, H&M, Target, and Wal-Mart, who are all now exploring ways to clean up the factories that supply their clothes. As companies that produce massive quantities each season with loyal global customers, the impact these pilot programs could have on the environment is vast.

Waste water from the discharge pipe at the Youngor Textiles Factory

By focusing on China to begin, the possibility to make a big change exists, as many of these factories produce a large percentage of our mass retail clothes.

“Transforming the way the major players do business can have a ripple effect throughout the industry. Fashion leaders can play an important role in this effort by shaping popular attitudes and creating demand for sustainably produced fashion” says Powers.

One massive waste example that was prevalent throughout Greer’s travels in Asia was leaky tubes. Textile pollution is often associated with the chemical emissions from fabric dying or the number of dirty dozen chemicals that are utilized in conventional cotton production. While these are key issues to address in the raw materials and manufacturing sectors, another often forgotten problem involves tubes with leaking steam that can be found everywhere in fabric dying and printing mills. For instance, a hole in a steam pipe only 2 mm in diameter can cause a textile mill to waste energy equal to more than 10 tons of coal a year.

DVF’s Spring 2012 Collection

With higher profile initiatives like Runway To Green in the past, the NRDC has been on a consistent mission to bring these environmental concerns related to the textile industry to the forefront of high end and mainstream fashion houses. While the CFDA/Vogue/Clean By Design initiative is strongly focused on the environmental impacts and the effects of environmental pollution on human health, it doesn’t focus on social or labor issues.  Powers tells EcoSalon, “Dirty water and dirty air affects us all – humans and critters alike. And the reality is that by cutting waste and making factories run more efficiently, these factory owners are actually saving money in the process.”

With the environment as a starting point, the transparency and exposure of these realities could potentially open designers’ eyes to the way people connected to their supply chains are affected as well. By continuing to work with individual designers on ways in which they can apply the Clean by Design principles to their own operations, the future affects of upcoming and established designers on the globe’s flora and fauna is hopeful.

Image: Greenpeace, H&M

Kestrel Jenkins

Kestrel Lee Jenkins currently resides in New York City where she writes a weekly column covering the sustainable fashion world.