How is the Men’s Fashion Industry Adapting to the Sustainability Quotient ?
Do men care about the planet? Yes, and now more than ever! So says a 2020 survey by Gillette. While the topic of conscious fashion centres around women’s clothing most of the time, men’s brands have also started realising the importance of sustainability.
Now that the interest in sustainable menswear has become more mainstream, one question remains. Are these menswear brands genuinely contributing to mindful fashion? Or is it merely a sham under the idea of being “eco-friendly”? Let’s find out!
First, we need to know the problems fashion brands face and then move on to their attempts at being sustainable.
Below are some significant issues the Men’s fashion industry faces in the attempt to be sustainable.
- Synthetic fibres: end up being in a landfill and do not decompose.
- Leather: releases methane and excessive chemicals.
- Plastic clothing: sheds plastic microfibers polluting the ocean.
- Manufacturing waste: spreads toxic chemicals and dyes into the groundwater and soil.
How Different Brands Add Value to Sustainable Men’s Fashion?
Though textile recycling has an old history, it has assumed prime importance in recent years. It is a big thing that our society is trying to achieve in men’s fashion and across the board.
One of the most significant benefits of recycling is reducing the corresponding waste generation due to the fast-fashion culture. Textile recycling has saved many clothing items from landfills and recycled them into something new. In addition, recycled clothes help conserve the resources needed to manufacture new apparel.
Today, men’s workout t-shirts and swimwear are made of recycled water bottles. Some luxury menswear brands even utilise fishing nets to make men’s outerwear. However, little do we know that these recycled plastic garments release microscopic plastic fibres on washing. Or what we call – the infamous microplastics! While it is good that plastic bottles are not going to the landfill, it is destroying the environment and human health.
Another limitation applies to the fabric being recycled. Nearly 60% of the world’s clothing is made of polyester or polyester blends. Recycling most of these fabrics requires a tremendous amount of water and chemicals. The procedure also pollutes the ocean and even releases gaseous waste.
So, the next time you see a brown tag that says – “Made with 100% recycled fabrics,” I suggest you also see the details of the fabric.
Organic clothes and apparel have now entered the mainstream, consumer-driver fashion industry. Many menswear fashion brands choose more environmentally friendly fibres, and retailers promote such products. Making sustainable clothes using different natural fibres is also suitable for human skin. It is rare for them to have any allergic implications.
Fibres such as organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, and soy are a great alternative to synthetic fibres. These fibres are biodegradable and require no (or minimal) amount of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers. However, when we talk about these fibres, it is essential to know that many of them are not readily available everywhere. The companies launching hemp or bamboo fabric in our market import it from China, Taiwan, etc. Due to legal issues with commercial crop cultivation, the imports of Hemp and Bamboo from China and Taiwan have been staggeringly high. Still, upcoming legislation amendments may give us scope for local cultivation.
Many of us believe that all-natural fibres are organic, which is untrue. Many factors play a role in determining the nature of the textile. For instance, cotton shirts or pants hardly contribute to sustainability unless it is organic cotton. In addition, we cannot forget the environmental effect of pesticides, fertilisers, chemicals, and gallons of water that go into manufacturing cotton.
The shoe industry is another culprit of sustainable fashion. Its supply is underpinned by chemicals and releases excessive amounts of toxins. To tackle this problem, brands are making eco-friendly men’s shoes.
The footwear brands use recycled water bottles, organic cotton, wool, jute, recycled rubber, plant-based fabrics and vegan leather to make eco-friendly shoes. Yet, the main concern with footwear fashion is that it is difficult to find shoes made from 100% sustainable materials or processes. Vegan leather, for example, is made from natural fibres and synthetic materials.
Additionally, some companies claim that shoes made from plant-based fibres are completely eco-friendly but lack proof of how these shoes are harmless to the environment once they enter the landfills.
Most companies that deal with recycled, eco-friendly, upcycled, or sustainable footwear aren’t formally vocal about their solid reverse logistics or end-of-life solutions for such shoes. This lack of communication proves to be especially dangerous because the shoes now contain micro-plastics woven with other natural fibres that may be hard to separate once worn out. In addition, waste that enters the landfill — even if it has biodegradable or bio compostable properties — would not do so in the dump yards as it enters as mixed waste, and the environment in waste hills is not suitable for microbes to degrade this waste.
Even if it is organic and natural, anything that goes to the landfill automatically becomes toxic as it goes as mixed waste. For example, imagine your kitchen waste getting mixed up with sanitary pads and diapers when entering the landfill.
Another aspect that is regularly overlooked and differentiates a men’s footwear brand from being sustainable is the place of manufacturing. Most footwear companies build factories in third world companies for cheap labour. So, if a brand portrays itself as sustainable and produces shoes made of sustainable materials, it is certainly not sustainable if it isn’t contributing to social justice.
Vocal For Local
We have been hearing this slogan for quite some time now. Locally made garments reduce the enormous amount of carbon dioxide emissions. However, getting clothes from one place to another contributes to pollution in the fashion industry. Since apparel factories are situated far away, transportation such as ships, aeroplanes and trucks are needed to deliver the goods to the retailers. Thus, many fashion brands are moving away from the sea, air, and water transportation. This practice is one of the significant benefits of locally-manufactured apparel.
When we buy something locally, it appears to be better for the environment. For example, we are more likely to find out if the brand affects our local water supply. Moreover, local manufacturing provides consumers with the bonus of increased accountability. They know the local labour laws, which add up to sustainability.
Nonetheless, it’s easy to overlook that apparel goes through several stages of creation. How is the local brand contributing to reducing waste during the manufacturing process? Moreover, is the fashion brand closing the loop? Are they recycling?
If the locally-made garment ends up being in a landfill, the place of manufacturing makes no difference.
Another essential aspect that hides the truth of locally-made garments is sourcing. Brands need to source the required materials locally. For instance, a local menswear brand in India produces “Supima Cotton” t-shirts. However, it is essential to know that all Supima cotton is grown only in the US.
Many factors contradict their conscious efforts, from using cheap, non-biodegradable materials to managing textile waste to spending humongous amounts on marketing.
In the end, both brands and consumers are embracing new ways to make fashion sustainable. Yet, it is so easy in our tech-savvy era for brands to produce and market misleading information by putting ‘ethical’ or ‘sustainable’ in their bios.
So, my question to you is: Are you genuinely contributing to a greener world? Do we ask these fashion brands any questions? For instance, their recycling schemes, material sourcing, or supply chains?
Ravi is an evangelist for sustainability and an agent for change who thrives on creating an impact with his words. Professionally, with his expertise in end-to-end marketing, he helps to grow businesses (that are conscious of the ecosystem).
Deepa Sai is the founder of ecoHQ, a startup that consults for organisations in the Sustainability and Social Impact space. Hailing from a background in Psychology, Social Work, Human Resources, and Communications, Deepa believes in Creative Advocacy.