Project 1: Exercise 1 – Sustainability pt.3

Notes on:

Clothing to dye for: the textile sector must confront water risks, by Leon Kaye, Guardian Online August 2013.

Firstly I really enjoyed how this article made something as complex as issues around dyeing techniques readable and concise. I’ve enjoyed reading Kate Fletcher’s books which pick up on some of the same issues, but they were clearly written for designers not necessarily consumers who want to become aware about buying choices.

As sad as it is to say this, but I wonder if part of the issue is ‘out of sight out of mind’? Most western countries simply do not see the negative impact first hand as dye houses are ‘in India and China are notorious for not only exhausting local water supplies, but for dumping untreated wastewater into local streams and rivers.’ Articles like this help to raise awareness of the real effects in other parts of the world of our rapid consumption of clothing.

It’s clear reading the article that technologies exist and continue to emerge which offer viable sustainable alternatives to water and human costly methods. Why then are these not adopted on a larger scale? The quote below gives some insight;

“Although dyeing using compressed CO2 has existed for over 25 years, Adidas claims a supplier in Thailand operates the only factory with the ability to scale this technology. So can this process transform the textile industry? Not quite yet according to Christian Schumacher, an expert in textile dyes and chemicals, who points out that investment in such equipment is still costly.”

In the conclusion of the article the author suggests that

“as long as companies do not pay a price for the land and water their suppliers poison, watch for the excessive use and abuse of water to dye clothing to continue.”

And my question is how do we hold these companies accountable? Are fines or suspensions of production possible across a broad range of countries with different social and political landscapes and laws? Would a more viable alternative be looking to increase textile production in the UK where we have regulatory bodies, standards for water emissions, waste treatment etc. Should we be seeking to relieve some of the burden for the manufacture of the good we want to buy and wear?

Nike and Adidas show cautious support for eco-friendly dye technology, by Stephanie Hepburn, Guardian Online.

The article above was written two years after the first article I read by the guardian on textile dyeing practices. I think it’s interesting to see that this continues to be an issue under discussion within the textile industry. Surely it’s positive that there is increased interest in and use of the technologies and companies that use Air dyeing, CO2 dyeing and other water efficient methods.

It’s interesting also to see an increase in the names of major brands which are investing in or exploring ways to change their practices; IKEA, Nike and H&M are all mentioned in the article and were not mentioned in the previous article of two years ago.

However it seems the issue still remains strongly linked to consumer attitudes and buying trends;

“The most significant problem, says Filarowski, is consumer expectations for inexpensive clothing. The textile industry is consumer-drivern and unless customers are willing to pay more for products made with waterless dye technology, the industry isn’t going to adopt it.

Issues of adaptability within the process remain – “DyeCoo and AirDye technology can only be applied to polyester while ColorZen specialises in cotton with no current plans to expand to other materials.”

Change it seems will not be swift, and will require companies to respond over years, I wonder if the fashion industry, which is often so fast passed and seasonal can actually learn to adopt longer term, slower strategies for lasting change in this area…

‘A spokesperson for Nike says “Dyeing fabric with water is a long-established industry, and change will require new technologies and multi-industry commitments over many years.”’

The key issue still remains in my mind the chasing of profit over people, and I can’t see that changing in large driven companies in a particularly swift time scale;

The reality is that many brands are trying to hit price points. “Generally, consumers are still not willing to pay higher dollar for textiles, with the exception of sportswear … brands aren’t willing to make products that no one will buy,” says Filarowski.

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