The environmental price of being fashionable
Viscose and rayon are regarded as man-made fibres; but unlike nylon, polyester, spandex and acrylic, they are not petroleum-based. Cellulosic fibres, which include viscose, rayon, acetate and lyocell (tencel), are manufactured from dissolved plant material (primarily wood pulp).
So what is the problem? you may ask. At least it is natural!
The word “natural” has come to hide a multitude of sins, not only in the food, health and beauty industries, but in fashion as well. The truth of the matter is that the way these fabrics are manufactured, is totally unsustainable, and comes at a terrible cost to the planet. Ironically, while we are being urged to move towards paperless office environments so as to save the trees which are needed to filter carbon emissions from the air and reduce global warming, ancient or endangered forests are being cut down at an alarming rate to feed pulp mills and produce T-shirts.
Data since 2010 reveal that Canada, Indonesia and Brazil, all countries with endangered forests, provide two thirds of the dissolving pulp imported by China, 75% of which is for the production of viscose. A staggering 70 to a hundred million trees per annum are chopped down to manufacture fabric, and the demand for pulp is estimated to increase by 122% in the next 40 years.
Deforestation is not only to blame for soil erosion, but also threatens the habitat of species such as the monarch butterfly.
Major fashion brands such as G-Star Raw, Stella McCartney, Levi Strauss, Patagonia, Zara, H&M, Eileen Fisher, Lululemon, Prana and Quicksilver have pledged to ensure that their clothing contains no material sourced illegally from endangered forests. This decision was made in partnership with Canopy, a non-profit organization dedicated to battling deforestation.
H&M’s environmental sustainability manager, Henrik Lampa, hopes his company’s stand will inspire other fashion companies to follow suit. “There is a lot of forestry in the world not coming from endangered forests,” he reasons.
As consumers, we need to be aware of the origins of our clothes, and support those companies who are kind to our planet. That is a win-win solution.