What is the fashion industry—and we humans, by extension—doing to the planet?
There’s been a lot of talk about “fast fashion” in blogs and in the popular press and its impact on the environment. With a glut of fashion hitting consumers and low and competitive pricing, it’s not the consumer who is paying for an ever-increasing volume of clothing, but rather the environment.
In the film, Orsola de Castro, an eco-fashion designer from London, England tells us that the fashion industry has to have “transparency, no toxicity, traceability” and that “consumers will demand to know who, where and how our clothes are being made and if the manufacturing of our fashion is having a negative effect on the environment.”
It’s often mentioned that the next war will not be fought over oil, but rather water.
I don’t think we have much of a choice. It’s often mentioned that the next war will not be fought over oil, but rather water. I think that’s a strong possibility as we keep growing in population, while at the same time, losing our integral water resources. The rivers are like the capillaries of our planet and we can’t live without them. The planet would die if we lose rivers to pollution.
I think the consumer does have a say in the health of the rivers of our world, if they knew the story about how fashion has negatively impacted the environment for decades now. Through social media, pressure put on fashion brands to clean up their act and detox, I’m sure we could have a positive effect on the health of the rivers in many places around the world. No one, in my belief, wants to buy from brands that pollute.
What kinds of toxins are we talking about?
Blue jeans are much dirtier than you might ever guess. That ubiquitous distressed denim wash is the result of a several chemical-intensive washes. We spoke on camera with campaigners from Greenpeace who when testing the outflows near the denim towns found five heavy metals (cadmium, chromium, mercury, lead, and copper) in 17 out of 21 water and sediment samples taken from throughout Xintang, a city we filmed in.
Toxic campaigners in China have discovered heavy metals like manganese, which can be associated with brain damage in the rivers. They’ve also found a lot of heavy metals that are neurotoxic, carcinogenic, which disrupt the endocrine system causing cancer of different organs.
Clean water is not only a basic human right; it is the world’s most threatened essential resource.
Mark, our world paddler, talks about how he feels that clean water is not only a basic human right; it is the world’s most threatened essential resource. Aside from being critical habitats for wildlife, waterways such as rivers and lakes provide vital resources. Many people rely on this water for drinking, for farming, and for food. Yet we saw, during our filming, over and over again that these vital water sources are often abused by industry and treated as if they are private sewers.
The textile industry is chemically intensive. We witnessed a lot of chemicals running through factory floors, eventually ending up in the river. We also documented the spraying of potassium permanganate—without any masks—used to distress jeans, while filming in blue-jean factories.
Francois Girbaud, one of our interview subjects and the man who is credited with the stone-washing of jeans and using permanganate in the 1970s, told us that that chemical is killing people. “If people knew that the spraying of permanganate on your jeans to give you that acid-wash look was killing the guy doing the spraying, would you still want that look?” he asks us.
Pollution problems that originate in far-off places like China often make their way onto our shores.
What we discovered during our filming is that the pollution problems, which may originate in far-off places like China, don’t have to stay there but make their way onto our shores. One toxic campaigner we spoke to on camera recounted a story of how many hazardous chemicals can also be transported in our oceans, atmosphere and food chains and accumulate in places far away from their original source. They have been found to build up in the bodies of animals including birds, fish, whales, polar bears, and even human breast milk. The problem and the solution are therefore not only a cause of local concern. This is a truly global issue.
One thing to note is that while we expose the dirty secret behind our blue jeans, we also give some examples of people and technologies that are making a positive affect in the production of blue jeans. The “godfather of blue jeans,” Francois Girbaud, now realizes how damaging the techniques he came up with to give us that ‘lived in, distressed look’ have been to the rivers around the world and is today working with technologies like laser and air to accomplish the distressed look. Both technologies cut back heavy water consumption used in the washing process of blue jeans and also takes chemicals out of the equation.