As kids, we spent many of our Canadian winters backpacking with our parents in warmer places like Asia, Central and South America. These adventures included endless weeks off-the-beaten-path in coastal communities or on a beach, making sand castles, snorkeling, and even learning to scuba dive.
This constant interaction with water and coastal areas has had a huge impact on our personal upbringing. Coming from Canada, the country with the longest coastline in the world, it is easy for Canadians like us to assume that we have an almost endless supply of clean, fresh water. We're often told that Canada has some 20% of the world's total freshwater resources. However, it’s important to realize that less than half of this water is renewable (water supplies that are continually replenished). The majority is nonrenewable, as it is locked up underground in aquifers, or frozen in glaciers.
(Imke on the Galapagos Islands ca. 2002)
(The two of us in Panama ca. 2001)
In ‘developed’ countries almost 100% of people have access to drinking water. Traveling the world showed us that people in different places and ‘developing nations’ have a much different perspective when it comes to the topic of water, and what it means to have access to clean water.
Globally, water is under extreme threat from increasing human demand, yet it is the number one resource that no one can live without.
Big Blue Planet
World Water Day (March 22nd) shines a spotlight on these issues and highlights the importance of clean water. And the uncomfortable truth is that one of the major contributors to water pollution (if not the biggest) is the fast fashion industry, no thanks to consumers' on-going addiction to fast fashion.
If you think about it, in the great scheme of things our planet is a finite environment - planet Earth is really a blue planet with 71% of our marbled sphere covered with water. About 97% of all the water on earth is saline, two percent is frozen and the remaining one percent is found in our lakes, and rivers. This is an incredible statistic as it leaves quite a tiny amount of water that has to accommodate our global needs - and of course these needs go beyond just human hydration because water is used and needed for industry and agriculture.
As a direct result, people today are still struggling to access the quantity and quality of water they need for drinking, bathing, and growing their food.
We need to start looking at water supplies more closely, and treating it in a more respectful way.
Water is life.
How does fashion contribute to the global water crisis?
Fashion contributes to our global water crisis due to large scale irrigation of cultivated areas - as seen with the Aral Sea. This has resulted in diversion of big rivers and the shrinking of seas in places like Central Asia where there is a focus on growing cotton (stay tuned for our organic vs. conventional cotton blog).
Industrial pollution from textile manufacturers from the widespread dumping of toxic chemicals has poisoned rivers and groundwater. This toxic dumping damages freshwater biodiversity and ecosystems, which in turn is causing an environmental and public health catastrophe. Because of the abundance of garment workers in places like Asia (this is an entire topic on its own), many big western fashion labels are producing their garments there. Depending on where brands are getting their materials from, the monitoring and tracking of chemicals is likely not rigorous - especially if they are selling dresses and t-shirts for 15 bucks end price.
Big, fast fashion conglomerates that are directly contributing to the pollution of waterways should be held accountable for their negative impact and work towards cleaner solutions and cleaning up the mess they’ve made. However due to an overall lack of regulation this responsibility is neglected and the weight of this terrible impact lands on the shoulders of Mother Nature.
At least half of Earth's oxygen comes from the ocean, so the oceans are too the lungs of our planet.
It is not the case that water is running out. Unlike oil, water is not destroyed when it is consumed, but we are heavily disturbing its natural cycle.
Humanity puts great strain on the natural world, especially when we look at the insanely fast moving fashion industry.
So, what are industry level solutions?
Stop waterway pollution.
Companies are completely responsible for how their products are made. Brands need to intensify their engagement with their suppliers for stricter accountability and implement basic guidelines. Particularly with export oriented industries like those working in Asian countries, it is vital that there be advances in standard implementation and in technology to reduce chemical waste.
Some examples to curb these issues include closed loop wastewater systems, waterless dyeing, digital printing, natural dyes, and switching to plant based chemicals.
Implement better agricultural methods.
Intensive farming, irrigation, fertilizers and pesticides have damaged water, soil and in turn the ecosystems farmers rely on for production. Eco-friendly agricultural practices are possible and organic farming and conservation agriculture are some of the best known examples. Adapting agriculture for a dry climate or restoring native flora in order to preserve biodiversity would help increase agricultural richness and balanced farmlands. (Hot topic for us… read our Teargas & Avocado Blog here .)
What can you do?
Reduce consumption and your fashion footprint!
We can all be a part of the solution for steps towards a cleaner industry. Part of the solution is to reduce consumption, especially when it comes to fashion and our clothing consumption.
Don't buy fast fashion. I mean do we really have to say it?
Consider amping up your wardrobe through other sources like purchasing pre-loved items (there are many online options available now too - so you still get the convenience of at-home shopping) or finding a future-focused brand that shares production transparency with you.
Another awesome option if you feel the need for a closet refresh is to explore the layers of the so-called ‘sharing economy’. This obviously doesn't work for something like underwear but many other parts of our wardrobe can be shared and recycled within a local system like borrowing from friends or participating in a local clothing swap.
(Pssst.. if you are in Bremen we are organizing an upcoming swap next month for Fashion Revolution Week 2023.)
Additionally, you can minimize your own fashion footprint by shortening the distance that your products travel. This could mean shopping at your local second hand shop or buying a locally made item. Made in Germany or made in Europe apparel typically costs more than foreigen made apparel because of labor and health and safety cost but by supporting homegrown brands, you can have more confidence in production quality, safe working conditions (and if you work at T & T, a happy work atmosphere ;)).
Plus, the feeling of value is higher and you’re more likely to cherish these pieces.
The big problem with the fashion industry is that there have not been any real consequences to its negative environmental actions so these problems persist and at an alarming rate. The high cost of implementation for better, safer regulations means that this low cost clothing actually has an incredibly high cost attached to it.
Access to safe clean water is a fundamental human need and a basic human right and nothing -especially not fashion- should be so destructive.
Stating the obvious like we did earlier, water is life and it is up to us to push the industry in a direction for a better hydrated planet.
Want to learn more? Check out River Blue Documentary (2016) or for something more recent The shady world of cheap clothing | DW Documentary (2022)