Have you ever considered how much water is used to make your clothes? It’s time to ask if it’s too much.
To be honest, it probably isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when you’re wardrobe shopping.
The elixir of life it may be, but not many of us stop to think how much water has been used to make our clothes or any other of our favourite things for that matter. We just buy them and enjoy them.
But water is being consumed in vast amounts by the fashion industry. As part of World Water Week perhaps we and the fashion industry should ask ourselves how we can reduce the water footprint of our clothes?
Everything from growing cotton and producing other fibres to processes like dyeing and washing – including by you at home – add up to make the fashion industry the second-largest industrial user (and polluter) of water.
According to the UN one pair of jeans takes 7,500 litres of water to make – a number that includes the water used to grow the cotton, make the denim and get the product shop-ready.
To put that in context, the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organisation says that, for most people, 2 litres of water are sufficient for drinking every day. So that pair of jeans you just bought could contain the equivalent of about 10 years’ worth of drinking water for one person.
Water is perhaps our most precious resource. But every year we are extracting and consuming more. Rates of water extraction have more than doubled since the 1960s and, as the global population rises, demand for water is expected to increase by 30% by 2050.
Already a quarter of the world’s population is living in parts of the world facing extremely high levels of water stress. And many of these areas, places like India and China, also happen to be the places where many of our clothes are made.
Between 2010 and 2014 clothing production doubled and the number of garments bought by people rose by 60%. In this context, we need to consider whether the extraction and use of huge volumes of water, just to make clothes, is sustainable?
Sustainability is today’s buzzword. Brands everywhere are talking about how their products are being made more sustainably and protecting the planet.
For the fashion industry sustainability is the hottest collection right now. Claims are made about how ‘green’ this garment is or how much-recycled material has been used in its manufacture.
And this is great. But, there’s a problem.
The fashion industry isn’t always as transparent as it could be – especially when it comes to water.
Brands must do better.
This week, World Water Week is asking how we can create solutions to some of our biggest water challenges? For the fashion industry solutions already exist to reduce water use in garment manufacturing and others are being rapidly developed.
It is incumbent on them to do the right thing and implement these technologies across their supply chains. And they must be transparent on issues of sustainability.
As consumers, we can also play a part by exercising positive choices to spend our money with brands that are working towards genuinely sustainable fashion and which are transparent about the environmental impact of their products.
But, the most effective solution to the overuse of resources across the fashion industry is for fewer clothes to be made, better quality and longer-lasting garments to be produced and for us, as consumers, to shop less and to love the clothes we have for longer.
Again, solutions are being developed to help us do that with technologies that are gentler on our clothes when we wash them, extending their life and keeping them out of landfills.
Fashions change. But the amount of water available to us on earth does not. We must do everything we can, no matter how small it may be, to reduce our demand for it.
Thinking hard about what to put in your wardrobe isn’t a bad place to start.