Often a cleaner’s first thought when it comes to the environment is what solvent he or she is using, what they recycle, or whether they’ve had a spill on their property. In truth, the footprint of a cleaning establishment is minuscule compared to that of garment manufacturers – and you can set yourself apart by educating your customers about the issue.
By the numbers
85% of all textiles go to the dump each year (enough to fill Sidney Harbour annually).
People are buying 60% more garments each year, but keeping them only half as long.
The equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is burned or dumped in a landfill every second.
The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions – more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
It takes about 700 gallons of water to produce one cotton shirt – enough water for one person to drink at least 8 cups per day for three-and-a-half years.
It takes about 2,000 gallons of water to produce a pair of jeans – enough for one person to drink 8 cups a day for 10 years.
Where’s it all coming from?
We use more garments because of ‘fast fashion’ trends. In past decades, the fashion industry introduced two collections a year – Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter. Now, however, most houses bring far more collections to market in what are called micro-seasons, which can amount to 50–100 such ‘seasons’ per year. Garments come into fashion quickly, are shoved into the marketplace, and go out of fashion just as fast. For those who buy into being fashionable, this means a lot of wasted garments.
There is a movement afoot to encourage more environmentally responsible garment production and fashion trending. 33 companies, including fast fashion giants H&M and Zara, signed a pledge to increase clothing recycling, and facilitating consumer awareness and access to recycling. The United Nations launched the Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, which also encourages more sustainable production of textiles.
What’s it got to do with YOU?
If you gasped at any of the statistics at the beginning of this article, your customers will, too. It goes without saying that one of your responsibilities is to keep up with the latest technologies to reduce emissions of microplastics, chemicals and other by-products of your work. But another part of your environmental efforts should be bringing awareness to the impact on the planet of manufacturing textiles.
You supply garment care services. You are in a key position to help educate consumers about the downside of textile manufacturing. When they think of you, they think of their clothes. The link is natural, and so when you speak about the realities of fast fashion, textile creation and ways to help the environment, you are coming from a position of knowledge.
Specific things you can do
Explain what you do to reduce your carbon footprint (no Greenwashing!)
Educate customers on the impact of clothing manufacture, and encourage them to let you clean garments properly to extend their life cycle. Use flyers, hang tags, social media and other avenues to get the idea across.
Encourage customers to purchase quality garments that are long-lasting and classic in style, and then supplement them with fast fashion pieces like scarves, belts or other accessories.
Encourage customers to donate used clothing (help them do this conveniently), rather than send to the landfill when they are done with it.
Sponsor a Swap Day – customers can bring their gently used garments to you for free cleaning. Give them a ticket with the number of garments on it, and on Swap Day they can select that many other items at no charge. If the event grows, have a small admission price, with the fee going to a worthy charity, and leftover garments going to those who need them. Get the beneficiary group(s) involved to handle the staffing of the event.
Promote your tailoring services to rework garments and update them to current fashions. Show before and after photos on advertising pieces.
Publicize your efforts to extend the life cycle of garments through press releases, advertising, website, Facebook posts, Twitter and blogs.
This is not a one-time effort, or even something to do during Earth Month each year. Protecting the environment is a corporate commitment you must demonstrate every day. Consumers today value companies that have their future in mind, and will patronize accordingly.
Becca Anderson spent 17 years in public relations, advertising and corporate PR before joining Fabricare Canada in 2000. She was named editor in 2013, and welcomes feedback about the magazine via the contact form on this site.