Texworld Looks to Water Conservation in Fashion Industry

In a recent seminar at Texworld on “Sustainability: Water Use, Conservation & Pollution,”the fashion industry got its own close up in regards to water use and production.

Fresh from hosting the Planet Textiles Summit in India where water availability, water conservation and wastewater pollution were at the top of the agenda, John Mowbray, Founder and Director of MCL News & Media (which publishes Ecotextile News), facilitated a conversation on how the fashion industry should change its approach to manufacturing.

Considering it takes about 2,720 litres of water to produce just one cotton shirt – a number equivalent to what an average person drinks over three years, the fashion industry is facing a crisis.

At Texworld, panelist and Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator production coordinator Tara St. James told Sourcing Journal, the BF+DA is training designers to consider not only where materials come from, but what happens after the customer gets it.

“We also have to think about what our customers are doing with this product and how it is being used,” says St James.

St James cites Noorism, a BF+DA venture fellow who uses post-consumer denim waste to create new clothing and Fair Harbor who designs shorts made from recycled plastic bottles. Both have approaches using waste as a form of harvest, lessening the need for water.

Related story:10 Fashion Industry Water Facts to Know for World Day to Combat Desertification

Caterina Conti of Textile Exchange says that water touches everything in the fashion industry.

“Solve this one thing and solve most of the environmental and social issues in our industry,” says Conti, adding that despite popular belief, China has made great strides with its Institute of Environmental & Public Affairs (IPE) and shows that the Chinese government is serious about pollution. Yet in other countries, the fashion industry has become akin to the wild west driving production to other countries without regulation. The bigger solution now seems to be in the engagement of the countries rarely looking to monitor themselves.

Conti suggests that brands use a water risk assessment map and strategically plan on mitigating and protecting high-risk areas involving water conservation and preservation.

“When large brands move, they can move entire countries,” says Conti.

Related story: INTERVIEW: RiverBlue Documentary Director on Denim Pollution

Lenzing offered a different perspective. Fashion brands should use a user pay system as the industry can’t be relied upon to police itself.

“Money should go back into the industry to fund the development of solutions. Cost only needs to be a few cents for every garment,” says Michael Kininmonth, Business Development & Project Manager at Lenzing AG.

Kininmonth’s solution is one of many being discussed on panels worldwide dealing with the world-wide water crisis. According to Sourcing Journal, the United Nation’s 2017 World Water Development Report (WWDR), “Wastewater: The Untapped Resource,” 80 percent of the world’s wastewater and more than 95 percent in some least developed nations gets released into the environment without treatment. Not only is the fashion industry dealing with conservation, it’s dealing with basic preservation.

“The report argues that improved wastewater management generates essential economic, environmental and social benefits for a more sustainable apparel sector in upcoming years. What’s more, if brands, designers, retailers, government bodies and organizations collaborate on water sustainability, the industry could minimize its carbon footprint and foster more eco-friendly water use from sourcing to end consumption,” says Genevieve Scarano, Sourcing Journal reporter.

For the fashion industry, all of these efforts need to coincide now to make greater impact for the future.

To learn more about how brands are taking on sustainable strategies, check out the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator’s Sustainable Fashion Roadmap tool.