Production

We are drowning in cheap fashion – do we really need it? Especially in the light of the many polluting processes that production entails, and the working-conditions and low wages associated with the garment industry.

This is of course the most complicated and demanding stage for textile companies, though recent studies have shown that the user-stage is equally important in many respects, when it comes to the ecological footprint of a piece of clothing. But as a designer or clothing manufacturer, you can have a lot of input at this stage, while the consumer generally does not. This is the phase where raw material becomes fibre, then yarn, the fabric and finally clothing. Inputs in to this phase are many, from the actual raw materials to energy, water, chemicals and labour. And the outputs need to be handled with just as much consideration: Waste water, solid waste and emissions to air.

In the clothing industry, the 'refinement' of textiles is very harmful to the environment. Yarns are subject to a great deal of boiling, bleaching and washing in order to strengthen them or make them shine. The dyeing of yarns, materials and garments also forms part of this refinement. Some dyes are highly toxic. Others adhere to textiles only in combination with environmentally polluting additives such as heavy metals. In many developing countries these end up in the environment with the effluent. The printing of a dress or T-shirt, the washing of jeans and the finishing of clothing, e.g. against creasing or mould or to make it fire-retardant, are also processes in which many chemicals and water are part of these same processes and constitute a potential environmental hazard.

The 'refinement' of textiles is very harmful to the environment

Once one starts to look at the many steps in the production phase, one can almost be over-whelmed by the many operations, and actually one of the most eco-efficient developments has to do with combining operations along with closed-loop systems that reuse water. A simple thing like recycling cut-offs (which generally constitute up to 25% of fabric in the cutting and sewing-phase) either back in to fibre-production or as material for accessories – is another way of avoiding waste.

Once one starts to look at the many steps in the production phase, one can almost be over-whelmed by the many operations, and actually one of the most eco-efficient developments has to do with combining operations along with closed-loop systems that reuse water. A simple thing like recycling cut-offs (which generally constitute up to 25% of fabric in the cutting and sewing-phase) either back in to fibre-production or as material for accessories – is another way of avoiding waste.

You can download helpful Pdf's that are very useful tools in production. The Good Practice Worksheets from Better Work give detailed guidelines to things you may take for granted, but many workplaces do not practice! The Guidelines also include textile-specific worksheets, which are very helpful in checking the environmental impact of the materials you are using.

Recommendations: 
If you chose to produce on the other side of the world, you will have to accept that you cannot control every minute detail. But there are tools you can use, like the ones to the right.
Water is also an issue in most phases of production, but there are many technical advances you can chose. Combining processes is a good rule of thumb.