Sustainable fashion is not just another industry buzzword. It’s about putting words into action and making fundamental changes. The fashion world has come a long way from just talking the talk – it’s now walking the walk. However, from the production of clothes to how we wear them, there’s still a significant gap to fill.
Let’s face it: the fashion industry is one of the planet’s most significant environmental troublemakers. In partnership with the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, the United Nations Environmental Programmes (UNEP) dropped some jaw-dropping stats that make it crystal clear.
- Yearly, the fashion industry uses 93 billion cubic metres of water. This is approximately the same level of consumption needed for five million people.
- Yearly, half a million tons of plastic microfibers, the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles, are dumped into the ocean. “The danger? Microfibers cannot be extracted from the water and can spread throughout the food chain.”- Worldbank.org
Extensive research has unveiled the fact the simple act of washing our clothes contributes to the release of a staggering 500,000 tons of microfibers into the ocean each year. To put that into perspective, it’s equivalent to a mind-boggling 50 billion plastic bottles. This emphasizes the undeniable environmental toll that our clothing and fashion choices exact on our planet. In this era of heightened awareness and a resounding global call for sustainable fashion practices, it becomes crystal clear that we must consider the extreme environmental cost of our garments and fashion pieces.
Sustainability isn’t some distant, unattainable goal for us as consumers. It’s something we can gradually weave into our daily lives with a bit of effort. We’ve all noticed how affordable clothing has made us take our clothes for granted, but there’s a shift happening. We’re starting to see the downsides of this ‘fast fashion’ mentality.
Of course, cost is still a big concern for us, but we also need to understand the reality of clothing production in places like Nigeria and how it affects sustainability. Recently, we’ve become more aware of the damage the fashion industry does to our environment, and it’s up to brands to embrace this change and make a real impact.
Why is sustainable fashion important?
On a global scale, the fashion industry is waking up to the perils of waste, unjust working conditions, and unethical production methods that threaten our environment. However, amidst the constant chatter about ‘sustainable fashion,’ there remains a knowledge gap about its significance and essence.
Sustainable fashion, in essence, embodies the infusion of environmentally responsible, ethical, and socially conscious elements into the entire fashion lifecycle – from creation and production to distribution and consumption. It’s about placing a more significant emphasis on eco-friendly materials and processes, all bundled into the overarching mission of promoting a fashion that’s kinder to our planet and the well-being of people and animals.
Embracing sustainability in the fashion world offers many advantages for all stakeholders. Consumers, for instance, stand to benefit significantly in the long haul. When we invest in quality and ethically crafted garments, not only do we save money over time, but these pieces also endure, offering countless opportunities for us to don them year after year.
For brands, crafting high-quality items with sustainable materials isn’t just a smart business move; it’s a statement of enduring commitment to both the planet and your global reputation. Most crucially, we must recognise the pivotal impact on the environment.
The impact of fast fashion
The production of fashion takes 10% of total global carbon emissions, according to a 2019 study by Business Insider. While fast fashion might be the most affordable option, my people say, “Awoof dey run belle”; in this context, that affordability harms our planet. The fashion industry has evolved into a high-speed conveyor belt, churning out pieces at an astonishing rate, flooding the market with new items. Unfortunately, this breakneck pace often sacrifices ethical production standards as workers endure gruelling hours for meagre pay. Ethical raw materials, by their nature, require more time and care, raising questions about the carbon footprint left in their wake when production is considered.
Despite the widely reported effects of this danger, fast fashion contributes to the industry’s rapid growth with an increase in consumption that has, in turn, driven the price point lower. Low cost = less frequent wear. Although consumers are aware of the importance of sustainability in fashion, the impact of fast fashion runs deep, and we often care more about our pockets than the environment. The effects are overflowing landfills filled with clothing and increased textile waste.
Recognising the profound implications on people and the environment is paramount to instigating meaningful change. According to the Fashion Revolution Impact Report of 2019, it’s disheartening to note that “garments are the second most vulnerable product to modern slavery.” The breakneck pace of fast fashion compels workers into exploitative conditions, all for the sake of churning out pieces with limited or virtually no potential for repeated wear.
Slow & sustainable fashion
The re-emergence of slow fashion is a welcome one, and its goal of making it the only kind of fashion is achievable with the right moves from the brands, consumers, and media. Fashion should not be a mindless, get-rich-quick scheme that exists without a care for the environment, people and animals. The message goes beyond awareness; it delves deeper into driving sustainable change. The media sets this in motion by spotlighting and platforming ethical fashion brands to sensitise and inspire the catalyst to adopt sustainability. Additionally, this evokes a ripple effect on the consumption of information from selective retention that informs the consumer’s decision consciously and subconsciously.
Brands at the forefront of sustainable fashion
In alignment with the worldwide momentum toward sustainability, an increasing number of Nigerian fashion brands are embracing ethical practices throughout their production processes. These initiatives range from downsizing production to incorporate locally sourced raw materials to the innovative art of upcycling used garments and crafting eco-friendly pieces. Nigerian brands are passionately striving to meet their sustainable objectives.
Marie Claire Nigeria had the privilege of engaging in insightful discussions with several of these conscientious Nigerian fashion brands, offering an intimate look into their ethical production methods and a comprehensive understanding of the landscape of sustainable fashion in Nigeria.
We are reducing waste from our production and repurposing our dead-stock to make quality garments for children in orphanages.- FIA
MC- As a progressive brand working out of a nascent industry like Nigeria, how do you incorporate sustainability into your design process?
It is essential for us as a brand to be conscious when designing our collections. We create designs that are multifunctional and versatile. FIA works primarily with locally produced woven fabrics such as cotton and eco-friendly materials such as Linen. We also ensure a fair and conducive environment for our staff, whom we have empowered to make our garments. FIA tackles overproduction and overconsumption by adopting the on-demand production business model to reduce clothes going into landfills. We produce in minimal quantities for retail stores we have partnered with. We are reducing waste from our production and repurposing our dead-stock to make quality garments for children in orphanages.
Ultimately, our manifesto focuses on creating quality and ethically grafted garments. It warms our hearts when we see our customers still wearing pieces from our first collection in 2015.
MC- The Nigerian customer is less aware of ethical consumption than our Western counterparts. In what ways does FIA work to educate their customers on sustainability as regards their clothes?
Many Nigerian brands are stepping up their efforts to raise consumer awareness, but there’s still a long road ahead. The fashion industry can make significant progress if we unite as a community. At FIA, we’ve taken steps to educate our consumers about garment care to extend the lifespan of their clothing. We also offer quarterly opportunities for our customers to have zippers, buttons, hems, and more repaired, giving their garments a fresh lease on life.
MC- What, in your opinion, is the biggest hindrance your brand faces in embracing sustainability in the design process?
Integrating sustainability into our design process is vital but comes with financial demands. Unfortunately, the fashion industry in Nigeria lacks the substantial financial grants that some other sectors enjoy. At FIA, we face hurdles in acquiring our custom graphic textile prints with high minimum order quantities (MOQ) made in Nigeria. These challenges encourage us to adopt a creative mindset and find innovative solutions. We are determined to turn these obstacles into opportunities and drive change in our industry.
The brands we choose to stock are not just fashion; they are carriers of our cultural pride and stewards of our planet’s well-being.- Zinkata
MC- How does sustainability influence the brands Zinkata stocks at the store?
Sustainability is dominant in shaping the brands that find their place on Zinkata’s shelves. At its core, Zinkata’s brand ethos and values are steeped in a profound appreciation for culture. Our mission is to share this with the world through fashion. In this vein, we naturally gravitate towards more organic choices and designers who embrace an artisanal approach to their craft.
The Brands we curate in our store echo this ethos by adopting a slow fashion mindset. Their production processes are not just kind to the environment but a harmonious coexistence with it. These brands, like us, understand that fashion cannot exist in isolation from its environmental impact. They embrace traditional methods, preserving the age-old techniques that tell the stories of our culture. This embrace of tradition and heritage resonates with us on a profound level.
The brands we choose to stock are not just fashion; they are carriers of our cultural pride and stewards of our planet’s well-being. Through them, we tell a story of cultural reverence and environmental stewardship. It is a story we’re incredibly proud to share with the world.
MC- In your experience as a retailer in Nigeria, how knowledgeable is the customer about sustainability in design?
In my extensive experience as a retailer in Nigeria, the discerning customers I’ve encountered are not just fashion enthusiasts but sustainability connoisseurs. The Zinkata clientele, in particular, stands out as a community of savvy individuals who not only appreciate the artistry and craftsmanship in fashion but also possess a profound understanding of sustainability in design. Our customers prefer natural fibres, and their choices reflect a thoughtful investment in pieces that boast sustainability at their core.
Zinkata customers recognise that sustainability extends beyond materials; it encompasses the preservation of cultural heritage. Their choice to tilt towards genius outputs centred on indigenous fabrics is not just a fashion statement; it’s a celebration of our rich cultural tapestry. Our customers are making a conscious choice for a sustainable, culturally rich, and beautifully adorned world.
MC- Waste is a significant challenge retail brands prioritising sustainability and ethical use must address in their businesses. In what ways does Zinkata work to minimise waste and promote sustainability in the retail value chain?
Waste reduction and sustainability aren’t just aspirations; they are tangible practices that define our retail value chain. Here’s how Zinkata champions sustainability and minimises waste:
Energy Efficiency: We are conscious of our energy consumption, ensuring we use only the required electricity for our daily activities. We are continuously exploring cleaner and more sustainable methods of generating electricity. We aim not only to offer sustainable products but also to operate sustainably.
Hybrid Sales Model: While we play a pivotal role in promoting sustainable practices, we
acknowledge that, most times, the ultimate responsibility for the end product lies with the Brands we showcase. Nevertheless, we actively encourage and support them in embracing sustainable practices.
Preventing Unsold Items: One of the standout ways we tackle waste is by advocating for the responsible consumption of fashion. Rather than letting unsold items accumulate and burden brands with disposal challenges, we actively encourage our customers to purchase these items in many ways, such as through sales campaigns, discounts, etc. This approach reduces waste and ensures each fashion piece finds a home and purpose.
Up-cycling and Reimagining: Our commitment to sustainability doesn’t end with the sale. We encourage our designers to rework and upcycle unsold items. This practice has proven highly successful, breathing new life into fashion pieces that might have otherwise gone to waste. Our sales associates play a crucial role in identifying unsold items, which are then returned to be transformed into fresh and innovative silhouettes.
Effective Communication: Our approach is rooted in effective communication and a keen awareness of stock levels and customer buying habits. By closely monitoring these factors, we can optimise our inventory management, reducing the likelihood of excess stock and waste.
In a nutshell, Zinkata’s dedication to minimising waste and promoting sustainability is woven into the very fabric of our retail value chain. We’re not just a store but a beacon for sustainable fashion practices. Our commitment extends from energy-efficient operations to the thoughtful repurposing of unsold items. We work hand in hand with our designers to create a truly sustainable fashion ecosystem. With Zinkata, sustainability isn’t a distant goal; it’s a daily practice ensuring fashion is beautiful and kind to our planet.
We source our fabrics from local artisans to promote their source of livelihood, and we also have a no-waste culture where we design with a circular system in mind.- Lohije
MC- Nature is a significant inspiration for Lohije. How does this influence your brand’s design process?
African arts, craftsmanship and history inspire us. These play a significant role in our design process and are the core of our process. Our mission is to discover and celebrate our indigenous culture, talents, crafts, artisans, history and arts in African cities and communities to preserve and translate these experiences into style, fashion and artistic expressions that appeal to the contemporary world. Therefore, we design with these in mind. We source our fabrics from local artisans to promote their source of livelihood, and we also have a no-waste culture where we design with a circular system in mind. If nature is regarded in its entire sense, including humans and the environment, then Lohije is greatly inspired by and aims to preserve what nature holds dear.
MC- Lohije works closely with artisans to ensure that its design process supports the local industry. In what ways has this close relationship with local artisans shaped the design process at Lohije?
Our artisans are at the core of our design process. For instance, we release collections according to their pace. They significantly contribute to the design outcome of each fabric design as we constantly consult with them about what can be achievable from them before attempting any collection. Without our artisans, there wouldn’t be LOHIJE. We are always dedicated to noting their challenges, providing help where necessary, designing concerning their age-long traditions and celebrating them any opportunity we have.
MC- Fashion is notorious for waste in the design process. How does Lohije work to reduce their carbon footprint?
We’ve always been committed to sustainability at LOHIJE, striving to minimise environmental impact. Our ‘WASTE IS WHITE’ initiative (WIW) up-cycles leftover fabric from past collections into unique accessories, partnering with local artisans to create them. Some proceeds fund community projects, like upgrading public school classrooms. We’ve also revamped our packaging, offering reusable options like fabric tote bags, jute bags made by our production team, and up-cycled packaging bags from our leftover fabrics. To reduce plastic use, we’ve replaced plastic accessories with eco-friendly alternatives. Our buttons and bag handles are now crafted from discarded coconut shells, which decompose naturally. We’re actively exploring ways to recycle our waste materials responsibly and are in contact with recycling hubs for paper waste recycling.
The incessant decline in exchange rates heavily influences the market, resulting in an exponential increase in the cost of materials.- Kkerelé
MC- How does Kkerelé source materials they use for production?
We source all our materials locally here in Lagos, Nigeria. Over time, we’ve established and standardised our supply chain through our local suppliers.
MC- As a brand focused on slow fashion, how does Kkerelé manage demands?
Our operating model allows for a much more seamless production process. We operate on a made-to-order basis. We don’t keep inventory/stock. This process will enable us to only expand labour when needed and keep our production cost low.
MC- As a brand focused on slow fashion, what is Kkerelé’s biggest challenge?
Currently, our biggest challenge would be the economic effects associated with the irregularities of the exchange rate. 90% of production materials available locally are being imported into the country. The incessant decline in exchange rates heavily influences the market, resulting in an exponential increase in the cost of materials. Importers are reluctant to import these materials, while most circumvent this by importing subpar products. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to source quality materials locally.
Our principal ethos is to eradicate the disposable view of fashion items by creating pieces with lasting quality that can journey with the wearer from season to season, and the unavailability of standard materials poses a threat to that.
Our collective responsibility
Marie Claire Nigeria is resolute in its stance against prioritising profit at the expense of our precious planet and its people. The time has come for a collective transformation in how we approach fashion and its impact.
It’s not just a call to arms for us; it’s a rallying cry that extends to both brands and consumers. Our mission is crystal clear – reduce waste and champion environmental protection. Yet, a significant challenge looms: the fashion industry’s essential infrastructure needs to be improved, particularly in waste management. It’s high time our government shoulders the responsibility to provide the robust support needed for sustainable fashion practices to flourish.
The future we envision, where fashion and environmental harmony are interwoven, is not just a dream. It’s a tangible goal that we can reach collectively. We stand hand in hand with organisations paving the way for this transformation. The African Fashion Fund, under the visionary leadership of Roberta Annan, is setting an inspiring example. Fashion Revolution Nigeria and other like-minded entities are also part of this movement. Together, we hold the power to reshape the narrative and guide the fashion industry toward a more sustainable, ethical, and eco-conscious future.
Let’s rise to this challenge as a united front, for our planet, people, and the enduring legacy we leave behind. Join us in this critical mission to usher in Nigeria’s more sustainable and responsible fashion era and beyond.