Sustainability of Clothing and Textiles

In 2000 the world’s consumers spent around US$1 trillion worldwide buying clothes. Around one third of sales were in Western Europe, one third in North America and one quarter in Asia.

  • Today, clothing and textiles represent about seven per cent of world exports.
  • More than a quarter of the world’s production of clothing and textiles is in China, which has a fast growing internal market and the largest share of world trade. Western countries are still important exporters of clothing and textiles, particularly Germany and Italy in clothing and the USA in textiles.
  • Output from the sector is growing in volume, but prices are dropping, as is employment, as new technology and vertically integrated structures support improved productivity.

The major environmental impacts of the sector arise from the use of energy and toxic chemicals:

  • The sector’s contribution to climate change is dominated by the requirement for burning fossil fuel to create electricity for heating water and air in laundering. Other major energy uses arise in providing fuel for agricultural machinery and electricity for production.
  • Toxic chemicals are used widely in cotton agriculture and in many manufacturing stages such as pre-treatment, dyeing and printing.
  • Water consumption – especially the extensive use of water in cotton crop cultivation – can also be a major environmental issue as seen dramatically in the Aral Sea region.

Social concern has always been a feature of the sector – and campaigns for improved social conditions for low paid workers in developing countries have been effective and continue:

  • Retailers are increasingly specifying codes of good practice in labour standards to their suppliers, but there are difficulties in imposing these throughout the supply chain, leading to concerns about working hours, safety and use of child labour.
  • Most countries in the supply chain have a legal minimum wage, but in some cases this is lower than a realistic minimum living wage – so while the sector offers an opportunity for development by creating many relatively low skilled jobs, some workers are unable to escape from a cycle of poverty.
  • In some countries the right of workers in the sector to form associations (unions) to represent their concerns in collective bargaining is suppressed.

At AFRICA SOURCING AND FASHION WEEK we want to highlight SUSTAINIBILITY within the conference and the exhibition in collaboration with valued partners and experts within this segment.