One Fashion Company’s Answer to the Global Water Crisis: Buy Less – The Weather Channel
The global apparel industry produces an estimated 150 billion garments each year, enough for 20 new articles of clothing per person. Some critics, even a few within the fashion industry, believe such large-scale manufacturing is not needed. Vast amounts of clothing are discarded within just one year of purchase — Americans alone throw away 13 million tons of textiles each year amounting to roughly 85% of their clothes and 9% of total non-recycled waste. Some speculate that up to one-third of all clothing produced worldwide is never sold at all and discarded into landfills or destroyed.
This level of clothing production and consumption places tremendous strain on the world’s water supply. The apparel industry consumes an estimated 79 billion cubic meters of water each year, enough water to fill 32 million Olympic-size swimming pools. If current clothing production trends continue, these figures are expected to increase 50% by 2030. Considering at least half a billion people around the world face year-round severe water scarcity, that’s a troubling estimate.
A growing number of consumers and clothing companies, however, are doing their part to fight fast fashion and overconsumption habits by filling closets with fewer clothes. Several companies around the world manufacture items specifically intended for capsule wardrobes, which are small collections of clothing items, numbering only about 20 to 30 pieces, that don’t go out of style. They can be worn both during the day and at night, and can be mixed, matched, and layered according to season.
Many of these companies also institute environmentally-conscious production practices with a minimized water footprint. A number of digital platforms that curate clothes from such brands have also sprung up on the internet over the past few years. Joon + Co. is one such company. Launched in September 2017, Joon + Co. vets fashion brands on behalf of users, and organizes items into capsule wardrobes, “so you can shop consciously and conveniently. Two things that don’t normally go hand-in-hand,” states the company’s website.
Joon + Co.’s founder, Becky VandenBout, says that when she started the site there weren’t many easy-to-find, environmentally conscious brands that also happened to be stylish.
“I couldn’t find anything,” VandenBout, a 34-year-old from Grand Rapids, Michigan, says. “People with my style would not wear [those clothes] in a thousand years.”
VandenBout’s mission with Joon + Co. is multifaceted. It’s partly a response to the water crisis, a call for environmental conservation in general, and an aim to raise awareness about unethical fashion industry practices — without compromising style.
“When you wear [clothing], you should feel comfortable, you should feel confident, it should fit correctly,” VandenBout says. Clothes, she adds, should “be made of high-quality, good material that will last you more than a few wears.”
Such an ethos translates into a lower demand for clothing items, which could lead to decreased production and a lower apparel-industry water footprint if enough consumers adopt the methodology. It’s not always a popular subject among fashion-industry leaders.
“One of the key questions that the industry doesn’t want to talk about is reducing consumption,” says Timo Rissanen, associate professor of fashion and design sustainability at the Parsons School of Design and cofounder of the Union of Concerned Researchers in Fashion, an academic collective focusing on fashion sustainability. “On one level it’s the simplest solution to a lot of problems — not just water [use], but including that — and yet in the overall sustainability discussion, it is not part of the conversation.”
Rissanen acknowledges that cutting clothing consumption and reducing apparel manufacturing would have a detrimental impact on the economy. There would be losses in commercial and tax revenue, and downsizing in the clothing industry. Still, Rissanen says, “I just wonder how long are we going to justify job creation” at the risk of long-term damage to the environment.
Despite those concerns, the apparel industry is still taking some strides to address the world’s water crisis, even as production continues to grow along with the population, Rissanen says.
“There’s a lot of work that has happened in cotton farming to try and reduce water use,” he observes. Advances in irrigation technologies and improved irrigation practices have led to greater water-use efficiency. Rissanen adds that a new waterless-dyeing technology has also been developed and adopted by apparel makers, which not only conserves water but reduces water pollution as well.
VandenBout touts two brands featured on her website that are particularly stylish and water-conscious: It is well L.A., which gives portions of its proceeds to causes that provide greater access to fresh water to communities in need, and Alabama Chanin, which uses some repurposed and reclaimed materials in their items.
“This stuff is gorgeous and it’s made so well with such quality,” VandenBout adds. “It’s going to last, it’s made out of thoughtful materials, it’s sourced responsibly.”
Joon + Co. ultimately provides its users a framework in which they can buy fewer items, ease the apparel industry’s environmental impact — including its contribution to the water crisis — and feel good about whatever it is they do purchase.
“The point is to be mindful of what you have, to love everything you have, not own anything that you don’t love, that you don’t get joy from,” VandenBout says.
Rissanen feels companies like Joon + Co. illustrate the potential for clothing companies to help address problems like overproduction and extreme water consumption, which they have long contributed to.
“It’s a model of clothing retail that I didn’t see five years ago,” he says. “It’s not a singular solution to anything, but certainly I think it points the way forward. We’re all going to continue wearing clothes, and these are the kinds of examples of things we need more of.”
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