Interviewer: Ever heard of sustainable fashion?
Interviewee: Not really.
Interviewer: Do you think of how your fabric is made, what components go into putting that piece of material together when shopping for the right textile to work with?
Interviewee: To be sincere, not really. I’m more into the quality of the fabric.
The above interview by SaharaReporters was with Ibrahim Quadri, Creative Director of Hym Signage, a fashion brand that caters to men's outfits. At last year’s Fashion Student Designers week, he bagged a juicy set of deals as his prize for winning the ‘Men’s Wear’ category. The contracts included training with a top designer.
Quadri could probably not conceive of the fact that his career calling was impacting certain lives inimically. Just when exactly did making lovely dresses cause rivers to overflow? Well, numbers are usually nice places to find answers.
According to a research by MarketLine in 2015, the textile industry, made up of 83.3 per cent fabric and 16.7 per cent yarn that year, was worth $667.5 billion. Move to the next component of the chain — the clothing itself and the value jumps to $842.7 billion; that was the figure put out for 2016. The total worth of sold apparel based on retail selling price of manufactured clothing in 2015 was $1.25 trillion.
In November 2017, the Ellen McArthur Foundation co-published a research that revealed a staggering rate of wastage in the fashion industry. According to the publication, one garbage or PSP truck of barely worn clothing is thrown away every second. The report states that the value of the discarded clothing is worth $500 billion. That however, is just 2.5 per cent of MarketLine’s estimate for retailed apparel. The story does not end at the wastage. The glitz and glamour of wearing only what is trending leads to half a million tons of micro fiber getting dumped in the ocean. Experts say the mini plastics are difficult or near impossible to clean and they actually find their way into the food chain. But, that is only a tiny arc of the picture.
Interviewer: So, in your choice of materials, do you care or not how the material was made?
Interviewee: No. I only go to the market to pick nice fabrics for my designs.
Interviewer: What type of fabrics do you go for?
Interviewee: Ankara, Scuba, Crepe, Lace, Chiffon, Lycra. I work more with Ankara and Crepe.
Interviewer: If you heard that fashion had some link to flooding and other natural disasters, how would you react?
That question got no answer from Remilekun Benson of Remtrick Couture.
Like Hym Signage, sustainable fashion is not a concept she is familiar with.
The tale begins from the making of the fabric itself.
Every fabric used by Remtrick Couture, another fashion designer, to make dresses for women comes from a textile industry. All the fabrics that make up her canvas of splendid designs and patterns have a percentage of synthetic fiber, some bit of polyester, some touch of polyurethane and other plastics. All of these substances are formed from fossil fuel. This is not an attack on looking good; it’s about a consciousness among makers and wearers. From the people making the fabric, the designers, the persons sewing the garment, among others, the real story begins with the raw material. One stat says cotton makes up 55 per cent of all fabrics produced worldwide. The other percentage is shared by rayon and polyester. Linen, silk and wool also have some market share. These three sources of textile are quite expensive and not as cheap as the first three.
So what business of cotton is flooding?
Producing cotton is very intensive. Growing the plant conventionally relies heavily on the use of agro-chemicals. Nine to 11 per cent of the globe’s pesticides are spent to cultivate cotton. In order to control the impact of insects on the plant, 20 to 24 per cent of the world's insecticides are sprayed on the farmland. In the farming of the plant, an estimated eight per cent of the synthetic fertilizers produced globally is also engaged. All of these, just to farm 2.5 hectares of cotton. One more… It takes 20,000 litres of water to produce enough cotton for a t-shirt and a pair of your favourite jeans. That’s what a research by US fashion company Zady states. As such, farming cotton the conventional way is sometimes not beneficial for the farmers.
Switch over to rayon and here is what you will find.
This substance was developed as an alternative to unaffordable silk. At its early adoption stage, people referred to it as artificial silk before the name rayon was coined. The fabric is sourced from wood pulp and refined into three types of textile. Statistics estimate the amount of trees it takes to produce rayon (a fixture in lots of clothing) annually, at over 70 million. This, is the same litre of oil needed to produce polyester and other synthetic fiber every year.
The report of the impact the production and transformation of these materials into fabrics and into clothing are having on the eco system we depend on, has been making booming sounds in Nigeria. The estimated volume of carbon monoxide emitted by the textile industry is 1.2 billion tonnes every year. To understand it better, that is more fume than the maritime and aviation industries released into the atmosphere and hydrosphere. When these eco bodies are disturbed, the shrill of their anger brings disaster.
Every year, the flood town crier announces the mood of the water bodies surrounding the country. This year's warning came in May, with dire predictions.
The words that trailed the beating of the gong in 2018, read: “Out of the 35 states that will be affected, 380 Local Government Areas (LGAs) will be involved. The highly probable ones are 78 in number and they are spread all over the country”.
Inspired by a touch of care, the crier tones down his tamber: “But the severity of flooding in 2018 will not be as bad as what we had last year and, of course, it cannot be compared to what we had in 2012."
The message tapers off with a resonating warning: “However, it is important to let those in flood-prone areas know that the country will still experience flooding in 2018 and people in such locations should evacuate This is one of the reasons for the (Annual Flood Outlook) AFO and the warnings from our agency and, of course, the government.”
That parting shot sounded like: “Don't say the government did not warn you.”
That announcement probably sounded when many people were asleep or stuck in some money-making activity, because a report released by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) noted that 1.9 million persons have so far been affected by floods in 2018.
As at September 24, 2018, NEMA gave this statistical representation of flood victims in Nigeria: Anambra: (64,331), Benue (2,201), Delta (37,017), Edo (31,113), Kebbi (94,991), Kogi (118,199), Kwara (41,680), Niger (51,719). Casualties were also recorded in Kano, Bayelsa, Rivers, Plateau, Nasarawa and Jigawa states. All these data were recorded between August 25 and early October.
The NEMA report released on Monday, October 15, states that 561,442 persons have been internally displaced and 351,236 people are in urgent need. In Bayelsa State alone, 517,694 people have fallen victim to the flood.
Grim statistics like these, know no geographical boundaries. As far back as September 2017, some top fashion designers – Mara Hoffman, Maxine Bédet, and Vanessa Rothschild – got together under the banner of a climate week event hosted by EcoSessions, to discuss what impact fashion is having on the warming of the globe. At that gathering, they came to the resolve that sources of raw materials for making fabric was the chief pollutant in the cloth making industry. Huffman said her brand had begun to use recycled nylon for manufacturing swim wears since 2015. Rothschild, who is the Sustainable Business Controller of H&M, said her firm will begin using only recycled and sustainable materials by 2030.
The reduction in the use of synthetic fiber could create a structural demand fall in fossil fuel, which constitutes a major part of Nigeria’s economic mainstay. If the country does not depend less on these fossils soon, buyers of its Euro bonds, might just become the owners of the 923,000 square kilometer land.
Nigerian fashion designers can take a cue from their foreign counterparts and promote the use of more sustainable fabrics such as organic cotton and recycled fiber.