Panel at the WEAR Conference. A\J AlternativesJournal.ca. Photo: Tammy Thorne

Panel at the WEAR Conference. Photo: Tammy Thorne

THE FASHION INDUSTRY has a serious environmental footprint. Cotton, one of the most popular fabrics in the world, uses a significant amount of pesticides, while many textile preservatives and disposal methods cause pollution. Animals are exploited in order to help generate a profit, and many workers are placed in extremely harsh labour conditions.

It is essential that companies promote sustainability in order to ensure that modes of production and distribution are not negatively affecting the planet that we inhabit.

The annual World Ethical Apparel Roundtable conference advocates exactly this by supporting sustainable business practices and transparent supply chains.

The WEAR conference was organized by Fashion Takes Action, which is a non-profit organization that strives to promote environmental sustainability within the fashion industry.

“It is really important for everyone in the Canadian fashion industry… to be aware of how our work affects the planet,” said Kelly Drennan, producer of the WEAR conference. “I feel that the World Ethical Apparel Roundtable did a great job of bringing all of these stakeholders together and kicking off an important discussion about being leaders in making positive change.”

Speakers that appeared at the two-day conference represented key players in the fashion industry, some including Gildan Activewear, Eileen Fisher, Mountain Equipment Co-op and H&M Canada.

H&M is the world’s second-largest fast fashion retailer, and currently operates in 54 countries. H&M’s initiatives promote sustainability and transparency within the fashion industry through a variety of initiatives, including supporting fair working conditions and a living wage for textile workers, animal welfare, water conservation, utilizing more sustainable materials, and garment collecting and recycling, which helps to reduce the waste of old products.

Emily Scarlett, H&M Canada spokesperson said:

“H&M wants consumers to take care of their clothes so they last longer and so we’re promoting our new clever care labels that teach the customer about more sustainable washing practices, but probably our biggest achievement so far in sustainability is around our clothing recycling program.”

The program has already collected just over 4,000 tonnes of clothing, which is essentially enough to produce 25 million t-shirts.

At the WEAR conference, H&M Canada spoke about their new and innovative initiatives, hoping to influence other stakeholders within the fashion industry.

Hydrated World, a recently established company out of Kitchener-Waterloo, attended the WEAR conference hoping to learn more about the fashion industry, make connections and understand how to sustainably contribute to the industry.

Hydrated World was established by Aleks Poldma and Spencer Kelley in late 2013. Their goal is to help to eliminate the global water crisis.

Hydrated World has partnered with the Safe Water Project, an initiative supported by Enviro-Stewards Inc. to help combat the global water crisis. In the world today, over one billion people currently live without clean drinking water, and 2.6 billion people lack adequate sanitation.

Hydrated World sells t-shirts, crewneck sweaters, hoodies, hats and baseball shirts, with $3.00 per item being allocated to the Safe Water Project.

The Safe Water Project is based in South Sudan, and focuses on development as opposed to relief.

“The Safe Water Project teaches people – locals – to build biofilters, which are actually very low-tech, out of native materials,” explained Poldma.

The biofilters are created out of gravel, sand and cement. Initially, individuals from the Safe Water Project traveled to South Sudan in order to teach locals how to build the biofilters. This still occurs periodically, but locals have been taught to run the project and provide each other with the required training. The locals are able to create businesses selling these biofilters to the community.

Sometimes the Safe Water Project will pay for a filter if locals cannot afford it, but oftentimes the business owners are paid commission if they are producing sales on the biofilters.

Hydrated World’s garments are manufactured from cotton, cotton-polyester blends and bamboo. The company is aiming toward more organic fabric, as well as an expansion in product quality.

Hydrated World has sold about $30,000 worth of merchandise so far.

“I think it is important for businesses to take leadership and show others – show consumers, show other businesses – that doing good for the world is necessary to actually do well in business,” finished Poldma. 

Daina is A\J's LSPIRG Editorial Intern, a Communication Studies student at Laurier, and a reporter for The Cord.

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