SINGAPORE - The global fashion industry is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and a report, the first of its kind in Singapore, found that the sector's highest emissions occur during the production processes behind the creation of new fashion products bought in the Republic.
The Towards Zero Fashion Waste Market Study was commissioned by Textile and Fashion Federation Singapore (TaFF) with the support of Enterprise Singapore, which champions enterprise development locally, and conducted by PwC Singapore, a professional services firm.
The findings were shared during the Be the Change fashion sustainability summit launched by TaFF on July 6.
TaFF launched its fashion sustainability programme in November last year and commissioned the study then.
The study also gathered global assessments from past studies, beyond its focus on the local fashion sector.
It found that the fashion and textile sector has an outsized environmental impact, with Global Apparel & Footwear (GHG) emissions totalling about 3.7 billion tonnes, or about seven per cent of total global emissions.
This is larger than the combined emissions of Japan, Germany, Britain and France.
A total of 1.5 trillion litres of water are used by the fashion industry annually, says the report, while 23kg of greenhouse gases are generated for each kilogram of fabric.
For fashion products bought in Singapore, 39 per cent of lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions occurs during yarn spinning, fabrics production and products assembly, says the report.
This shows the benefit of buying second-hand clothing or donating used items to cut fashion-related emissions.
The findings come as growing demands for the earth's resources, carbon emissions and pollution take a growing toll on the planet.
July 28 this year marked Earth Overshoot Day, the date when humanity used up what Earth can possibly regenerate in that year. The underlying message of the day is the urgent need to review consumer lifestyles, including fashion.
"We wanted to understand actionable gaps in circularity in fashion today in the Singapore context, especially when fashion is generally known to be a pollutive industry," said Ms Carolyn Poon, director of sustainability at TaFF.
The gaps addressed in the study outline the positive contributions that the local fashion scene can make to ensure a greener Singapore.
The study also highlighted a lack of textile recycling options as one of the key challenges faced by the local fashion industry on the road to incorporating sustainable practices.
Ms Poon suggested that a citizen-level sorting "system" be put in place.
"While there is a growing community of citizenry efforts on fashion sustainability, more needs to be done. We need collection bins dedicated for textiles, something like what we have for glass, plastics and e-waste today," said Ms Poon.
The findings of the study do not come as a surprise to local fashion players.
"As retailers, we are often not privy to the actual environmental impact in upstream activities," said Ms Germaine Lye of Our Barehands.
The 32-year-old co-founder of the local fashion and lifestyle brand that champions sustainability said that retailers are prone to possible misinformation from fabric manufacturers, or simply lack the ability to trace the activities of fabric manufacturers.
"Our Made-To-Order (MTO) approach, where our apparel is produced only after an order is placed and dispatched after a waiting period of around three to five weeks, is one of the most unconventional moves we've made as a fashion and lifestyle business," said Ms Lye.
She also said that even though some customers thought the waiting period was excessive, they were soon convinced otherwise after the business explained to them how a little wait can make a difference for the environment.
At the end of August, Our Barehands will be launching its first MTO retail outlet at i12 Katong Shopping Mall, where customers can try on their designs, get their measurements, and place an MTO order on the spot.
This matches one of the report's findings that a shift to slow fashion, efficient management of inventory through advanced forecasting tools, and custom production can cut emissions.
And so can using green energy during fabric production.
Other local fashion players such as Raye Padit, founder of clothing swop platform and boutique TFP, have also seen an increase in interest in the local sustainable fashion scene.
From just 30 attendees in its first pop-up swapping event back in 2015, TFP has grown to 3,000 members in its swopping community today.
"But that's not enough. We need official platforms to voice our business concerns, so that we can extend our reach as sustainable fashion start-ups," said Mr Padit, who finds it challenging to maintain business operations with sustainability in mind.
Individuals are also doing their part to contribute to the sustainable fashion scene in Singapore.
Ms Charlotte Mei, 29, shared that most of the time, the onus is placed on consumers to recycle or reuse their old clothing, even though most emissions were found to occur upstream.
"My main principle is to take care of what I already own. It could be a fast fashion item, or from a luxury brand, or a hand me down - I try my best to care for my things so they last me as long as possible," said Ms Mei, a nutritionist and environment advocate.
She also swops her clothes at TFP to let her pre-loved pieces find new homes.
Ms Iris Zulfa, 21, a fashion design and textiles undergraduate at Lasalle College of the Arts, said she likes how swopping and thrifting allows her to try out different trends without breaking the bank or killing the planet.
"Keeping up with the trends doesn't mean purchasing new items. Over the years, I've understood my style better just by exploring alternative ways of shopping," said Ms Zulfa, who has been an upcycling designer with the TFP since 2018.