LINKAGE Q2 (2023) - CATAPULT
May, I had the honour to be part of a panel at the American Chamber of Commerce
of Trinidad and Tobago’s “ESG in the Creative Sector”
organised an outstanding lineup of speakers and topics in the Environmental,
Social, and Governance (ESG) space, especially as it relates to the country’s
Environmental, Social, and Governance as a topic and
a goal have finally captured overdue attention across many industries, including
the festival space. Opportunities abound to reduce negative environmental
impact, help ensure a positive social impact, and to accomplish it, with the
help of good governance. Festival areas touched by ESG include the costumes,
floats, party attire, travel, food, beverages, and trash. As a textile engineer
and a university professor of textiles, fashion supply chain management, and
global professional practices, I’ll focus my comments on the impact and
opportunities of festival attire. Specifically, I will address the raw
materials, production, purchase, and discarding of costumes and party clothes
through the lens of ESG.
. I wish I could say it’s easy to choose more
ESG-responsible festival costumes and party clothes, but it’s not. Consumers,
designers, and event managers make a variety of ESG choices throughout the
journey from concept to consumer,
whether they realise it or not
These choices impact what, who, how, and how much we make, transport, use, and
discard in the quest for creative, colourful costumes and comfortable,
attractive party clothes. In the coming paragraphs, I’ll unpack many of the ESG
choices we collectively or individually face. If we want to make a positive ESG
difference, a multitude of decisions need to be made differently by the event organisers,
costume designers, party planners, sourcing personnel, government officials,
and the partygoers or consumers, alike.
No one is exempt
Better ESG decisions begin at the concept stage by redefining what’s important.
If spectacle reigns, it’s hard to avoid use of forever fibres, harsh dyes and
processing chemicals, metallic finishes, sequins, and feathers. Opting instead
for all-ivory costuming and attire could create an amazing, dramatic look, but
admittedly, it is a seismic departure from the cacophony of colour we expect
today with Carnival.
Some environmentalists suggest using natural fibers are best for costumes and
party wear. I say,
not so fast
. Each fibre has its unique environmental
and/or social cost. On the environmental and social fronts, water and land
required to farm natural fibres and food are increasingly scarce. This is
particularly critical in the major cotton-producing countries of India, Egypt,
and China, with their growing populations and increasing need for drinking
water and food. Heavy chemicals are often still used to farm natural fibres to
increase yields. Sustainably farmed cotton such as Better Cotton Initiative
fibre and regenerative cotton are far better choices, but farming cotton still
diverts land and water from producing food.
On the social
conflict cotton from Syria has funded violent, armed conflict and
terrorism. Cotton from Turkmenistan is still alleged to be harvested by forced labour
and child labour. Cotton from the Xinjiang region of northwestern
China carries serious allegations of abuse of the region’s Uighur Moslem
minority population. Cotton from Syria, Turkmenistan, and the Xinjiang region
of China has been banned in the US, EU, UK, and
Canada; its use anywhere calls into question the social dimension
in ESG. If you select cotton, know where it comes from, how it is farmed, how
and by whom it is picked.
. Easy care, inexpensive, synthetic nylon and
polyester made from non-renewable fossil fuel allow us to create the vibrant
festival colours rarely achievable with natural fibres. These materials do not
break down easily, nor quickly; if discarded today, they will sit in landfills
for many generations to come. Their production, use, and disposal contribute
directly to energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and solid waste.
Polyester and Nylon
. Increasingly popular among consumers and brands,
recycled polyester or nylon might seem like good options in the quest to reduce
environmental harm. Converting used plastic into recycled fibre requires
significant quantities of energy, and with some methods, chemicals as well. Raw
materials for recycled nylon are in global short supply. Recycled polyester
sheds polluting microfibres more readily than its virgin counterpart. The demand
for recycled polyester fibre has climbed so high in recent years that at least
one manufacturer recycled
PET bottles to meet its recycled fibre
demand – an egregious environmental practice.
Fibres Allow Body-Hugging Stretch
. Who doesn’t love the stretch
and recovery that defines modern swimwear and form-fitting party clothes? They
depend upon elastomeric LYCRA®, spandex, or elastane – petroleum-based fibre
that does not biodegrade. Stretch fabrics using these fibres are difficult to
recycle. The low melting temperature of elastomeric fibres also make them very
difficult shred for secondary use, except with the latest technology that very
few recyclers globally have. Environmentally, they are a very poor choice.
ESG Fibre Choice
. An environmentally friendly, plant-based,
biodegradable alternative to other fibres is manufactured lyocell. TENCEL™,
Lenzing’s certified-sustainable lyocell, is made in an environmentally friendly
way, from the pulp of sustainably farmed trees. TENCEL™ is perhaps the most
environmentally friendly textile fibre available at scale today. It lacks the
high lustre of nylon and polyester but offers a wonderfully soft feel and
biodegrades easily at end-of-life. It’s a great fibre with a dramatically
reduced environmental footprint. When it comes to body-hugging fabrics, a more
environmentally friendly alternative is the light, breezy, sheer textiles that
lend themselves to pretty party wear. They lack the stretch and recovery
necessary for those very tight fits but offer a wonderful, comfortable, special
occasion option with a much lower environmental cost.
. Another critical touchpoint in textile’s
environmental impact is the use of colourants and processing chemicals. There
is no skipping the bleaches, dyes, and processing chemicals necessary to
achieve bright colours, or evenly toned natural fibres. Even natural dyes can
be problematic, due to the chemical agents required to complete the dyeing
operation. Manufactured fibres, both synthetic and plant-based, skip the need
for bleach, but colours still come at an environmental price, with some dyes
banned in the US, Canada, EU, and elsewhere due to their toxicity for workers
and the environment. OEKO-TEX® certification allows confidence that fabrics
meet stringent environmental standards to reduce overall environmental impact.
When possible, choose fabrics that have been OEKO-TEX®- certified.
. Feathers and shiny sequins contribute greatly to the
grand spectacle and allure of festival costumes and party wear. However, they’re
not so attractive when it comes to ESG. Animal rights activists rightly point
out the trauma birds experience when feathers are plucked; doing so for
festival adornment raises ethical questions. Domestic and wild birds both carry
illnesses easily transmissible to humans – including their handlers, factory
workers, and consumers as well. Using feathers traumatises the birds and puts
workers and consumers at risk.
sparkle that we all love in festival attire, but they too come at an
environmental cost. As tiny bits of plastic, they don’t biodegrade. While
Stella McCartney and others are backing efforts to create biodegradable
sequins, none are yet at commercial scale.
. How, where, and by whom the costumes and party
clothes are made touches all three aspects of ESG. What waste is generated when
the garments are cut, and where does that waste go? Creating waste with
sustainable inputs is still unsustainable. Are underage workers sewing the
clothes? Are they appropriately paid? Under what conditions do they work?
Unless you travel regularly to the factories you use, it is difficult to
ascertain the working conditions under which your clothing is being made.
Oversight visits are much more feasible and affordable when you produce close
to home. Selecting domestic factories promotes local employment; it allows
visibility on the product and the production. Regardless of where in the world
you choose to produce or source your festival costumes and party clothes,
choosing a WRAP-certified factory is a great step to meeting good ESG social norms.
Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production certifies sewing factories around
the globe according to twelve generally accepted international workplace
The G in ESG
. Governance relates to the leadership and behaviour
of an individual firm; it also refers to the leadership and decisions of a
country. In an ideal world, those making decisions about festival costumes and
party clothes would have the information, motivation, and ability to choose
those options that produce the least negative environmental and social impacts.
The sad truth is that even the most highly motivated face one impediment after
another in their quest to reduce the fallout from festival costumes and party
governance encourages and aids efforts of individual designers, factories, and
firms to improve their environmental and social practices. Governments have the
ability to strongly influence where, how, and by whom products imported into
their country are made. Setting high import tariffs favours domestic
production. Import tariffs that favour products made from more sustainable fibres
incentivise importers to choose environmentally friendlier options. Import
regulations that ban goods which are dyed or processed with the most toxic
chemicals, reduce social and environmental harm they would otherwise cause.
Regulations banning fibre farmed, harvested, and/or sold using forced labour,
child labour, or funding violence and terror significantly reduce social
festival producers to rethink the basic concept of festivals and party clothes
could lead to creative ways to reduce the use of forever fibres, harsh dyes, chemicals
for brightly coloured clothes and feathers. Offering prizes for the costumes
and party clothes that have the smallest ESG footprint encourages everyone to
get involved. The government has a great opportunity to lead the way to a
reimagined, environmentally friendlier festival space.
Role. There is no easy answer to reducing the environmental
impact of the materials used for festival costumes and party clothes. Every
fabric, dye, processing chemical, feather, leather, and sequin has an
environmental and/or social cost. But perhaps the easiest, most affordable way to
make an immediate positive ESG impact, is for every consumer to reduce
the number of new party clothes they purchase, reuse the clothing and
accessories and costumes they already have, to trade with their family and
friends when they want a new look, and to recycle their clothing, when
possible, when it has finally lived its best and fullest and longest possible
life. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Margaret Bishop is a global consultant to the textile and apparel industry worldwide, and an adjunct professor at New York City’s leading fashion universities: Fashion Institute of Technology, Parsons New School for Design, and LIM College. She is a member of the Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP)’s International Working Group. She receives no compensation from any of the companies or organisations she has recommended in this article.