The fashion industry’s impact on the Earth is widespread and overwhelming: the water it requires; the chemicals and their discharge into the natural environment; the mining of metals for zippers and embellishments; the mass amount of waste; the degrading effect of industrial agriculture on soil and biodiversity. And yet, the devastating impact of fashion on forests is kept comparatively quiet. Research shows that 48 percent of tree-based fashion fabrics are potentially linked with deforestation, at the expense of soil health, endangered animals, native plants, and indigenous communities.
More than 200 million trees are logged each year to be transformed into cellulosic fabrics like viscose, rayon, lyocell, modal, cupro, and Tencel. Many of these are from old-growth forests, of which less than 20 percent remain in a capacity large enough to maintain native plants and animals. Furthermore, according to a report from the non-profit organization Canopy, the chemically intensive process through which the material for rayon and viscose is created wastes as much as two thirds of a tree. Unsustainable cattle ranching, a good deal of which is used to produce leather, is responsible for 80 percent of destruction in the Amazon rainforest, which is home to over 3 million animals and over 2,500 tree species. Over one-half of Earth’s tropical forests have already disappeared, and the entirety of these forests may be degraded or destroyed within the next 100 years if nothing is done.
It’s clear that we need real action and fast. It is time for the fashion industry to look internally at our supply chains, and ask ourselves: What environmental toll is happening at the expense of profit? What can we do to reverse this?
Some fashion brands, who ultimately benefit from ending deforestation—Nike, ASOS, Swiss Textiles, Varner, New Look, H&M, Primark, Marks & Spencer, and Adidas, to name a few—have called for increased regulation. Adidas, for example, joined 26 other companies in 2020 in a joint statement calling for EU-wide, cross-sectoral mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence legislation.
While brands need to act internally, the industry also has a powerful, global voice that it can use for good. Model Activist, a community of over 200 fashion insiders, created the #supplychange campaign to collectively demand fashion brands end contracts with leather suppliers responsible for deforestation and publicly support legislation to strengthen supply chain transparency. Personally, it feels amazing to watch my friends, Cameron Russell and Áine Campbell, who founded and run Model Activist, push for change. I urge anyone and everyone to join this space. It is deeply rewarding to see one’s actions have an effect.