Source: The Donkey Sanctuary accessed 27 May 2021 https://www.flickr.com/photos/thedonkeysanctuary/2988795145
Even though the African continent is not impacted by industrial manufacturing processes the way Asia is, it is affected by other stages of the fashion chain: raw material procurement and garment disposal.
Production of “vegan” fibres: viscose
Nowadays, there are different purchasing trends around the world. Therefore, more and more industries are transforming their processes and changing supplies and raw material., aiming to align themselves with “sustainable” and “handmade” trends. In the case of the fashion industry, the use of viscose in garments is being used to promote “vegan” garments.
Nevertheless, the procurement of this fire involves certain drawbacks that are detrimental to the local communities where it is produced. In this context, the African continent is affected by the fact of having significant producers of viscose. On one hand, according to the “Dirty Fashion” report, the process to obtain this fibre requires highly toxic chemicals that are harmful to human health. On the other hand, as viscose is obtained from trees, the impacts on biodiversity are the threat of deforestation, habitat destruction and species extinction.
Life after the garment’s first use
The increase in clothing production and the short lifetime of garments result in significant volumes of textile waste. Although recycling or donating has grown, the majority is disposed of in landfills or exported to third world countries.
For instance, Africa is the main destination for second-hand clothing and in countries such as Kenya, Uganda and Ghana one can find large local markets, selling Nike, Adidas and even Zara products. But hardly 30% of second-hand clothing can be reused, due to the loss of quality of the garments. The other 70% is recycled or incinerated, however, recycling is not easy because the process is more expensive and the incineration is environmentally damaging due to the toxins emitted.
So, what can be done?
Considering these factors, the solutions offered by different organisations such as Greenpeace or the Ellen Macarthur Foundation include all actors in the supply chain: consumers, products, suppliers and large companies. In the viscose case, it is not possible to demand that manufacturing be stopped, but it is possible to demand to the producers a change in the production chain. On the other hand, waste disposal is more connected to the consumer, as he/she decides the length of life given to garments.
Nevertheless, in both cases, it is worth underlining the fact that in both cases, companies have the most influence to make a change.
Carrasco, Alicia (2017) La viscosa ¿Una fibra sostenible? Fashion United https://fashionunited.es/noticias/moda/la-viscosa-una-fibra-sostenible/2017070724133
Joan Fuster (2019) El negocio de la ropa de segunda mano y su impacto en África UnitedExplanations https://www.unitedexplanations.org/2019/01/25/negocio-ropa-segunda-mano-impacto-africa/
Juan Pedro Chuet (2017) La industria textil no sabe qué hacer con la ropa usada Economía Digital https://www.economiadigital.es/tecnologia/ropa-usada-industria-textil-inditex_406842_102.html