World Water Day, celebrated every year on 22 March, values water and raises awareness of the global water crisis we are facing today. A core focus is the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 6: water and sanitation for all by 2030. With less than a decade to reach this goal and billions of people globally still lacking water and sanitation services, it’s more important than ever to acknowledge the water footprint of the textile and fashion industry.
At The Slow Label, we minimize our impact by choosing water-saving and non-toxic materials and dying techniques. But in 2021, we want to go even further, so we are partnering with Drip by Drip, an NGO that tackles water issues in the textile and fashion industry, and aim to donate €1500 to finance a water filter that will provide 90 Bangladeshi families with clean drinking water for 10 years.
In celebration of World Water Day 2021, we have interviewed Drip by Drip Board Member Aurélie Rossini, and asked her a few questions about the water-related issues in the fashion industry, what brands and consumers can do, and how the water filter will impact Bangladeshi communities.
Aurélie, can you tell us a little bit about Drip by Drip, the organization’s mission and vision, and when and why you joined the team?
Founded in 2017, Drip by Drip is the world’s first NGO to tackle water issues in the textile industry. We are working to find, develop and spread solutions for the overconsumption and the pollution of water by the textile industry. We engage with consumers, industry leaders, water resource management experts and other organizations to spark change and reach a positive water footprint for fashion. I joined the team two years ago, as a Board Member and a Project Manager to help shape the future of the NGO and spread awareness on water issues.
The fashion and textile industry has been recognised as one of the most polluting industries in the world. What are some of the water-related issues?
Indeed, the fashion, apparel and textile industry is having a significant impact on our planetary systems, especially our water resources.
Firstly, by overconsuming water: the sector is responsible for the consumption of about 79 billion cubic meters of water each year, enough to fill 32 million Olympic Swimming pools.
Secondly, by polluting water, with 80% of wastewater being released without treatment worldwide. The very real impacts include declining groundwater levels and deteriorating river water quality.
It is estimated that the global demand for clothing will increase by 81% by 2030*. So if the industry does not consider a paradigm shift now, it will impose increasing stresses on the environment.
With the fashion industry rapidly growing, the estimated water demand will increase by 250% by 2030. What can fashion companies do in order to use water in a more responsible way?
There are many solutions available for each actor of the industry, and that is what we are sharing during our events such as the annual Fashion For Water and the University Workshops. Some of them include choosing water-friendly alternatives, closed-loop production, transparency in the supply chain, water-management best practices, improvement in wastewater treatment facilities, to name a few.
Within the Blue Lab, we are developing water-saving fabrics to provide brands with alternatives for their collections. So far, we have commercialized 10 Blue Lab fabrics, and further developments are to come!
And is there anything we as fashion consumers can do to help too?
Of course! We strongly believe that everyone has a role to play. On our social accounts (Instagram and Facebook), we are regularly sharing information about the industry, as well as tips to consider (and eventually reduce) water in our consumption habits. The first advice we can provide is to opt for higher quality, as durability is the key to sustainability, including water sustainability. Choosing the fabric wisely involves some prior research on quality and environmental impact, which may vary depending on many components such as the raw materials or the country of origins and production - but be reassured, we want to help you get a better understanding.
In June 2020, Drip by Drip started ’Year of Giving Water’, a campaign to support those at the bottom of the clothing production pyramid. Can you tell us a little bit more about this campaign?
Last year, Corona turned our world upside down, however, we quickly realised that we were unequally equipped to face the pandemic crisis. Among others, Bangladesh, which had decided to shut down its activities and borders on March 25th, was economically and socially more vulnerable. With its huge amount of textile workers and its strong dependence on the international fashion industry, Bangladesh experienced another catastrophe. The global lockdown stopped sources of income of all daily wage earners as well as monthly salaried workers in many sectors. With meagre income, they didn’t have savings, so most garment workers and their families were affected by poverty and hunger.
To add to that, the vast majority of Bangladeshis do not have access to clean water - one of the direct consequences of the textile industry there. To acknowledge the impact of the global fashion industry and to take responsibility not only for our direct neighbors but also for those who are at the bottom of the production pyramid of our clothes, we launched the #yearofgivingwater campaign to work together with brands in raising fundings for our water projects in Bangladesh.
We have already implemented 3 bio-sand filters throughout the campaign, one installation will start soon and we are still collecting funds for the campaign which will end in June 2021.
This year, The Slow Label aims to donate €1500 to finance a water filter, which will provide 90 families in Bangladesh with access to clean drinking water for 10+ years. We often take clean drinking water for granted and can’t imagine our lives without it. What impact will access to clean drinking water have on those Bangladeshi families and their everyday lives?
It is important to note that more than 700 rivers flow through Bangladesh, and more than 1000 billion cubic meters of water drains out flowing over Bangladesh to the Bay of Bengal. Although it may seem that Bangladesh is a country of abundance in water, the unregulated groundwater extraction and deterioration of water quality - mainly caused by the RMG sector - have led the country to suffer from water scarcity. The rivers are heavily polluted by toxic from garments and textile mills. Dumping of industrial waste has gradually turned the rivers into a source of severe issues for the communities who can’t use the water for irrigation as it damages the crops, endure the stench emitted by the filthy water and live in constant fear of developing water-related diseases. Even though most households have shallow tube wells to get drinkable water (more affordable) the shallow aquifer is heavily contaminated with industrial toxics so when they pump water, it smells. They know that this water is not good for their health, but they don't have access to other options.
The bio-sand filter cleans all microbes, hazardous substances and foul smell from the water thanks to the activated charcoal. Implementing the bio-sand filters at the banks of the Dhaleshwari and Bangshi rivers has also brought a closer source of drinking water for communities that used to walk long distances to fetch water.
As an advocate for environmental protection, I’m sure you know how disheartening and hopeless it can feel sometimes when you think about the negative impact of the fashion industry. What inspires and motivates you to keep fighting for what you believe in; what gives you hope?
I believe that it depends on your philosophy of life: It is a case of the glass being half-full or half-empty! There are the facts, for many years we have produced and consumed fashion in a non-sustainable way. And there are the actions that arise from these observations, the initiatives for better water management, more sustainable production and more conscious consumption. We need to acknowledge our responsibility and set an example for others to follow, that’s what inspires me. And working with creative minds and industry leaders who aren’t afraid of questioning the way we do things motivates me to always do better.
The bottom line
The fashion and textile industry has been recognized as one of the most polluting industries in the world, contributing to our global water crisis through water overconsumption and pollution. This doesn’t only negatively impact our planet, but also communities in countries such as Bangladesh. Together with Drip by Drip, we want to finance a water filter that will provide 90 Bangladeshi families with clean water for 10 years.
Here’s what you can do:
- Invest in high-quality fashion and take good care of your clothes
- Choose clothes made from water-saving fabrics
- Support transparent brands that focus on closed-loop production and good water management practices
- Spread the word and inspire others to become more conscious consumers
- Follow Drip by Drip (@dripbydripngo) on Instagram and Facebook to learn more about water and the fashion industry