Toxic rivers, cancer-causing pollution levels and mass water shortages; the textile and clothing industries have a great deal to answer for in China. Thankfully environmental action is afoot and the Chinese as well as global fashion landscapes are transforming as a result. Not Just a Label examines why and what improvements are being made to the world’s largest garment manufacturing hub and meets the new designers redefining Made in China.
It may be a financial goliath but behind China’s global influence lays an ecological fragility perilous to progress. Having followed a largely pro-capitalist economic agenda based on industrialisation and radical expansion since the late seventies, China is now the world’s second largest economy and set to become the biggest by 2030. Yet 16 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are found in the country, 60% of groundwater is polluted and more than a quarter of its key rivers are unfit for human contact.
As the world’s leading exporter of textiles and apparel – goods that are incredibly water, chemical and energy intensive to produce – fashion’s key role in China’s environmental abuses is clear. According to Greenpeace East Asia, the country’s textile industry alone is responsible for 10% of its industrial wastewater emissions with 72 toxic chemicals in the water originating solely from textile dyeing. The local saying is that you can tell the colour in fashion next season by the colour of the rivers.