BEIRUT: The price tag isn’t the only sticker shock that Beirut’s fashionistas should consider when browsing the racks: Activists urge consumers to consider the environmental toll of their wardrobes.
The cotton to produce a single T-shirt requires more than 250 gallons of water to grow, MTV host and producer Al Thoumy said, while a full 25 percent of the world’s insecticides are used on nonorganic cotton crops.
The environmental impact of the apparel industry was the topic of discussion Tuesday at a debate hosted by American University of Beirut’s Nature Conservancy Center.
The panelists – including a professional athlete, a clutch of environmentally minded aesthetes and a clinician – touched on a wide range of topics related to eco-fashion, from the chemicals used to create synthetic fabrics to the emerging second-hand clothing trade in Lebanon. Panelists admitted the field of environmental fashion was vast and often ill defined.
The idea of “green fashion,” they said, encompasses more than just ecological considerations. It includes concerns for “the environment, the health of consumers and the working conditions of people in the fashion industry,” Dr. Nisrine Makarem explained.
Scientists and doctors such as Makarem have begun to take the idea of green fashion seriously, in part because of increasing worry over the harsh and potentially harmful chemicals used by garment manufacturers.
“There is a growing body of evidence that traces of chemicals used in growing cotton, like pesticides and herbicides, remain in the fiber throughout its life. These traces could be absorbed through the skin of the wearer,” she warned.
Thoumy extolled the virtues of noncotton textiles. Wearable fabric can be made from a wide array of alternative organic products, he said, highlighting hemp in particular.
Using alternative materials comes at a price, however, as designer Maher Bsaibes pointed out. Using specially sourced materials and green production methods almost inevitably slows down the manufacturing process.
“When you spend more time, you spend more money,” he said.
In the short term, there will be little economic incentive for designers to employ eco-friendly practices. Rather, they have to commit to green fashion for ideological reasons, he said:
“It’s about making choices. ... Do I want to care about the environment?”
Meanwhile, Shada Nasr, captain of the national women’s basketball team, spoke about eco-athletic wear, a little-discussed facet of the green garment industry. Even professional-grade sportswear can be produced with eco-friendly techniques.
Nike, she explained, has recently unveiled an innovative dyeing process that employs carbon dioxide in place of water. The new technology will conserve substantial quantities of water.
Romy Zalloum, co-founder of the site Fashion Encore, which sells second-hand clothing, argued that buying vintage clothing is a form of environmentalism. Recycling clothes, she said, would eventually encourage fast-fashion manufacturers to slow their pace of production and create higher-quality products using skilled labor.
While some audience members were receptive to the idea, others said they would not buy vintage clothing. “I don’t think I’d like wearing a stranger’s clothes,” one young audience member said.
Another audience member said Lebanese culture was focused around aesthetics rather than any higher convictions. “The look is much more important than whether you’re aware of the environment. ... Unless you work on the mentality things don’t change,” she said.
Couturiere Sanaa’ Ayoub said that the only way activists could change this mentality was to convince the Lebanese population that green fashion is in vogue.
“You make them care when you tell them this is the latest hit,” she said. “It’s still a niche market.”