With world leaders meeting for the COP26 summit, everyone is talking about climate change. That includes the fashion industry, which accounts for more carbon dioxide emissions per minute than aviation and shipping combined, and pumps out over two billion tonnes of CO2 every year.
Global warming is an issue it’s now impossible to ignore within the fashion industry. So, where does the problem come from, and what are ethical fashion houses doing about it?
For a number of years, people in developed countries became obsessed with so-called ‘fast fashion’. This saw many companies piling it high and selling it cheap when it came to clothing and footwear, selling bargain-priced garments that had often been made through the exploitation of people living in the worst conditions.
People were lured into buying an item of clothing, wearing it once and then disposing of it, creating a throwaway culture that didn’t see the value in the clothes we wear or the energy which went into making them. As well as the human cost of fast fashion, terrible enough as that is, there was also the burning of fossil fuel to keep the factories running.
The fashion world has contributed enormously to soaring rates of greenhouse gas emissions, and the time has come to put that right. A COP26 fashion show has concentrated minds on how fashion houses can work to reduce their own carbon footprint and manufacture more sustainable products.
Speaking at the incredible event, organiser Amy Powey said: “Now more than ever, faster and bolder action is needed to create a resilient, zero-carbon future. It is essential for the fashion industry to use its influence by investing in more sustainable solutions. We need to get back to valuing clothes as beautifully crafted pieces, not throwaway objects.”
This is something Sika’a has done from day one. The company was founded on the principle that clothes hold value and that ethical fashion can do good for both people and the planet. The African fashion industry has always worked on a far more sustainable model, with African designers making the most of the materials available to them.
African fashion incorporates a lot of upcycling, taking any offcuts and spare fabric to create new pieces, ensuring nothing goes to landfill. The African textile industry works on a policy of low or no waste, and it’s a policy that Sika’a has fully embraced.
While many fashion houses rely on greenwashing to attract ethically-minded customers, Sika’a has genuinely been engaging in green issues since its inception. We have always kept our supply chains small, working closely with carefully chosen print designers based in the UK, EU and Africa, as well as purchasing traditional materials such as African wax fabrics, kente and sustainably sourced silk.
Post-COP26, ethical fashion can no longer be ignored or classed as a flash-in-the-pan trend. The conference has been seen as a last chance to reduce the speed of global warming and save an endangered planet, and fashion has an enormous role to play in that future. Sika’a has a long-held climate ambition to bring sustainable African fashion to a wider audience, putting African fabric at the heart of our sustainability goals.
One example of how we’re doing this is through careful assessment of what we believe is going to sell. We craft our clothing based on the popularity of a piece, making small batches of sustainably produced garments to ensure there is no overproduction and no material goes to waste. While other brands go in for mass production and cater for over-consumption, we believe smaller is better when it comes to batch production of garments.
Not only does this approach give us an insight into what our customers love, but it also helps us reduce our carbon footprint. For instance, we manufactured only a small number of the Vinyago dress, thinking its bold print would prevent it from being a bestseller. In fact, the Vinyago turned out to be the most popular dress of the season and we had to increase manufacturing to meet demand. That increase in manufacturing was only done when we realised it was necessary, avoiding the waste which would have gone into mass production.
Speaking about the Sika’a climate ambition, founder John Tchoudi says: “We are open about our manufacturing processes and our drive for ethical fashion. Customers have a right to know where their clothing comes from and how it is produced because so many more of us now care about green issues. We share this information with our customers because we want them to know they are investing in a brand with the right values.
“We have to move away from a culture which places so little value on the clothes we wear. At Sika’a, we focus on producing beautifully designed, beautifully made garments, valuing quality over quantity. No fashion label can afford to exploit the planet anymore. Sika’a never has because we saw from the start just how important sustainability is.”
The emphasis on quality over quantity has worked well for Sika’a, allowing us to focus on what our customers want from both their clothes and the brand they buy them from. With Sika’a, what you see is what you get. With no attempt at greenwashing, we produce ethically sourced African clothing which is both beautiful and designed to last a lifetime.
This means placing genuine value on the materials we use and the people who work in our supply chain. If COP26 does nothing else for the fashion industry, it must change the throwaway mindset which many in this sector have developed over the course of several years. The future of fashion must be more like the Sika’a business model – clothing that is ethical, sustainable and designed to be cherished.
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