The only thing missing is the stench of acrid water curling your naked toes.
You’re wading through a river befouled by the chemical discharge of a nearby textile plant.
Soon, you enter a grungy sweat shop where even the walls seem to be perspiring.
You’ll join them before long.
A steady blast of heat hits your face as if you’re staring down the business end of a cannon-sized hair dryer.
Within seconds, the sweltry gust becomes irritating, uncomfortable: It’s hard to imagine being subjected to these conditions for hours on end, like the women working the sewing machines with countenances as steely as the machines they operate.
Thousands of miles separate the Las Vegas Convention Center’s South Hall from the Indian textile mills where plenty of the wares that fill MAGIC were produced, but for 15 minutes Wednesday, the distance was reduced by the X-Ray Fashion virtual reality installation.
The immersive documentary with heat and water elements examines the environmental fallout the fashion industry continues to generate. X-Ray Fashion transports shoes-and-socks-less viewers to various stops on the supply chain en route to producing the clothes in your closet.
‘Doing what’s right’
The images in the film are grim, the statistics it shares even more so: The fashion industry accounts for 10 percent of global carbon emissions, a larger amount than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. Twenty percent of global waste comes from the production of garments. Ten thousand liters of water are needed to produce a pair of jeans — the same amount a person drinks in a year.
Hence, one of the top trends at MAGIC this year is the push toward sustainable fashion and ways in which the industry can lessen its substantial environment footprint.
Throughout MAGIC’s convention halls, vendors demonstrated their commitment to the cause via products and technologies designed to enhance sustainability.
Right next to the X-Ray Fashion display, Josep Segura, as assistant manager for Spanish fashion company Tintes Egara, demonstrates the process of coloring a T-shirt with natural, chemical-free dyes in a large white bucket.
“Everybody is trying to find sustainability on these products,” he says. “We’re trying to get the clients to see that we’re doing what’s right for them.”
Combating ‘fast fashion’
The topic is a timely one, largely because of how quickly clothing trends come and go — right along with the clothes they produce.
“Consuming as many garments as we do normally every year is becoming an issue,” says Alex Penades, brand manager for Spanish sustainable finishing company Jeanologia.
Penades is alluding to “fast fashion,” cheap clothing mass-produced rapidly in response to the latest trends. The average consumer is purchasing 60 percent more clothing items than he or she did 20 years ago, while 85 percent of textiles are sent to landfills or incinerators — 60 percent within a year of being made.
“Fashion cannot be sustainably made fast,” says Christina Sewell, fashion campaign manager for PETA, during a panel discussion on the topic Tuesday. “It just cannot be what it has been the past couple of decades, because we won’t be able to sustain this production cycle of just wearing it for a season or two and then throwing it out.”
In addition to slowing the pace of wardrobe turnover, another emphasis in the sustainable fashion movement is reducing the amount of resources the industry uses.
Penades’ company, Jeanologia, employs laser, ozone and nano-particle technology to distress denim in place of water and chemicals.
“This is a garment that has been finished with just one glass of water,” Penades says proudly, holding up a pair of jeans from a rack in his booth.
Will sustainability sustain?
The catch: These methods are expensive.
“It’s a lot more money,” says Sidharth Sinha, CEO of Velocity Apparelz, which has factories in Egypt and Ethiopia that employ water-reducing technologies, “but I think it needs to be done. It’s conserving the planet. If somebody doesn’t start doing something, no matter the cost, it’s going to be a disaster.”
For Sinha, the key to generating more market share for sustainable fashion is simple: Build demand and the supply will come.
“If all the buyers are pushing toward sustainability because it’s a thing now, suppliers have to move in that direction,” he says. “That’s what we are hoping for.”
To this end, some in the industry are calling for more transparency among clothing manufacturers in terms of detailing how their products are made.
“I would say in a few short years, you’ll be an outlier if you’re a company that doesn’t give some sort of transparency on your supply chain, on your workers, on your materials,” says Molly Tuttle, founder of the lifestyle blog FashionVeggie, during Tuesday’s panel. “I think people are going to have to start disclosing or it’s not going to be cool to shop there.”
The thing with clothing fads, though, is that they’re here one day, gone the next.
For Penades, sustainable fashion is a trend that he hopes will eventually cease being a trend and just be.
“It’s true that it’s become kind of a fashion thing,” he acknowledges, “but I think it’s a fashion that has to stay. Sustainability is beautiful.”