-- 9 minutes read--
“Indonesia tanah air beta…” is the beginning of one of Indonesia’s oldest anthems. The phrase “tanah air,” which literally translates to “land water,” is used to describe the two main natural elements of the country. Consisting of more than 17,000 islands, the majority of Indonesia’s borders is lined by oceans and its land is cut through by rivers. Without doubt, water has a special place in Indonesian culture. But like its fellow developing Southeast Asian countries, Indonesia is facing the death of its waterways from pollution.
People from the river
Citarum is the longest river in Java that flows roughly 270 kilometres from the southern mountains to the Java Sea. It serves as a natural irrigation system for thousands of farms and provides drinking water for more than 25 million Indonesians. But currently, Citarum is reputed to be one of the world’s most polluted rivers. A combination of industrial waste—68% originating from the textile industry—and household trash have turned local fishermen into garbage collectors. No fish or animal can survive, and it has also become a public health problem with residents near the river contracting diseases, skin irritations and infections. An article by the Pulitizer Center says: “On days when the discard of dyes is heavy, water in the rice paddies turns black or navy blue."
Trash collector at the Citarum river - Photo by Larry C. Price Indonesia 2016
I have been wrestling with the issue of water pollution caused by the fashion industry since starting AYO. I witnessed the dark side of the industry while travelling through Java in the beginning of 2017. Batik workshops were treating public waterways like sewers and dumping toxic, unfiltered byproducts of synthetic dye into water streams, which flow into fields, rivers and ultimately, the ocean. The dumping of wastewater is still happening today! These workshops are not the only offenders; they are small in scale to the giant fashion industry, the main contributor to the death of rivers In Indonesia and Asia.
Fast fashion and its impact
The main sinner of water pollution in the Fashion Industry is the concept of ´fast fashion´ a sector that is growing ever since the late 1990´s. Fast fashion is defined as the expedited production of clothes in order to get new trends to the market as quickly and cheaply as possible, and it is the companies that profit from fast fashion that are the primary users of synthetic dyes.
These companies also take advantage of operating in low-wage labouring Southeast Asian countries, such as Indonesia, to keep production costs at a minimum. The environmental impact on these developing countries is more serious because of lax or insufficient government regulations that do not have the foresight to create proper wastewater treatment systems. As a result, wastewater in most Southeast Asian countries does not go through a filtration process to eliminate toxic elements before re-entering the main waterway and resulting in polluted waters.
River pollution, freshly synthetic dyed fabrics are washed in the river. Photo by: Jakarta Post
Unfortunately, fast fashion also encourages consumers to wear clothing half as long as they did ten years ago. These impulse-trend clothes routinely please consumers’ compulsive desires to wear the latest copy in designer fashion, which are simply cheaply-made low-quality garments at low prices.
But we are already seeing a change within the industry to address these problems—a slow fashion movement has emerged in recent years. Slow fashion, in contrast, promotes quality and longevity in the design, creation, and production of the clothes-making process.
While starting AYO, I found techniques to create fashion in a “slow way,” namely by using dyes derived from natural products. These dyes are extracted from leaves, bark and seeds, and cause little to no harm towards people and the environment. And because of the soft and warm hues that develop from the dyes, are, they remain fashionable all year round. At AYO, we don´t follow traditional “fashion seasons” to release new collections, because we believe our products can be worn during any season and stay ”in trend” for years.
Safe Oceans through fashion – You can help!
So what action can we take to minimize fast fashion and its impacts? It is all about educating ourselves in order to be able to make the right decisions and change habits. Just as in the food industry, the Conscious Food Movement started as a response to how eating habits affect our health—now is time for fashion. Here are a few steps you can take now:
- Educate yourself and your friends about how the fashion industry affects the environment. Watch documentaries such as “True Cost” and “River Blue”. Read books like “Slow Fashion Aesthetics Meets Ethics”, and “This is a Good Guide”. And of course, reading this blog!
- Buy LESS, Choose WISELY - Think twice before you buy something new. Do you REALLY need that purple glittery top for the festival? Cheap clothing often does not last for long. Look for quality, not quantity. It will also save you money in the long-run.
- Wear to last - Take care of the clothes you already own by carefully reading the washing instructions and air drying your clothes outside. It is more green and gentle for your garments!
Most importantly, simply ask yourself these three questions: (1) where do our clothes come from, (2) what materials are they made from and (3) will I still love this garment in a year? Just by pausing and consciously thinking about our clothes is the first step we can all take.
The truth about fashion is the new movement on the rise. AYO, Join us!