How often have we bought a new item of clothing, without knowing where it comes from? 

Unfortunately, while almost 90 per cent of Australian consumers believe that ethical fashion is important and want to consume more ethically, more than half of us are failing to follow through on our own beliefs, according to the Australian Ethical Consumer Report 2021.

But it’s time to put our money where our mouths are. 

There’s a fashion revolution coming – and many of us now want to know that the brands we are throwing money at are not supporting issues like deforestation, slavery and pollution. 

That’s why people are talking about this new report from environmental research firm Stand.earth, which has compiled a list of exactly which major fashion industry brands are actively contributing to deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest. 

The new report, which was produced in partnership with Slow Factory, a nonprofit promoting environmental justice and human rights-centred design, has found that many top fashion brands are linked to significant deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest caused by Brazilian leather production.

Who are the culprits? 

The report analysed nearly 500,000 rows of customs data to discover which brands are linked to deforestation through their supply chain. 

The new report names and shames many top fashion brands, including Prada, Adidas, Giorgio Armani, H&M, The North Face, and Zara, among many others. 

Shockingly, the report found that nearly one third of all fashion companies potentially breach their own policies against sourcing leather from deforestation – while the other two-thirds have no such policies at all.

How exactly does fashion contribute to deforestation? 

To put it simply – in order to produce leather, you need cows. You also need soy to feed the cows. To produce more and more leather cows at affordable prices, producers are cutting down forests instead of investing in better methods of leather harvesting. 

Brazilian leather can be found in the supply chain of many brands across the globe, used by tanneries and manufacturers to produce high-end fashion products such as footwear, handbags and jackets. 

The cattle industry has been found to be the biggest driver of deforestation in tropical rainforests globally. Since 2013, deforestation rates in the Amazon have been on an upward trend. And a 2020 study found that the rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon that year was the greatest of the decade.

Céline Semaan Vernon of the Slow Factory Foundation

Céline Semaan Vernon, founder of the Slow Factory Foundation, emphasised the sheer amount of rainforest loss over the past few decades caused by leather production in an Instagram live event on Thursday with environmentalist and model Cameron Russell and Stand.earth and Sunrise Movement representatives. 

About a recent trip to Brazil, she said: “We drove for four or five hours through areas of deforestation in the Amazon that was in the 1980s all Amazon rainforest. On one side of the road we would see fields of cows, and on the other side fields and fields of soy growing to feed the cows,” Céline said in the Instagram live. 

Impacts of deforestation

Trees are often called the “lungs” of an ecosystem. This is because trees store carbon dioxide, which they “inhale” from the atmosphere. When trees are cleared or burnt, they release this stored carbon back into the atmosphere. It is for this reason that deforestation is a major contributor to human-induced climate change

Trees also reduce water pollution by intercepting precipitation and groundwater. They absorb water runoff through their roots and prevent polluted water from running into oceans and rivers. That reduction in flow also reduces flood risk, which protects homes and land nearby from flood damage.

Across the world, roughly 68,000 soccer fields of forest are lost every day – that’s 50 soccer fields per minute.

A UN report this year stated that supporting Indigenous peoples is vital to fighting the climate crisis and deforestation, as deforestation rates are up to 50 per cent lower in Indigenous territories than elsewhere. 

There are more than 200 Indigenous tribes in the Amazon. Unfortunately, land grabbing of Indigenous territory there is rampant thanks to the high demand for beef, soy, timber, minerals and oil. This causes displacement of Indigenous peoples off their land, and directly contributes to the increase of deforestation in the Amazon. 

“When we endanger Indigenous culture, we endanger our collective culture of how to live side by side with nature and be in reciprocity with nature. Yes, it’s an environmental issue but it’s a human rights issue first and foremost,” Céline of Slow Factory said.

In addition, poverty is one of the main drivers of deforestation because it represents a quick financial gain out of the desperation of vulnerable families. 

How can you help? 

With all the talk about the fashion revolution, simple and direct actions are sometimes the most effective. 

  1. Take charge of where your money goes

This will help ensure that these unethical companies face financial pressure to have a more ethical supply chain. 

  1. Avoid fast fashion 

Slow Factory says that one of the major contributors to the excessive consumption of clothes is fast fashion. Fast fashion, a culture of inexpensive clothing rapidly produced in response to fast-moving trends, means that consumers feel that they constantly have the need – and the ability – to revamp their wardrobes. 

  1. Stop throwing things out – buy less, keep it for longer 

Australians spend about $20.4 billion on fashion every year, meaning that the equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is burned or dumped in a landfill every second. 

4. Buy vintage, learn how to mend, change your suppliers 

In order to counteract this, Slow Fashion says that you should shop vintage, learn how to mend clothes, and buy from ethical suppliers. You can also join a buy nothing group or organise a clothing swap event for your friends and neighbours whenever you feel you need a new wardrobe. 

  1. Use your political and consumer clout

But it’s not just minimalism and buying vintage that will make an impact. Stand.earth says that it’s important for individuals to get involved in non-profit groups, or to put pressure on brands and governments to make a change to more sustainable supply chain practices. 

This kind of pressure can have a big impact. In fact, research from Stand.earth has led to many companies altering their practices to be more environmentally and socially ethical – including Nestlé, Disney, Staples, and Kimberly-Clark. 

Let’s hope that the buzz surrounding this new report will make a difference in these fashion brands, too.

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  1. While I am totally in support of ethicl fashion, buying less clothes and repairing them, the key contributor to the deforesting is beef consumption – the leather is only a by product that is being used. So curbing beef consumption will have a better impact on this issue than fashion