Sustainable Fashion

Everything you want to know about the sustainability of the textile and fashion industry

Pathways to Sustainable Consumption and Production of Textiles in Belarus

By Eugeniy Lobanov, Ecoidea (formerly the Center for Environmental Solutions)

The textile industry as a whole is one of the largest environmental pollutants on the planet. It poisons water and affects the growth of emissions of greenhouse gases and toxic chemicals. Hazardous chemicals are used in virtually all phases of textile and clothing manufacturing and are associated with many deadly diseases. Investing in innovative materials and processes that eliminate the use of toxic chemicals, minimize water consumption, and increase the recyclability of textiles is essential to protect human health and the environment.

In Belarus, the textile and clothing industries are traditionally a significant part of the national light industry. Today, the production of textile and clothing products forms up to 3.5% of the country’s GDP. The industry employs over 80,000 people, excluding workers employed in the retail sector of textiles and clothing. The domestic market for textiles and goods made from it mainly consists of imported goods, of which 50% may be counterfeit. Despite the problems with competition in the domestic market, the Belarusian textile and clothing industries occupy an active export position. Textile products are exported to 52 countries of the world and 40% of exports are in the textile industry. Linen fabrics account for the largest share in the total volume of exports of textiles and knitted fabrics (45%). The share of fabrics from chemical threads and fibers is 25%, cotton fibers – 23%, woolen fibers – 5%, knitted fabrics – 2%.

In 2021 the Belarus not-for-profit Center for Environmental Solutions, in cooperation with HEJSupport, prepared the report “Green Transformation and Circular Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Consumption and Production of Textiles in Belarus”.

This review was the first attempt to assess the situation in the textile sector in Belarus in terms of environmental impact and potential for the development of a circular economy.

In the report, we describe the main environmental, economic, and social problems in which the global fashion industry is involved, and ways to solve them, such as the search for new circular business models, the creation of closed-loop industries focused on cyclic waste recycling, information openness and transparency of manufacturers and sellers, a shift in emphasis from the rapid production and sale of clothing to the rational use of products, rental, resale services, and the stimulation of responsible behavior of manufacturers and consumers.

Importantly, we tried to look at almost all elements of the life cycle of clothing and other textile products (production, sale, consumption, waste disposal) and assess the situation from an environmental point of view. There is a fairly large textile sector in Belarus, and there are opportunities to reduce the ecological footprint from it. These growth points include, for example, the creation of a system for the collection and processing of textile waste from the public or the regulation of the use of hazardous chemicals in the manufacture of clothing.

We see significant potential for green development of the textile sector in Belarus, including the following:

  • There is an active minority of consumers and manufacturers of textiles and clothing with a high level of environmental responsibility in the republic, ready for innovation.
  • Social projects and commercial initiatives are in place: they deal with repair, lease, and redistribution of used clothing and textiles as the first step towards actively and consciously adopting circular business models that are characterized by long-term service, renting or handing over the product instead of disposing of it.
  • Major textile manufacturers are modernizing their production processes by purchasing new equipment, and receiving international environmental certifications such as Oeko-Tex, which is associated with improved marketing strategies and the desire to enter a wider international market. The certification criteria includes textile and clothing product compliance with circularity and sustainability and is becoming more and more relevant.

On the other hand, there are some important barriers to further development of a sustainable textile sector in Belarus, including:

  • The economy of the Republic of Belarus is at the initial stage of transition from a linear model to a circular one. There is not a single enterprise, manufacturer, or initiative yet that operates entirely within one of the five basic business models of the circular economy.
  • Manufacturers do not include the possibility of safe disposal or recycling of their own products in their area of ​​responsibility.
  • Companies in the textile and clothing industries do not have complete transparency in their supply chains. When labeling products, the labels do not provide additional information about the environmental and social aspects of the production and use of chemicals. This is due to the established tradition of providing only certain information to consumers , the lack of requests for additional information from the buyers and the trust in the existing system of mandatory certification and labeling.
  • Insufficient and/or too broad of an understanding of the circularity and greening of production and business processes leads to incomplete and narrow companies’ sustainability strategies. . Additionally, manufacturers’ fundamental decision-making factor in the purchase of raw materials, reagents and consumables is economic, which is most often a short-sighted tactical decision.
  •  In order to cope with these problems, it is necessary to start with wide awareness-raising about the circular economy in the textile and clothing industry in Belarus for all participants in the value chain, but primarily for leading managers of large enterprises and regulators.

Among the curious facts that we found during our research is the existence in Belarus of sustainable production models or their elements, despite the dominance of a linear economy.

“For example, since Soviet times we have developed a network of repair shops. So, if you wish, you do not need to buy new shoes and clothes, but repair them. There are other examples: enterprises such as Netkany Mir, Pružany, or Viciebsk Carpets use textile waste (trimmings) for their production. Another good example is the activity of the Antopol Cotton-Spinning Mill,” says Darya Yaskevich, an employee of the Center for Environmental Solutions, who managed the study.

The problem for Belarus remains in the relationship between the consumer and the producer. Today, the manufacturer does not want to take on additional obligations and help the consumer in the repair and disposal of things. Manufacturers often encourage unsustainable consumption based on the principles of “fast” fashion.

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