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OVERGRAZING AND EXCESSIVE CONSUMPTION. WHO REALLY PAYS THE COSTS? WITH ANDREA BATILLA

January, 20th 2021

After defining the fashion industry as overcooked, Andrea Batilla, tired of false myths and useless labels talks with Staiy about one of the major drawbacks of the fashion world: overgrazing and excessive consumption.

Words By Alessandra Di Perna

While a cashmere sweater has always been perceived as luxurious due to its fit and thermoregulatory properties – and therefore high price – it is now easy to find a new one on the fast fashion market at a price lower than thirty Euros. What is the secret behind it? Exceptionally none. Andrea Batilla, strong figure from the digital fashion world and fashion writer, is questioning interesting facts about those phenomena on his social media.Today he is deepening the topic with Staiy, trying to address the problem of overgrazing.

Cashmere sweaters, despite the difference in the technique used to process the raw fabrics, the percentage of pure cashmere used and the price, have all the same origin: goats. In Mongolia cashmere goats are in fact a distinctive and worth major business that is starting to impact the environment with some negative externalities. In the world-first Animal Welfare in Fashion Report, Four Paws estimated that over 2 billion animals are used in the global fashion industry for wool, fur and leather, living in poor conditions, mutilated and under stress. From overgrazing and excessive production, the country is experiencing desertification and soil complications as the lack of water and vitamins necessary for the living of other plant and animal species. 

What is overgrazing? 

As defined, overgrazing is the hyper exploitation of lands and pasture due to excessive stock of animals on lands. It is a supply-driven problem that came up to the surface only in recent history with the availability of the same product in every price range, extension and version. A cashmere sweater is now offered for twenty-four euros only. The demand for cheap cashmere itself, however, has never existed before, as people always thought that cashmere was a synonym of luxury, being very expensive and therefore not seeking to buy more than one or two cashmere pieces in a lifetime span. When customers perceive the possibility to be able to get things that they have never been able to, that is where the binge-buying starts.

Overgrazing

Accessibility is the trigger that fast fashion companies used to communicate to customers that everything is possible and not that expensive, when it is actually not. As when travelling on a plane, it does not matter whether on a low-cost company or a regular airline, the fuel price is always the same when comparing the same journeys. But how can a company offer a ticket for ten euros when the fuel to reach the destination costs actually thousands? Who covers the costs? The price is borne by the country through taxes and therefore by those same customers. 

According to Batilla, educating consumers to adjust their behavior is the only – and hardest – step to achieve an actual change: “ It is almost all a problem of knowledge and how the information is passed, of how the popular culture is built or not. The problem is that once you have accustomed people to have shoes for ten euros, then tell them that it is not good it’s very difficult.” They will not change their habits, moreover when they are convenient in monetary terms. “In the end – he continues – quality is also a matter of education. There is a difference between cashmere and people need to be aware and recognize and feel it. But there are also poorer fibers such as the ancient Shetland, which is unknown, but comes from the closer English Shetland goats, and it is long-lasting and comfortable. If you tell people ‘look. that cashmere is the most beautiful fiber in the world, but Shetland costs little in itself’, people will not purchase it because wearing a cashmere sweater is equivalent to building a strong social image.” 

Andrea Batilla

When restricting the range of choices, however, it may seem possible that creativity and art are being restricted too. Batilla believes in the big forward footsteps of the fashion industry and young designers that are building new concepts on the ideas of sustainability, upcycling and the possibility to work with deadstock fabrics. Such as Artknit Studio, the made in Italy label which works with natural and upcycled fibers only, ensuring the best quality at a reasonable price, controlling for sources and working with local artisans, as well as choosing the alternative to the easiest way of making clothes. Those small businesses should serve as an example to teach the big players how and in which direction to drive the change, which is impossible to happen through an exclusivity approach.

The first solution for Batilla is to teach the customer to weigh their effective need and consumption in terms of clothes and modify their purchase habits accordingly. We are buying four times more garments than we used to twenty years ago. While modifying the source of energy, substitute water and transform production processes are long time goals which require enormous efforts, adapting the offer portfolio to a decreasing demand is easier and smart for brands. This happens because the requests come from the bottom, from the final consumers and the source of life of the companies. 

Batilla continues : “It is positive in this perspective, I think that this change will happen sooner or later, or it has to happen. If you realize that it has been estimated that by 2030 there will not be enough water to wash the jeans, it means that we will have to choose whether to wash jeans or drink, whether to die or to live. This is crazy, and it is obvious that we must arrive at a solution, the problem is how late we arrive with respect to the possibility of fighting the problem. Increasing the sensitivity of people speeds up this process in general. You have to get out of the dynamics of terror and be very precise in giving information even when they are displaying a frightening and uncertain future. Then you have to see that there is a solution. If you want to buy a pair of jeans, buy them but maybe buy one or two pairs first of all, and then buy from brands that try to do it in the most sustainable way possible.”