The Four Species That Are Endangered by Fast Fashion

The Four Species That Are Endangered by Fast Fashion

If purchasing a piece of clothing threatened to wipe out an endangered species – would you still buy it?

Over 150 million trees are logged every year and turned into a fabric referred to as ‘rayon’ or ‘viscose’. Approximately 30% of these trees come from old growth forests that are critical hot spots of biodiversity, home to some of our planet’s most endangered species. With demand for viscose-rayon expected to double in the next decade, some species are at serious risk of going extinct due to the loss of their forest habitat. 

Indonesia, where TAMGA styles are produced, is still home to approximately 3% of the world’s forests and is experiencing rapid deforestation. Initially driven by the global demand for palm oil, wood pulp plantations have recently been a growing contributor. Nicole Rycroft, founder of forest advocacy NGO Canopy, refers to viscose fabric as 'the palm oil of the fashion world' for it’s role in driving de-forestation in Sumatra – an island that lost half it’s forest cover over just a 20 year period.

The Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra is the last place on Earth where elephants, rhinos, orangutans and tigers still co-exist in the wild. All four iconic species are now classified as ‘Critically Endangered’. This Earth Day, the theme is ‘Protect Our Species’, so we’re sharing more about these four incredible species that are at risk of extinction from habitat loss, and how our fashion choices can help.

The Sumatran Orangutan

Orangutans are one of the most recognizable species in the Sumatran Rainforest but are in serious need of protection from deforestation. The UN calls the current status of the remaining orangutans a conservation emergency. Once found in forests across Sumatra, they now exist in only two provinces: North Sumatra and Aceh. The Leuser ecosystem, a rainforest that spans these two provinces in Indonesia is their last home. 

The Sumatran Orangutan Society (S.O.S), and the Orangutan Information Centre (OIC) are fighting to keep this magnificent species alive, working to rescue Orangutans that are stranded in plantations, save them from poachers and re-plant their rainforest habitat. But it’s a struggle - local farmers often see the orangutans as a pest that eats their crops, and large palm oil and pulp companies work through any avenue possible to clear more forest for their plantations.

It's not all doom and gloom, there is hope! The re-forestation work by these organizations is bringing results, with local animals returning to these parts of the forest. At TAMGA we donate 1% of all sales to these efforts (learn more about our partnership here), and we partnered with S.O.S. to create a line of 'Trees Please Tees' which donate an additional $10 from every sale. 

The Sumatran Tiger 

Indonesia once had three species of tigers throughout its islands but only one remains; the Sumatran Tiger. It’s estimated that only 500 to 600 Sumatran Tigers remain in the wild, but this number could be as low as 400. Like Orangutans the main threat to their survival as a species is habitat loss, and scientists say that even the existing protected forest in Sumatra is not enough for the Tiger populations to thrive. In order to keep this incredible species alive, more areas of natural rainforest will need protection, and re-planting would need to ramp up.

Update in April 2020 - the popular Tiger King documentary showed that there are more than 5,000 captive tigers in the USA alone, but we should not confuse this with conservation. As the WWF has pointed out, conservation efforts need to focus on recovering wild populations across their natural range and protecting and restoring their habitat.

The Sumatran Rhinoceros 

The Rhinoceros in Indonesia is unfortunately on the brink of disappearing forever. The island of Java is home to a small population of Javan Rhinoceros, while Sumatra and Borneo’s forests protect the last numbers of the Sumatran Rhinoceros. Fewer than 80 Sumatran Rhinos still exist in the wild today, a population that has declined more than 70 percent in the last 20 years due to poaching and habitat loss. With their low numbers and with fragmented populations across Sumatra and Borneo, it’s become harder and harder for these Rhinos to find mates. Keeping the habitat they depend on intact is an essential ingredient in bringing the Sumatran rhinoceros back from the brink of extinction.

The Sumatran Elephant 

The Sumatran Elephant was declared critically endangered in 2012 after losing half of its population in a single generation. WWF reports that two thirds of the Elephant’s habitat was destroyed in the last 25 years due to pulp and paper industries and palm oil plantations. In fact, the Sumatran elephant has already gone ‘locally extinct’ on many areas of the island. The current Sumatran elephant population is estimated at 2,400–2,800 wild individuals, excluding elephants in camps, in 25 scattered populations across the island. Dr. Barney Long, an Asian species expert, estimates that unless deforestation on Sumatra is stopped, the Sumatran Elephant could be narrowed to just a few remote populations within our lifetime.

How You Can Help Save Them

Fortunately, we’re presented with the opportunity to stop the deforestation crisis and save these species from extinction, but it requires immediate action from governments, brands and consumers. Four main products present the biggest de-forestation risk – food (palm oil), cosmetics (palm oil), paper (wood pulp) and fashion (wood pulp).

In the case of palm oil, some experts have said it’s best to avoid even when labeled as ‘sustainable’. A recent study analysed over 2,210 palm oil concessions and found that “there is no significant difference between a certified and a non-certified palm oil plantation”. In fact, the study concluded that the use of sustainability labels had allowed for even greater expansions of plantations, driving the Sumatran Organgutan further towards extinction.

When it comes to wood pulp, the two main products to look out for are paper and viscose-rayon fabric. One way to be sure that neither of these products are contributing to the destruction of endangered forests is to look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label. This guarantees that the wood pulp used in these products comes from sustainably managed sources, not from the habitat of endangered species. If you see “Modal”, “Viscose” or “Rayon” on a clothing label, ask the brand where the wood comes from. If you’re on the looking for forest-friendly brands, check out the Canopy Style directory, or shop our full collection of 100% forest-friendly fashion here.

Leave a comment