A New Perspective on Fashion Sustainability – Part 1

Fast fashion – a lie that we keep on believing

We live in a world of hyper-consumption. Clothing manufacturers are producing more and more. Research shows that the average consumer buys more clothes but keep each garment half as long.

Fast fashion is the opposite of sustainability. The industry is not eco-friendly at all. Yet, we keep on buying and believing the lies that are fed to us. 

Sustainability is a culture – a way of thinking about manufacturing and fashion. For example, small, slow fashion brands produce less from the outset. They hate waste. Slow fashion brands are advocates for durability, longevity, and high quality.   

Fast fashion brands, on the other hand, have intense seasonal calendars. They push for 'more’ and 'new' and 'throw out what you don't like.’  

Their lies form the basis of their business model, and they are not likely to change.  A whole new perspective is needed for fashion sustainability.

How the fast fashion industry is lying to you


A new trend every week

In fast fashion, the business model is 'low quality, but high volume.' New trends are coming out every week.  The goal of fast fashion manufacturers is for you to buy a lot and to buy it quickly.  

Clothing manufacturers get daily shipments of new styles and update their websites continuously.  The idea is for the consumer to wear something once or twice and then to feel that they must move on to something new.   


On discount, today!

Who doesn’t love a bargain? Found a designer label at a discount? Great! However, the discounted item you are holding probably never had an original designer label in the first place.

Fast fashion rigs it so that that a low-cost item is produced in an entirely different factory from the original. They broker deals with designers so that they can use the labels on cheap items and sell them to you at a 'discount.'  


Chemicals on your clothes 

Yes, they've signed agreements to use fewer chemicals and heavy metals in their products.  But, do they adhere to it? Most probably not. Fast fashion brands are still selling lead-contaminated shoes, belts, and purses.   

Lead exposure can lead to fertility issues and a higher risk of a stroke, heart attack, or high blood pressure.   Then we've not even yet talked about pesticides, flame-retardants, and other known compounds that can be found on the garments we wear.


Things fall apart 

Fast fashion brands want you to buy.   They want you to go and find something new to wear – soon.   So, what do they do? They sell you clothes that fall apart after one wash.  It did not cost too much, so you don’t worry. You just go and buy something else.   

And the discarded item?  It will end up in a landfill, and it will take decades to decompose.


The whole of the industry should change 

Fast fashion, as a business model, needs continuous consumption. They define success as 'growth' in sales. This is not sustainable.  Resource use should stand apart from business growth.


In our hands

It is in our hands to do something about the climate crisis and the carbon footprint that the fashion industry is leaving.   The sector should change how they operate, but also how they source, manufacture, and distribute.

  • There are no simple or easy solutions. Solutions ask for cultural change. 

Luckily, millennials are driving fashion sustainability. They back their beliefs with their shopping habits, and brands are responding.

  • Trends that might aid sustainability in fashion 
  • Personalized suggestions to manufacturers  

Let's face it. The clothes you wear are personal.  It says something about you and about what you like. Most people don't deviate too much from their general shopping patterns.

In the future, feedback from purchasing data will allow retailers to alter what they provide to consumers. They will be able to predict better what sells and who buys it.

It also will lower excess inventory costs – which is an expensive process for manufacturers. This trend should aid brands who want to be more sustainable.


Each to his own

Most of us have our own style. Research predicts that fashion will change from the traditional retail model to more personalized style suggestions. We've seen it already in start-ups where you can buy a whole outfit based on your preferences.  Advertising will shift to accommodate this. Companies who know your style can suggest items that you most likely be interested in.


A lack of common standard

It is happening, albeit slowly. More consumers are asking 'who made my clothes,' and brands are responding to the demand for more transparency. 

However, there are still a lot of gaps in worker's rights, fair living wages, and discrimination in the fashion industry. Transparency issues remain. Physical inspections can play a role, as well as smart data and networks, but still there are a lack of awareness among consumers on the street about sustainability in fashion.


Lack of common standards

Even if this should change, and people become more aware, there is still the lack of a common set of standards across the whole industry.    

Different brands can take different approaches to sustainability, which means that you will be comparing apples with pears when looking into it. True standards in being sustainable will be hard to enforce. 

Research has shown in one study that among more than 450 companies, only 5% have a robust supply chain management program that regulates their performance.  56% do not monitor or audit anything, with the rest being somewhere along the continuum.


Some progress 

  • The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is an international company that works to set better standards for better living. In 2017, they adopted a global guidance document on how companies should do due diligence towards their supply chains.    It is not legally binding, but OECD members are expected to conduct their business according to this document.
  • In the US and UK, there are now laws that ask companies to disclose information on human rights issues, such as human trafficking, that are detected in their supply chains.
  • SAC – a coalition to promote sustainable apparel, created a framework in 2009 for sustainable production. Today, they have more than 200 members worldwide. Members are from universities, industry associations, companies, and brands.

They developed a toolkit – the HIGG Index – to start managing supply chain issues.  This index allows companies to assess themselves and measure sustainability. They can also compare themselves to others in the industry. 

It is still a work in progress, with new modules released in 2016 and 2018.  The aim is to set a firm standard soon with a fully functional tool kit that will increase supply chain transparency across the board. 


Conclusion 

One take-away from all this should be that awareness of ethical issues in the fashion industry are at an all-time high. Consumers are demanding more responsibility.   

Industry players, brands, and suppliers must now come together to create some industry standard so that fashion sustainability can be measured tangibly.

There is a new perspective on fashion sustainability, and the wheels are turning.

In our next blog, we shall be looking at how the different stakeholders in the fashion industry should each take responsibility to be more sustainable.

Read A New Perspective on Fashion Sustainability - Part 2

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