Fast fashion – the deadlock for a sustainable fashion industry?

When we think about climate change and pollution, the first things that come to mind are usually means of transport like cars and planes and nutrition with respect to regionality and meat consumption. But the fashion industry is also one of the largest polluters of the world.  In the last 30 years the fashion apparel industry has strongly evolved. The competitiveness of fashion industry was significantly raised by a higher speed of market and design. Mass production disappeared, the number of fashion seasons grew and structural characteristics in the supply chain changed. Retailers had to focus on low cost and flexibility in design, quality, delivery and speed to market to be able to stay in the market. The approach fast fashion can therefore be seen as the answer to changes in the fashion industry. Fast fashion is defined as “inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends”.  Well known fast fashion brands are for example H&M, Zara, Bershka and Primark.

Approximately 20 % of the industrial water pollution comes from textile treatment and dying. Every year the fashion industry uses 93 billion cubic meters of water, which is enough to meet the consumption needs of five million people. Seven million trees are cut down each year to produce our clothes. The fashion industry is responsible for 10 % of annual global carbon emissions, more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. At this pace, the fashion industry’s greenhouse gas emissions will surge more than 50 % by 2030.

Also, today’s consumer behavior of fashion in industrial states can never be sustainable. The following of trends and the associated throwing away or leaving and forgetting of clothes in the depths of wardrobes that are not trendy anymore, is definitely not eco-friendly. The produced amount of clothes and accessories is so much higher than the needed and used amount. It is a normal thing today to have several clothes at home that have never been worn even one time. The digital world with social media platforms like Instagram intensifies our desire to own the latest fashion products. Also, apps like “21 Buttons”, that facilitates buying the same clothes you see on someone else that are directly linked to online shops, reinforces the constant following of fashion trends. In former times, the same effect came from seeing peers in the city or other public places. But this effect was far smaller. Furthermore, today’s amount of shipping is questionable. For many young people it has become standard to order most of their clothes online and to order every piece in more than one size, so that they can find the best fitting pieces at home and return the rest. It is clear from the beginning that they will send a package back to the producer. Transporting trucks cover longer distances, because they are not only heading clusters of malls or shopping centers limited times, but the homes of many different people for many different single orders. Another cost of today’s shipping behavior is that brands often cannot resell returned goods, mostly because they do not come back in perfect condition.

The pollution of the fashion industry is obvious and the climate change is – except for the corona crisis – topic number one of the world. Several sustainable fashion brands were grounded. Also, fast fashion brands try to show Corporate Social Responsibility, which is in general doubtful from the beginning, because fast fashion and sustainability can usually be seen as opponents. A recent scandal was concerning the Swedish fashion brand H&M that was accused of Greenwashing in 2019. Greenwashing is the process of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company’s products are more environmentally sound. The new H&M collection of 2019 claimed that every piece is made from a sustainably sourced material, such as 100 percent organic cotton, Tencel or recycled polyester. The accusation contained the fact that the information about the eco-friendliness was kept very general. There had not been given information about the environmental use of the specific materials, for example the quantity of material, which had been recycled for every piece of cloth.

From the view of a customer, the typical excuse of young people for fast fashion is their limited budget. Fair produced clothes with higher quality are of course more expensive than fast fashion products and they are not able to follow the latest trends. But, spending more money for a product with high quality once is often cheaper than spending less money for a low-quality product that you have to replace after short time, because it gets damaged fast. And in general, there are various reasonable things one can do without needing additional money. One should think twice about buying something new. Another possibility is to look through the whole wardrobe and find pieces again, that one has forgotten about. One can lend something from siblings or friends. One can sell old clothes. Instead of ordering so much online, one can plan afternoons in the shopping mall. If it is necessary to order something, one should at least order several items at a time, so they end up in the same package. Plus, one should choose the order in a way that makes the probability of need to return a part of it is as low as possible. On top of that, consumers should be aware of methods like Greenwashing. Not every notion put on products should be trusted.

All in all, a significantly eco-friendlier fashion industry stays a teaser. It is an interplay between designers, manufacturers and consumers.

References

Anguelov, N. (2015) The dirty side of the garment industry: Fast fashion and its negative impact on environment and society. CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group.

Bhardwaj, V. and Fairhust, A. (2009) Fast fashion: response to changes in the fashion industry.  The International Review of Retail, Distribution and Consumer Research, 20 (1), February, 165-173.

Charpail, M.; Antoneva, O. and Roul, P. (2019) Fashion’s environmental impact. [Internet] <https://www.sustainyourstyle.org/old-environmental-impacts> [Date of Access: 21.06.2020].

Javed, T.; Yang, J.; Gul Gilal, W. and Gul Gilal, N. (2020) The sustainability claims’ impact on the consumer’s green perception and behavioral intention: A case study of H&M. Advances in Management & Applied Economics, 10 (2), 1-22.

Joy, A.; Sherry, F.; Alladi Venkatesh; J.; Wang, J. and Chan, R. (2012) Fast Fashion, Sustainability, and the Ethical Appeal of Luxury Brands. Fashion Theory, 16 (3), 273–296.

Mukherjee, S. (2015) Environmental and Social Impact of Fashion: Towards an Eco-friendly, Ethical Fashion. International Journal of Interdisciplinary and Multidisciplinary Studies, 2 (3), 22-35.

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