The Environmental Price of Fast Fashion
Across the globe, environmental concerns are at an all-time high. Research has found that we must get a grip on climate change, otherwise generations will face a lifetime of irreversible damage. From President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan which promises clean infrastructure, to the UK government’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, environmental concerns are front and centre. With this in mind, the fashion industry has an important role to play in mitigating the impact of climate change. From e-Commerce businesses to traditional bricks and mortar style outlets, our growing reliance on looking good must not continue to come at a cost to our environment.
Looking back on 2020, it’s clear that at present, there is a conflict between a large proportion of fashion brands’ practices and our Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Without naming and shaming, many popular brands impose negative environmental consequences, as well as poor labour conditions and animal welfare standards.
Crucially, in an attempt to keep up with a fast-changing landscape, some brands release hundreds of new styles a week, for cheap. However, instead of ushering in waves upon waves of cheaply made designs, companies need to slow down manufacturing. So often, brands lose themselves in the high-speed digital environment, producing low-quality garments to fit transient trends. A few months down the line, these clothes will be disposed of, no longer fit for purpose.
If we look at brands’ response to mitigating the impact of climate change, regrettably, many continue this practice of mass production, while making grand claims of producing sustainable fabrics. However, if you take a deeper dive into these practices, you will discover these claims are simply “greenwashing”. A term originally coined in the 1980s by environmentalist Jay Westeveld, it makes reference to companies who present themselves as caring environmental stewards, when in reality, they engage in damaging environmental practices.
After all, if a brand is manufacturing thousands of garments per minute, producing carbon emissions and toxic microfibres, who really cares about sustainable fabric? In reality, the dizzying pace of apparel manufacturing means that the average person spends sixty percent more on clothing than in 2000. And not only do they buy more, they also discard more as a result. Crucially, less than 1 percent of used clothing is recycled into new garments.
A New Opportunity: Fashion’s Role in a Sustainable World
The worldwide disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about several impacts to the environment and climate, causing many to rethink their practices. From implementing hybrid working models to sales teams avoiding international travel in favour of Zoom, there is a significant opportunity for the fashion industry to contribute to the path towards an environmentally friendly future.
In many ways, our collective reality over the past year has been conducive to a greener world. Regrettably, a significant proportion of fashion brands are not aligned in this thinking, scaling manufacturing operations to meet the demands of the latest lockdown trends. In stark contrast to these practices, companies need to produce quality clothing, on a smaller scale, reducing the amount of chemicals, water and textile waste polluting our world. Although there are no quick wins in tackling climate change, with the European Commission’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030, businesses must begin to take meaningful steps in the right direction.