We live in a world of fast fashion. With fashion brands perpetually churning out cheap and up-to-the-minute designs, it doesn’t cost much to keep up with the latest trends and indulge in some feel-good retail therapy.
But the real cost of fast fashion is the heavy toll that it’s taking on our planet. Fortunately, consumers – especially the younger generations – are starting to wake up and demand more sustainable fashion practices. And fashion brands are taking note.
The Real Cost of Fast Fashion
Clothing production is resource-intensive and has a huge environmental footprint. The textile industry produces 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year, more than that of international aviation and shipping combined.
While there used to be two fashion seasons a year (Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter), the fashion calendar is now made up of as many as 50-100 micro-seasons. Today, consumers buy six times as many items of clothing each year but keep them for only about half as long as they did 15 years ago.
This throwaway fashion results in unprecedented levels of waste. Consumers buy clothes and quickly tire of them, with the discarded clothes ending up incinerated or in landfills. In North America alone, consumers throw out 10.5 million tons of clothing every year – that’s 30 times heavier than the Empire State Building.
Climate Change and the Change in Consumer Consciousness
But it’s not all doom and gloom. With growing anxiety about global warming and increasingly frequent natural disasters, recent years have seen an encouraging shift in consumer consciousness.
According to the 2019 Pulse of the Fashion Industry Report, 75% of shoppers from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, and Brazil view sustainability as very important. More than a third of consumers in the report claimed to have switched brands because they want to buy from brands that stand for positive environmental and social practices. When it comes to sustainability, a key consumer demand is for the use of renewable and recyclable materials, such as alternatives to conventional plastic.
Fashion Brands Step Up on Sustainability
As consumers become more environmentally conscious and demand more sustainable fashion, many designers and brands across the world are pairing sustainability with style.
At the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in 2017, 35 leading fashion companies signed the 2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment. They pledged to increase their clothing recycling by 2020 and are collecting and recycling used clothing at many of their stores.
Recently, Inditex, the parent company of Zara, announced that by 2025, all of the cotton, linen, and polyester used by its eight brands will be organic, sustainable, or recycled.
Reducing Plastic Packaging Pollution
We produce about 300 million tons of plastic waste every year. The vast majority (79%) of plastic waste ends up in landfills or in the natural environment.
In this age of online retail, the fashion industry is creating staggering levels of packaging waste. In an effort to reduce their environmental footprint, some brands are seeking to cut down on plastic packaging or find sustainable alternatives when single-use packaging is necessary.
Inditex, for example, has pledged to eliminate single-use plastic packaging by next year. And top fashion designers like Gabriela Hearst, Mara Hoffman, and Stella McCartney have switched to compostable bags by TIPA.
Consumer Power and Sustainable Fashion
As consumers, we have wallet power. We can educate ourselves about which brands are embracing sustainable fashion, and which ones are lagging behind. We can decide that we only buy from brands with eco-friendly values and practices. We can buy less clothing than we do, choose clothes made from high-quality and natural fabrics such as those produced by Pangaia, and repair our clothes rather than buy new ones. We can also demand more sustainable packaging solutions from our favorite brands.
By holding companies and their packaging standards to account, we can help make sure that unsustainable practices go out of fashion.