From cheaper, high street fashion to luxury brands, our clothes are costing our planet more than we bargained for. But, there are brands out there taking a slower approach and making the planet all the better for it.
The culture of fast fashion, built on the influence of Insta-stars like Kylie Jenner, is likely killing our planet, with the fashion industry slated as the world’s second largest polluter after the oil industry. Despite the impact on the planet, fast fashion continues to grow exponentially. In the past ten years, Business of Fashion states that the mass-market for fashion has also become increasingly competitive, with new players selling online faster and with greater service all the time.
Not only are brands like H&M and Asos continuing to hold their place in the market, there are now what’s known as ‘ultrafast’ fast fashion brands. These are built off a business model that understands more and more people look to social media platforms like Instagram for style inspiration – and they want that style on their doorstep, and then uploaded to their own feed, instantaneously.
An ultrafast feed
As one of fashion’s fastest-growing apparel brands, Fashion Nova offers ultrafast streetwear by marketing almost exclusively through Instagram, knowing that buyers are looking post to their own feed as well. The brand’s success comes as no surprise when you consider a recent survey commissioned by Barclaycard that revealed nearly one in 10 UK shoppers admit to buying clothing purely for the purpose of taking a photo for that ‘outfit of the day’ (or #ootd) post and uploading to their feed, before returning the item(s) to the store it came from.
Again, this echoes the sentiment of a Fashion Nova shopper who wrote for The Cut about her own experience shopping with the brand.
“These clothes are made for social media: meant to be worn once, maybe twice, photographed, and discarded,” says writer Allison P. Davis. “To keep up with that metabolism, the shop offers an obscene number of new styles – around 1,000 a week – that promulgate a particular aesthetic of which Kylie Jenner is a spirit animal.”
From this end of the spectrum, where clothing is usually priced under $50 per piece, to luxury brands at a much higher price point, the industry’s need to churn out clothes is coming under fire for many of its production processes.
The True Cost is a 2015 documentary exposing several aspects of the garment industry, including the abysmal (and dangerous) conditions that so many sweatshop workers live and work in. The confronting documentary includes footage from the deadly 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, where an eight-storey building collapsed and the death toll reach 1,134.
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire
Not only is it the cost on humans’ lives that has been coming to light more clearly in recent years, but also the cost to the environment. Luxury brand Burberry has recently made headlines for all the wrong reasons, after news came out that last year they burned $50 million worth of unsold products. While they claim it was to combat counterfeiting, there are many who argued it’s more likely they actually did it as an attempt, like so many other luxury brands, to maintain exclusivity of their product. There’s a reason you never see a Burberry bag on special in a bargain basement, it was probably set on fire and destroyed before it could make it there.
Although a Burberry spokesperson has said that the company has processes in place to help minimise the brand’s waste, as is summed up so aptly in this ABC article, “perhaps not burning things would be a good way to keep the carbon emissions down”.
And Burberry isn’t the only culprit here. A 2016 McKinsey survey revealed that nearly three-fifths of all clothing ends up in incinerators or landfills within a year of being made. It comes as no surprise, when hearing stats like that, consumers start to rethink their purchasing decisions and try to avoid over-buying and under-wearing apparel – and buy from those with a minimal waste philosophy.
With this in mind, there are plenty of companies putting social and environmental responsibility at their core, because, at the end of the day, who cares what clothes you’re wearing if there’s no planet left to wear them on.
While a brand like Patagonia is old hat in the ways of social responsibility, with environmental sustainability being a core business objective of the brand since its founding in 1973, there are a whole host of others companies showing up to play in this space. Many of these are bringing with them new textiles and transparent production methods, as well.
There are highly successful brands like Everlane and Reformation that focus on transparency in all stages of their production process and an eco-conscious approach, respectively. Then there’s Australian active wear brand, Nimble Activewear, which has its signature COMPRESSLITE fabric made from recycled plastic bottles. There are also companies that are using textiles like Pinatex and ECONYL. Pinatex uses fabric and material from the waste fibres of pineapples leaves, while ECONYL is a nylon yarn made from waste including discarded fishing nets, discarded carpet fluff and other nylon waste.
Part of this growing commitment to ethical and sustainable practices is due to the demand of younger consumers, who are showing more conscious purchasing habits than any generation before them around the origins, composition and carbon footprint of what they’re wearing. Over the past few years, a number of studies have confirmed that upwards of 65-70% of consumers under 35 all over the world will choose brands or retailers based on their ethical practices.
What is clear from these two distinctly different approaches to fashion – the ultrafast, versus the slow and considered? If we want to hold onto any hope that our clothes are doing more good than harm to the planet, we should give as much airtime as possible to those championing sustainability and ethical practices.
Feel good about the planet, and look good doing it? That’s a win-win.
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