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The fast fashion industry has dominated the fashion world at a lightning speed within the past few years, with trends speeding up even faster than we can keep up with and with more and more clothes being thrown away and finding their way into dumps before their life cycles are even close to over.
Because of this, and other harmful practices of clothing companies that create environmental and social repercussions on a global scale, the fast fashion industry and its massive carbon footprint are contributing to climate change and the worrying climate crisis in a way that could be irreversible and permanently damaging if everything stays the same.
From the huge amount of waste generated throughout the complex supply chains of fashion brands to unfair wages that foster environments of modern slavery, the environmental impact of the fast fashion industry accounts for more carbon emissions than other industries while their social impact fosters exploitative and desperate conditions for workers and their families.
However, thanks to media coverage and growing concern among consumers about the unsustainable problems caused by fast fashion, sustainable fashion — and by relation, ethical fashion — has gone past simply being a conversation, but a rapidly growing movement that is helping turn the tides of today’s fashion landscape.
Because of the rise of sustainable fashion and people’s interest in sustainable clothing and more ethical practices, fast fashion retailers are taking an interest in the movement in various ways like initiatives and campaigns.
But, can we trust them? Here are some important factors to keep in mind when it comes to fast fashion, their efforts for environmental and social change, and exactly what the industry is planning to do for a more sustainable future.
Because of the growing demand for sustainability and more eco-friendly practices from consumers, many fast fashion brands are looking to capitalise off of the movement instead of making genuine changes to their supply chain. Instead of altering their manufacturing processes, many within the fast fashion industry are simply taking to greenwashing in order to keep up with competitors.
Greenwashing is a term coined by journalist Jay Westerveld in the 1980s to describe retailers spending more time and resources on advertising themselves as being environmentally conscious and ethical in their production methods, while in reality doing very little to change their social and environmental impact.
This gross overstating and exaggeration of environmental friendliness has been an easy way for large companies to manipulate and gain money from consumers who want to invest in sustainability.
One example of this is H&M’s Conscious Collection, which garnered criticism due to misleading claims of being made with more sustainable materials and eco-friendly fabrics like recycled polyester and organic cotton, despite reports finding a higher amount of damaging synthetic materials in the line.
Additionally, many large retailers like H&M, Nike, adidas, and IKEA, among others, are joining coalitions like the Better Cotton Initiative, which promotes the use of organic cotton over conventional cotton and sustainable cotton farming practices, which on its own sounds promising.
However, a closer look at the company shows that BCI-approved cotton grown pieces aren’t all organic cotton, and that there are many production locations such as in Bangladesh and China with dangerous and slavelike conditions. This just goes to show how much more priority these brands place in appearing environmentally and socially responsible without being so at all.
Aside from keeping an eye out for sustainable campaigns and initiatives by fast fashion brands and viewing them with a grain of salt, another way to truly know the carbon footprint and supply chain of different companies is to do some light research.
The popularity of sustainable brands begins with their willingness to share information, with most companies if not all having yearly environmental and social impact reports easily available to read on their websites, letting us know how much they pay workers, what conditions they work in, and what these brands are actively doing to use less energy, generate less waste, and contribute to a circular economy in fashion.
While many large brands may advertise and make claims of their environmental friendliness and initiatives to provide workers with a living wage and better working conditions, without having the data to certifiably prove these claims. If a retailer is truly making the efforts for positive change throughout their business model, keep in mind that it shouldn’t be difficult or impossible to find evidence of it.
Since the significant rise of the fast fashion industry in the past two decades, shopping habits have changed drastically, clothing production doubled what it used to be, and natural resources have suffered for it. Hazardous chemicals used in textile dyeing find their way into waterways, devastating communities and affecting livelihoods, all to make the average t-shirt or pair of jeans that will be tossed after only a couple of uses.
The industry has changed our perception of our old clothes and encourages us to buy new clothes we don’t need, creating an unhealthy relationship with our clothing and, in turn, the environment.
While it’s important for us as conscious consumers to make an effort in the fight for social responsibility and against climate change, nothing can truly change when we simply wash clothes less and support secondhand or sustainable. Giant brands and their unwavering fast fashion model are the harbingers of carbon emissions, harmful chemicals and materials, and exploitative working conditions.
We’ve seen that pressuring and criticising brands can make a difference, and large brands are trying to keep up with the ever-growing sustainability movement and eco age. By pushing for and expecting fashion items that are created sustainably, ethically, and designed for longer wear, there may be a chance for the fashion industry to turn itself around.
There is no doubt that brands taking action is a step in the right direction and evidence that they’re listening to the needs of the people. While many brands are still quite a way off the path they should be on, we’re glad to see clothing companies making an effort towards a more circular economy of fashion.
After all, according to Anima Razvi, the executive director of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, “Sustainability is a journey. Assessing where you are and making ambitious commitments to improve impacts is the right place to start.”