With the ever-changing fashion industry, it is not uncommon to get a new press release about some new fashion trend every week. With all the new trends on or the other new brands come up calling themselves sustainable. Such brands try to portray themselves as an exciting and revolutionary fashion brand. Brands like these use buzz words such as environmentally and socially conscious. Such brands portray themselves more than just a company selling clothes.
These fashion brands come with some fundamental flaws that most people seem to overlook.
The fashion industry is going through some major sustainability issues. According to surveys and research, by 2030, it is predicted that the industry’s water consumption will grow by 50 percent to 118 billion cubic meters (or 31.17 trillion gallons), its carbon footprint will increase to 2,791 million tons and the amount of waste it creates will hit 148 million tons.
Yes, the industry is working to reduce the environmental footprint of its products. But the problem has been shifting more and more towards the consumption side as people are buying more and more clothes just to satisfy their hunger for fashionable clothes.
The barebone version of the definition of sustainability says that it encompasses both the environmental and social aspects which include the whole lifecycle of a garment that is from its manufacturing to its death. This also includes the material required to make these garments and the composition of the chemicals used in the process. On the social side, it concerns how the workers are treated which includes their wages and working environment. This all ends with the reusability of the cloth.
The sustainability of the fashion industry is a major issue as this industry is providing more supply than what the demand is for. Every year a marginally huge amount of clothes are produced that end up being thrown away or are kept on the shelves of a clothing store waiting for its new owner. This process leaves a huge amount of piling cloth bundle that no one requires but is still being manufactured.
One such market is the Luxury fashion industry. Though Luxury brands have learned from the lessons above and restructured their supply chains according to mainstream fashion business models. Some luxury companies treat their suppliers in a way which (Small and Medium Enterprises and artisans) is aimed at requesting an increasing reduction of prices without having the need to take the responsibility of how it is being achieved. For example in Europe, there is news of illegal workers employed by tier 2 or 3 suppliers who produce bags and accessories for brands we all know.
Another unsustainable feature, which is unique to luxury brands, is the regular misuse of artisans in developing countries. In search for inspiration, they contact artisans through their design teams to discuss ideas on decorations, fabric, traditional skills, and materials, etc. Samples are produced and designers get to become familiar with designs and shapes that belong to other cultures. These ideas are used to develop designs, but often the artisan does not see a penny of reward, as only a small percentage of ideas become a commercial product.
Commonly, this “idea” is produced elsewhere by a trusted tier 1 supplier, thus the contribution of artisans is limited to product development, badly or even not paid, with the promise of future orders. There are exceptions to this, but they remain exceptions.
All these issues can be fixed by taking some simple but highly effective steps. Lack of a standardization community is one of the major drawbacks of the fashion industry which can be fixed by having a centralized institute to create and maintain certain standards to keep the industry in check. Labor and environmental laws can be implemented that can act as a very effective measure to stop any kind of exploitation of human and natural resources.
Qualitative audits should be performed on a regular basis by the centralized agency to concentrate on the working conditions of people in the manufacturing plants. In many parts of the developing world, consumers are not aware or concerned by issues of responsible fashion, especially compared to the young but growing ethically & sustainably aware consumer movement in developed countries.
As an indicator, check where fast-fashion retailers are opening new shops and ask yourself why. New stores opening in Africa shows the growth of a new middle class which has enough money to spend.