Is sustainability the new fast fashion?
Julia Tumanowicz, Heriot-Watt University
Zara, H&M, New Look... Our high streets and shopping malls have been overtaken in the past decade by fast fashion giants, tempting us with new stock, approximately every two weeks. We have been unconsciously falling into a trap of newness, spending more and more income on clothing, making the fashion industry speed up and, unfortunately, destroying our planet. The new sustainability move is trying to “cure” fashion industry’s enormous problem of waste. All of a sudden, sustainable brands and the sustainable mindset became fashionable, making fast fashion outdated. Is sustainability the new fast fashion?
Fast fashion, based on the Quick Response (QR) principle, allows consumers to access the newest trends in a short period of time at a lower price. Every week or two, new lines would be delivered into store to respond to customer demand. While it satisfies customer demand for products, fast fashion creates a lot of waste. This is done not only through intense production but also, through very fast disposal by the consumer. Simply because it is cheap and not durable. Think about it, isn’t it easier to throw away a £10 top, in comparison to one costing £100?
The problem with fast fashion is the quality of the textiles used to produce items. Since they are already relatively cheap at a retail price, the materials used, have to be even cheaper. Fast fashion is mainly produced from low quality and non-organic cotton to produce synthetics such as polyester, viscose and acrylic. All those textiles pollute not only our planet, but also contribute to a vast water contamination. You probably wonder how – let me briefly explain. Cotton uses extreme amounts of water and pesticides to mature and be harvested, destroying our soils and reducing our water resources. The polyester and acrylic extruded from the oil are non-biodegradable, therefore, can stay and pollute our planet for many years.
Since 2016, sustainability has slowly but surely appeared on the big fashion scene but, in reality it has been present for more than a decade. British designer: Stella McCartney, has been producing cruelty-free, sustainable garments since her very first collection during the early 90s. Eileen Fisher has been producing her garments from recycled fabrics and ‘Rag&Bone’ have incorporated ‘a denim recycling programme’ in their strategy – they encourage customers to bring their old, used denim to any brick-and-mortar store. It is then recycled and transformed into insulation for homes. Brands and fashion organisations began to take action and are trying to tackle the fast fashion movement. They are raising awareness among consumers to encourage well-thought purchases. Companies started seeking alternatives to man-made fibres with a main focus on using, only sustainable and organic cotton. While some companies are making progress to reduce their environmental footprint, it has been suggested that those improvements have been outweighed by the increased volume of clothing that is sold by fast fashion brands. Around 300,000 tons of clothing is thrown away annually in the UK. 80 percent ultimately incinerated, and the rest ends up in landfills. New, sustainable brands have appeared for those engaged in organic and responsible way of living.
What about high street brands?
UK domestic brands such as, French Connection, Next and New Look, do not disclose enough information about their practices and their impact on the environment. However, as a consumer, we are able to find out what materials have been used to produce a certain item by simply looking at the label of the garment. Not to our surprise, a lot of garments are made mainly from polyester.
The worst examples in the UK come from online retailers: Missguided and Boohoo. The famous £5 dress produced from cheap polyester has an estimated life expectancy of 5 weeks until being discarded by the consumer. The price not only suggests, the extremely low quality of the item, but also, reflects the low wages in the factory it has been produced. Being criticized for their practices, Boohoo launched its recycled brand called ‘For the Future’ by the end of June. The garments from the line are made from synthetic waste saved from land fields.
The same situation takes place within the Polish market. The domestic fashion brands, Reserved and Mohito, use cheap labour and excessively use man-made fibres. Furthermore, according to the ‘Reserved website’ “We respond very quickly to the needs of our customers by offering new models in our stores every week.”. Think about the amount of waste the brand creates each week!
However, in both countries, there are brands that are tackling the serious waste and pollution problem. UK’s very own ‘Monsoon’ is a very ethical brand. It strictly follows the ‘Code of Conduct’ that enhances craftmanship and the production of garments responsibly. A Polish brand ‘Nago’ that is currently new to the market, produces clothing only from: Tencel, cupro and wool. And, their clothes are only fabricated in Europe to reduce carbon footprint.
Sustainable future for fashion
Brands do not disclose a lot of information about their practices. Therefore, there are websites emerging with brand descriptions and their level of sustainability and transparency. Many now feature not only sustainability reviews but also, tips for living sustainably and healthy, minimizing the waste and aiding the environment.
For instance, ‘GoodOnYou.eco’ is a great source of articles and ratings about brands. It suggests, how sustainable and environmentally friendly they truly are. If you are looking for alternatives to the usual brands you buy, you can find suggestions on the website. TheGoodTrade.com also, features articles about new sustainable brands and sustainable ways of living.
There is still hope in new arising brands and the existing ones trying to take action. Producing such enormous chemicals and plastic pollution, the industry simply needs to slow down. Therefore, as the consumers and inhabitants of this planet, we need to change our consumer behaviour. This is to provide a better life not only for us, but for future generations. Sustainability has to become the new fast fashion.