Retail Sustainability Trend: Slow fashion vs. Fast fashion

 
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The role of corporations in society is changing. On the basis of globalisation and international activities of businesses, consumers increasingly focus on a firm's reputation. Retail is no exception, as fashion is known to be one of the substantial environmental polluters. You could say that nowadays we are stuck in a pattern of "take-make-waste". On average one buys 60% more clothing than 15 years ago, but each item only remains half as long in our closet. But where does it go? More than 15 million tons of used textile waste is generated each year only in the United States. This amount has doubled over the past 20 years.¹

To put it more into perspective: The annual environmental impact of a household's clothing is equivalent to the water needed to fill 1,000 bathing tubes and the carbon emissions from driving an average car for 9656 kilometres (6000 miles).

 

Consumer behaviours are shifting to more conscious choices

Female workers in a Cambodian garment factory. © Mak Remissa/Epa/REX/Shutterstock.

Female workers in a Cambodian garment factory. © Mak Remissa/Epa/REX/Shutterstock.

It's obvious that this industry has to undergo a change. Especially, since one can see a movement regarding the consumer behaviour. Consumers shift to being more conscious about their purchases, having the impacts they make more clearly in mind.  

According to a new report by the British NGO Fashion Revolution², consumers in Europe's five largest markets (Germany, UK, France, Italy and Spain) take the social and environmental impact of fashion brand's into account before purchasing anything from them. The issues they have mostly on top of their minds whilst shopping?  The majority of respondents mentioned environmental protection, climate change and global poverty as the things they are most concerned about. A pivotal role in this game changing process plays the generation of Millennials. Even though they are criticised to hold selfish and entitled characteristics, they are the ones who are leading the current eco-friendly trends. ³

Furthermore, a report by the fashion search website Lyst, which tracked more than 100m searches over the past year, shows a 47% rise in searches that combine style and ethics, such as “vegan leather” and “organic cotton”. Also, the perception changed, from thinking that sustainable fashion has to look “basic”, “old school” and maybe a bit “hippie”. Nowadays, you can find multiple sustainable brands that follow fashion trends as well but baring in mind that that designs are made for longer-term to make the most use out of it.  


How sustainability is changing fashion

Fashion companies have started to embrace the importance of sustainability, with 42 out of 100 fashion brands in 2017 disclosing supplier information. One of the biggest forces that led the sustainability movement was the aspect of differentiation.⁴ A good example for this is the brand Patagonia, that was able to create a huge yet loyal customer base as it was focusing purely on sustainable aspects, including product development, campaigns and participation in greater social responsible initiatives.

 

What is the difference of Slow fashion and Fast fashion? 

What is Slow fashion? ©  Who What Wear

What is Slow fashion? © Who What Wear

The Green Fashion Week⁵ defines Fast fashion as "the process of imitating trends and styles from the big names on the runway". They are often produced at a low price which enables customers to a quick access. Up to eleven different collections can be produced each year, but the items still have a very small price tag. Why? This is possible due to the unethical technique used to produce the majority of those clothes. Most of the Fast fashion brands produce in places like Bangladesh, Cambodia and Indonesia using cheap labour, where employees don't earn much more than $12 a month. Not even speaking of its negative environmental impacts.  

On the other hand, there is "Slow fashion" with the aim to decrease the speed of production, consumption and create a greater appreciation on a customer's purchase. It lives by the premise of quality and longevity based on designing and buying organic or recycled materials. It is encouraging fair wages, lower carbon footprints, and slower production schedules.

 

Different ways of acting sustainable 

There are several ways of how fashion brands make their contribution to more sustainable actions. One way is to raise awareness about the topic, which can be seen at Lacoste⁶. The "Save Our Species" campaign represented an innovative way to raise engagement in species conservation, as they replaced their iconic crocodile logo with 10 endangered animals like the Sumatran Tiger or the Anegada Rock Iguana. Some brands contribute certain percentages of revenue to organisations who are supporting social responsible activities. Some argue, that this way is by no means sustainable, but rather referred to as "Greenwashing". Since the trend of "going green" is going quite strong the last few years, companies like H&M and Zara launched a recycling program, where customers can bring back old clothes and receive a voucher to buy new clothes. Is that really what you would call sustainable? Spirits are fighting over this.

The shoe brand TOMS⁷ for example, gives for every pair of shoes they sell, one pair to a child in need. Over the years the concept has extended to selling sunglasses (providing optical screening in developing countries), coffee beans (TOMS Roasting Co. purchases support water systems in seven countries) and so on. Their slogan speaks for itself: One for One. 

Campaign by sustainable fashion brand ArmedAngels

Campaign by sustainable fashion brand ArmedAngels

The full-on game

Others go further and integrate sustainable thinking in every aspect of the supply chain: using organic and eco-friendly materials, producing in factories who provide good and ethical labour conditions and finding more and more innovative ways to keep on going. Armedangels committed to use recycled materials and renewable resources. Probably, this is what comes closest to be a sustainable brand. But are clothes that might be produced in an ethical and environmental-friendly way really sustainable if they were flown over across the globe impacting the CO2 emission for its transport? ⁸

The truth is…

No fashion purchase can really be without a little bit of wrongdoing. Sustainable web shops might offer you the best brands for a conscious thinking but they still have to be shipped.

There is no way to do everything right, but surely fashion has a great influence in on how our environment will further be formed and evolved. 

What are your thoughts on brands integrating sustainable thinking into account? Are you taking production processes or environmental issues into consideration before purchasing new clothing items? Let us know in the comments!

References

 ¹ The Balance Smb ; ² British NGO Fashion Revolution ; ³ The Ecologist ; ⁴ Business of Fashion ; ⁵ The Green Fashion Week ; ⁶ Lacoste ; ⁷ TOMs ; ⁸ Eluxe Magazine


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