Sustainability and Fast Fashion: a doomed relationship?

With environmental changes and issues at the centre of multiple debates globally, it is no surprise that the fashion sector, given its high impact on the global economy, has been subjected to critiques.

Is this compatible with the need to support sustainable choices?

Today, the fashion industry is a multi-billionaire corporation; Forbes has projected a forecast of 664,474 million US dollars revenue reach only in 2020. Given the constant, elevated request of new products in short periods of time in this sector, “fast fashion” has faced a huge growth, favouring big chains that inspire their styles of clothing to big designers. These groups are able to sell them at a smaller price, attracting bigger and bigger amounts of customers. If we look closer at the production segment in the fashion industry, what will come out is that to cut some costs during the manufacturing process, “fast fashion” brands often chooses to give up on some “minor” details that are hidden from the global scene. Sustainability is one of these characteristics that has been put under the spotlight of criticism, both in regards of the choice of fabrics used and the way the production occurs.

Fashion collections come out several times a year: for this, manufacturers have to analyse the best way for the company to keep increasing their profits, whilst also guaranteeing a fair product quality when it is released publicly. Is this compatible with the need to support sustainable choices?

However, is important to remember that the amount of competitors in this sector is almost unlimited and it is fundamental for every single one of them to find a way to stand out from the crowd.

Compared to famous high-end brand designers who have a luxury image to maintain, the “fast fashion” sector has the need to satisfy a much higher demand of products and to keep the prices as low as their customers expect it to be. To its advantage, the ‘haute couture’ industry has a major budget that caters to producing many different collections, distributing creations worldwide, subsidizing and advertising campaigns and fashion shows on a big scale, using refined and selected fabrics, such as silk or pure cotton. The list goes on.

Here lie the compromises on sustainability; using fabric is one of the main costs that a company has to deal with when producing collections. Every season brings a new collection and new waves of production within a small time frame. Someone may argue that brands should be ready to make some compromises on their revenues to help the environment. However, is important to remember that the amount of competitors in this sector is almost unlimited and it is fundamental for every single one of them to find a way to stand out from the crowd. This can consist in being the first to release new fashion items, for example, which comes with the consequence of the utilisation of cheaper synthetic materials.  

The only thing that remains to do to start minimizing the fashion industry’s impact on the environment, is avoiding these quickly produced pieces of clothing, and finding more sustainable methods to purchase clothes.

By Cinzia Appetecchia

Photography: Edwin Lee on Flickr

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