Fashion’s Eco-Problem

Photo Credit: Material Rebellion

Currently the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world—second only to oil—taking up ten percent of total global emissions. Nearly 70 million barrels of oil are used yearly to make polyester—not only the world’s most commonly used fiber but it also takes more than 200 years to decompose; there are more than 150 billion garments are created annually, which could give every person on the planet 20 new articles of clothing yearly, and yet, the industry creates about 53 million tons of landfill waste a year—up to 95% of those textiles could be recycled. As a global industry, fashion is bound to have large numbers tied to it—it is about a three trillion-dollar industry, contributing close to a third of the global economy—but this amount of waste is hard to swallow. With global emissions and warming at the forefront of everyone’s mind, what is the fashion industry doing to promote sustainability?

Photo Courtesy of Stella McCartney

As of last year, the Global Fashion Agenda believed that 75% of brands and fashion companies had improved their sustainability and many large names like Gucci, Versace, and Michael Kors have moved away from using fur. Gucci has also devised a ten-year “Culture of Purpose” sustainability plan focused on the environment, humanity, and new models. Vivienne Westwood and Stella McCartney both have placed major focus on recycled collection and upcycling materials. There has been a decided upward trend in brands that market themselves entirely on their green-ness (Zady, Veja, Stella McCartney, to name a few). Kering, a French conglomerate of luxury brands, has made bold commitments to reducing its overall environmental impact by at least 40% by 2025. In the market, self-described ‘sustainable’ products have grown by 139%, yet there hasn’t been a large movement to a total edit of the fashion’s worlds relationship with the environment.

Photo Credit: @jacobolmedo on Instagram

Fast Fashion stands in the way of many changes. Its quick pace has created a throw-away culture involving clothing. While Mintel found that 69% women 25-44 are willing to save up to buy less and buy better, the price of beautiful and ethically made pieces is still too high for many consumers. The mass-produced, cheaply made high street fashion, however, is a formidable opponent. The power of Fast Fashion and the brands reliance on turning out products at a constant pace does not aid the argument for sustainability, but the youth’s movement to more green options may leave them no choice, over time, the cost of using so much water and natural resources is not a benefit to Fast Fashion brands like Zara and H&M—nor does it help public opinion. Beyond the long-term business benefits, young shoppers will be more inclined to shop at a store that offers a green selection.

Photo Credit: @greenpeace on Instagram

Sustainability in the fashion world is contingent mostly on two houses: how the clothes are made and how the clothes are consumed. As much as the fashion world needs to fix how they produce clothes and the materials used, consumers need to confront their relationship with clothing. The culture of over-buying and under-wearing clothes we are currently experiencing only increases the environment’s suffering. The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe found that today’s average consumer purchases 60% more clothing than a consumer 20 years ago. However, a poll of 10,000 consumers in 11 countries by The Boston Consulting Group found that sustainable means of production was ranked as the second most important consideration after a brand’s exclusivity. Numerous studies have shown that 65-70% of consumers under 35 are invested shop with the environment in mind, so maybe the times are changing. At this current culturally crux, we cannot just hope that the big businesses make the right choices for us; it is paramount for us as consumers to change how we relate to fashion and its sustainability.


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