What's Holding Back the Sustainability In Fashion Industry?
Fashion is an $800 billion global industry. However, it is a ten trillion dollar environmental disaster and major contributor to unregulated labor conditions. In conjunction with worker exploitation and horrendous environmental destruction, is the fact that over half of all new clothing purchased lands in a landfill within 12 months. All these issues have been well documented by many, from Naomi Klein's book "No Logo" to multiple articles published by Grist. But instead of discussing the numerous reasons why the fashion industry needs to change, I am going to explore why it hasn't already changed despite its unsustainable nature.
Lack of regulations: The lack of regulations in the fashion industry for waste, water and energy levels, makes it easy for the brands to ignore these issues.
The way the fashion industry works today, it's not enough for the brands to just be aware of the environmental impact their production processes create. The government has to get involved with enacting sustainable policies and regulations that push for increased transparency throughout the entire fashion cycle — from the beginning of the supply chain to its end. There is a definite lack of regulations in the fashion industry when it comes to protecting the sustainability of their products. There are voluntary guidelines set up by organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. A study done by these organization was able to determine that some of the leading brands in the United States, such as H&M, Nike and Gap Inc., are doing a pretty good job across different environmental parameters. However, there are still plenty of opportunities for improvement. We need this because often times, brands are hidden from the perspective of consumers and not everyone knows how they can protect our planet and fight climate change.
This is one of the issues that needs to be addressed in order to make sustainable the new standard within the fashion industry. It is time for the brands, supply chains and consumers to be aware of and responsible for their carbon footprint. This means more profits, a cleaner planet, and more energy conservation all around.
Fashion is a cyclical industry: A short-term approach to fast fashion, disregard for the labor force and environment, has made it difficult to progress towards sustainability.
The fashion industry can be described as a cyclical process that keeps moving through changes (Klapper and Murray, 2008). As consumers become more conscience of the environment and human rights issues in the fashion industry, they started buying less clothing and more sustainable products. Boutiques began appearing carrying higher-quality apparel produced in moderate quantities with organic cotton, recycled polyester, wool, hemp, and other natural fibers. The price of these clothing pieces is higher than those found at big box stores. This price justifies the difference in quality. An increase in demand for sustainable fashions and brands led to companies increasing their manufacturing scale.
While the fashion industry has made significant progress in recent years to make itself more sustainable, the current level of progress is still far from complete. This is why we don't need to give up on sustainability. We just have to be honest with ourselves.
Vanity around luxury goods: most consumers appreciate craftsmanship and quality, but they still tend to buy more than they need.
There are several reasons for the continuous increase in clothing waste and outflow of western fashion brands. One important reason is that people still tend to buy more than they need; this results in them having too many clothes, which are no longer wearable. They end up donating these to the charities.
Donations are not always the best option, especially if you don't have time to sort through large quantities of clothes and have nowhere to store them until they're sold. Manufacturers, for their part, must then go through the trouble of cleaning and sorting clothes that were donated.
Misconceptions about cost-effectiveness
Many brands assume that sustainability means increased costs and reduced profits which is why many brands are reluctant to take up sustainable measures. Sustainability is not synonymous with increased costs and reduced profits, but many brands assume that it is—this keeps them from taking up sustainable measures.
Furthermore, consumer behavior also drives companies away from sustainability because consumers are increasingly buying cheaper products in bulk rather than buying long-lasting products at higher prices. If you love buying cheap clothes, then you probably don't care to spend more money on sustainable fashion. And that's ok! But what isn't ok is when brands use your love of cheap clothes as an excuse for not choosing sustainability.
The truth is that there are some parts of the fast-fashion industry that just can't be sustainable. It's unrealistic to think that a fast fashion brand will let products sit on shelves for months and months if they aren't moving. When the demand for the product isn't there, it must be cleared out for something new. It can be hard to keep up with consumer trends and expectations in order to produce the right thing at just the right time.
And at the end of the day, fast fashion brands have to make a profit to stay in business. There's nothing wrong with wanting to make money, but when it comes at the expense of people and the planet, something needs to change.
It doesn't help when consumers are happy to buy cheaper products in bulk rather than spending more money on a long-lasting product with better quality and sustainability practices.
But here's where we can do better: buy less. Don't buy things just because they're cheap or trendy—buy things because they are well
Conclusion: these factors make it difficult for fashion companies to move in a sustainable direction
While fashion companies feature sustainability plans and strategies, there will be challenges to overcome and hurdles to get over. Moving forward, the most important things for fashion leaders to do is to continue to focus on improving their sustainability strategy, embrace and support the efforts of other companies in the space and have patience with regard to positive change. Achieving these goals will likely require continued education and engagement across the industry, including designers, manufacturers, suppliers and others so as we can achieve greater sustainability in fashion not just when it comes to materials but also worker welfare.
While the fashion industry is often criticized for its overreliance on a resource and energy-intense process, companies like Madsbay are leading with positive changes and tipping the scales in a greener direction. While much of the work of progress is left to those working in the industry, if we continue to increase our awareness and support this type of enterprise, we can make strides towards a more sustainable future that can benefit everyone.