By Turban Thinker
I have been championing social and ethical responsibility for almost 20 years and have continually been frustrated with the fact that it has always been the least priority on most fashion brands agendas. For the past 15 years the entire focus of the industry was profits, profits and more profits, driven by fast fashion. Then came social media which propelled the desire to continuously showcase new outfits, sometimes four or five a day to ensure that you were seen as relevant and socially viable.
I have been fortunate to have worked with some of the worlds most amazing artisans in India, designing beautiful bespoke handmade products and let me tell you something, there is nothing more incredible that seeing these skilled individuals creating the most beautiful treasures. I tried desperately to educate the consumer and industry that there were a number of things at stake, with over consumption leading to pollution of the environment, potential unethical trading, the demise of these micro economies that were sustaining small villages and their people, and that the actual artisanal art and craft itself was dying because there were few champions protecting it.
Simply, if there was no demand for slow handmade products as they are rapidly replaced by mass made machine made products, craft stood no chance.
Now fast forward, and the pandemic has propelled sustainability to the forefront. This you might say is good, if not great news, and it is. Finally, sustainability is having its voice, but is it actually being heard. Thankfully we have heroines like Greta Thunberg representing the next generation, steering and forcing climate change and environmental issues to be heard, but fashion has a long, long way to go.
The global pandemic has shaken the fashion industry and bankrupted hundreds of businesses, grounding it to a halt, and as a consequence global fashion sales have crashed, media has reported billions of dollars’ worth of orders cancelled, and because of fast fashion that means millions of tons of garments have gone to waste and will end up in landfills.
Further articles on the e-commerce boom during this time, and online retailers encouraging consumers to purchase multiple items to try and return, means that even more than ever, these will contrary to your thinking, not end up back on the shelf but again, but in a landfill.
The plus side is that millions of people are stuck at home, rethinking their priorities, restructuring their financials and with so many furloughed and without a job, spend has been curbed and shoppers are questioning what they actually need and what they can actually afford to spend. Thankfully we see social media focus on things like up-cycling from your own wardrobe and an increase in secondhand goods as social media pushes acceptance and environmental efforts.
So, what are the challenges facing conscious fashion?
Communication, communication, communication, without having transparent processes and entire supply chains shared with the consumer, educating them on the environmental and social impacts, then it will certainly take a while before we see any real impact. If online retail is set to increase by at least 25% in 2020, then it is the responsibility of brands and the fashion industry to use technology such as AI, to recognize the shoppers habits, purchases, sizing, returns and discourage them from purchasing multiple items but focus on the size, fit and style that appeals to them from the data intelligence that they have gathered.
Governments need to make it a priority and force it on their agendas and build incentive programs to suppliers and manufacturers to move into recycled and upcycled materials instead of growing cotton. They need to instill advertising standards that must educate and show the consumer the entire process and the damage caused by over consumption. If they don’t, then again, it’s a long way away from making real change.
I want to share with you some of the shocking figures on the returns, the tons that go to landfill, water consumption and environmental impact
Every year 3.5 billion products are returned in the US alone generating tonnes of CO2 in the process. Over 1 million packages will be returned by unhappy buyers to e-commerce stores each day, this is a 26% increase from last year with over 2 billion kilograms of this ending up in landfill. This leads to 13 tonnes of CO2 being released into the environment and a vast majority of brands rely on single use “polybags”.
Retailers send over 5 billion pounds of waste from returns to landfill each year in the US alone? And that’s not counting the returns that are incinerated. Their transportation overall goes on to contribute a staggering 15 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. Less than half of returns go back on sale, as it’s cheaper and less hassle for retailers to send them to an incinerator or landfill. Shockingly, even selling them at a discount to secondary vendors or liquidation services is more expensive.
That includes fabric being made out of fossil fuels, clothes dyed with toxic chemicals and created in factories that pump large amounts of noxious pollutants into the air by process.
Let’s talk about consumption:
To produce just one cotton shirt requires approximately three thousand litres of water, that’s 900 days of the average household usage of water. Textiles production (including cotton farming) uses around 93 billion cubic meters of water annually, representing 4% of global freshwater withdrawal.
It’s estimated that around 20% of industrial water pollution in the world comes from the treatment and dyeing of textiles, and about 8,000 synthetic chemicals are used to turn raw materials into textiles.
- 85 percent – The percentage of water used in textile processing that goes into dying the fabrics, which, in many cases, leads to run off, thereby polluting nearby water sources. (Cotton, Inc.)
- 3250 liters – How much water it takes to produce the cotton needed for one t-shirt – that is almost three years’ worth of drinking water. (WWF).
- 8183 liters – The gallons of water to grow enough cotton to produce just one pair jeans. (Tree Hugger).
- 113 billion liters –The water required for one year’s worth of global textile production (including cotton farming). (Elle MacArthur Foundation).
- 5.9 trillion liters – The amount of water used each year for fabric dyeing alone. (World Resources Institute).
I hope that by reading this you truly get the picture and understand the overall impact that consumption is having on our planet, our future generations and ethics. Whilst we are moving ahead and sustainability now seems to be on the fashion industries agenda, it needs to be a permanent fixture.
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By Future Fashion ME
S ustainable fashion – a term that has risen to become a mainstream movement, especially in the last few years. The world has seen established, prominent brands revise entire business models, and implement new initiatives around this movement. It would serve well to offer the technical definition of the term at this point – “the movement and process of fostering change to fashion products and the fashion system towards greater ecological integrity and social justice.”, via Wikipedia.
A useful addition to the technically-sound definition can be “mindset”. Sustainable fashion has always been, in its core-essence, a mindset. A mindset spanning almost all of the supply chain; where every purchase or production decision is consciously made against the backdrop of the greater, unselfish good. In other words, sustainable fashion is a way of life. In today’s day and age, any analysis on sustainable fashion cannot be complete without the lens of the COVID-19.
The Coronavirus pandemic this year served as a long overdue reality check to all of humanity. All facades of modern life – transportation, urban design, social constructs, and so on – were put to the toughest test seen in recent times. The fashion industry is no different. The role of the industry as a high-impact pollutant is widely established – production practices that overburden natural ecosystems, mismanagement of fashion waste accounting for high landfill occupancy, and heavy societal constructs that dictate extensive consumption.
In a post-pandemic world, sustainable fashion is a natural alternative. Surely the world must switch to a system more harmonious with the already over-stretched fragile natural balance? The answer to that is yes, it must – with humanity on the brim of a climate emergency and a biodiversity collapse, sustainable fashion must be the solution. The real question, however, is – is such a switch realistically, logistically possible?
To attempt to answer that, again, the lens of one of modern world’s most dominant systems must be used; capitalism. In the pre-COVID world, especially with the efforts of environmental rights groups, sustainability was edged forward on major corporate agendas. Progress was made across all spheres – from planning to reporting. However, in the post-COVID world, a bleak new set of facts emerges.
This pandemic has disrupted supply chains, forced long-term closures and slashed consumer spending power in unprecedented ways, unlike anything in modern history. The fashion industry is facing severe repercussions in the form of sapped demand, managing wages and salaries as well as non-performing real estate costs. This scenario does not bode well for the case of mainstream adoption of sustainable fashion, which was on track for considerable progress.
As is widely known, some of the core tenets of sustainable fashion involve fair wages to workers, sourcing of responsibly grown raw material, and high-quality waste management. In the current economic scenario, therefore, the most pressing concern is to stay afloat for the fashion industry. Prospects for a revolutionary shift – and a highly capital-intensive one at that will be slim. Long-lasting systems change will take a considerable while, clearly.
As bleak as the outlook might appear, reality suggests differently. On a personal account, anecdotes of members of local communities, notably college students, give way to cautious optimism. Independent “clothes-mending” services in an opposition to fast fashion can be seen popping up across local Facebook groups; online marketplaces that promote the resale of pre-owned fashion items and, generally, a high level of alertness to combat today’s consumption-driven culture is visible.
In conclusion, sustainable fashion in the post-pandemic age refers to a collective way of life – a mindset. Every individual can contribute – or take away from – progress on this crucial, central movement. The impact of your decisions, and mine, cannot be overstated enough. After all, as the famous adage goes, there is no Planet B.
O nly a decade ago, as the lights dimmed around the runway at Fashion Week, excited and well-groomed hands would reach for their pen and paper to take notes of this year’s luxury collections. As the years passed by, equally excited and well-groomed hands reached for iPhones to take snapshots and videos of the runway models wearing the latest collections and to share with the global online world. Fast-forward to 2020 and the luxury industry is estimated to lose $30-40 billion in sales due to the coronavirus epidemic. At Milan Fashion Week this year, you had to catch the runway show online. Giorgio Armani chose to stream their runway show on the web – from a completely empty venue.
“The longer the outbreak lasts, the more problematic and longer it will take for brands to recover,” states Mario Ortelli from Ortelli & Co, and also predicts that 2020 will be one of the worst years for the luxury fashion industry. Many companies are still closed or have limited hours. Most have shifted from spending money on events to spending on digital marketing because that’s where customers are right now – on social media.1
“To be honest, I don’t know what we’ll be doing or when we’ll be starting, but to design a collection I need my team,” explained top designer, Marc Jacobs, who admitted he would be opting out of the show entirely, along with many other major brands. “And my team needs to look at fabrics. And those fabrics come from Italy. And we travel, and there’s a lot of things that go on. Until we discover a new way to work or a new end goal to work towards, we really have nothing to do.”
Not too long ago, Fashion Week was invite-only, and the rich and famous got to admire the models strutting in the most fabulous, luxury items. While the rest of the world had to catch up weeks later by reading and gawking at pictures from Fashion Week in a glossy magazine. Still, nonetheless, we felt as though we were a part of the excitement and glamor as soon as we held that magazine in our own excited and well-groomed hands.
Before social media, Fashion Week was our opportunity to see what the top Hollywood celebrities would be wearing that year. There was an electric excitement knowing we couldn’t purchase the fabulous items right away. It happened to everyone in the audience – a model struts down the runway in an outfit that made us gasp in shock and awe – sending chills up and down our spine. Our heart and soul claimed that piece of fashion for ourselves and we would anticipate the next six months for that very special piece to be released.
In this new generation where social media lives and breathes with us daily, fashionistas look to Instagram influencers and fashion bloggers to find out what’s trending. Just months before the pandemic hit, these influencers and bloggers were constantly posting new pictures of them wearing the newest products from luxury brands – making social media a self-updating fashion magazine.
“As a fashion blogger, I’m a consumer myself, and also I’m really connected with other consumers. All my followers are obviously interested in what I’m wearing and what’s trending, and so they are consumers as well,” said Kung, a fashion blogger at Velvet and Vino.
“I do feel like I’m able to enjoy it, plus capture it, because it’s such an exciting experience to be there. My brain can only take in so much,” Kung said. “There’s so many different looks that they’re presenting in their collection that even if you’re just sitting there enjoying it you’re not going to remember it all.”3
Today’s brands seek out personalities with a big audience. Social media influencers are followed by millions of consumers, and brands are taking advantage of this huge marketing opportunity. Tommy Hilfiger demonstrated the result of using social media and influencers to maximize their audience size. Before the pandemic, they hosted the largest event Fashion Week has ever seen – shutting down Venice Beach because thousands of fans showed up from around the globe.4 The luxury brand, Givenchy, recently announced that young superstar, Ariana Grande with 203 million followers on Instagram alone, will be the new face of the company.5 A few years ago, the iconic brand, Chanel, made 15-year-old starlet, Willow Smith, the face of their brand. Willow, with seven million followers, made her debut in Paris Fashion Week in 2016.6
At this current moment in time, influencers who make a living from paid sponsorships are experiencing a major low in business with sponsored ad content dropping down to 4 percent.7 Influencers had to pivot the subject of their content and relate to what the world is experiencing right now, instead of promoting luxury fashion. A fashion influencer, Courtney Trop, decided to launch a CBD brand of her own during this pandemic which now makes up 50% of her profits. Other influencers are posting content about easy recipes and gift-giving guides – to stay financially afloat.7
But what is the impact of these young influencers – on their young audience? A survey from the Royal Society of Public Health on 14-24 year-old girls and women, claimed social media platforms increased feelings of depression, anxiety, poor body image, and loneliness. With girls at an increased risk to compare themselves to other girls at this critical age when developing their personal identity, the problem arises when these minors seek information, company, comfort, and advice from these influencers – not just entertainment.8
So, the question is – how do we effectively and responsibly incorporate social media in our society? It seems social media has its advantages regarding the global online market, so brands can reach a much bigger audience, and it opens up the possibility for modern people to experience Fashion Week for – possibly – the first time in their lives. While we must consider the disadvantages such as the social and societal pressure it puts upon our youth, and the pressure it puts on long-standing luxury brands to replace well-known and respected celebrities with social media influencers and bloggers who are followed by millions.