The Fashionable Turn towards Sustainability – Collective Action on Individuality in the Fashion Industry
It is tough to love our clothes and keep wearing them for longer while we are constantly faced with a tempting array of newness on offer in the shops. But before you head out into the January sales for those irresistible deals, spare a thought for the impact of fast fashion on the environment. Fashion today is all about individuality. It is about managing your own personal appearance to be just unique enough to be cool. This continuous demand for individuality directly results in the existence of a fashion industry that produces highly fashionable clothes at a high speed and, more importantly, low cost. Disturbing statistics express the impact that this very fashion industry is having on the environment.
The fashion industry is the second largest polluting industry and creates many problems in its countries of production. After the collapse of the garment factory Rana Plaza in Bangladesh in 2013, this became public to a wider audience and a media discussion started. Still, even five years after this catastrophe killed more than 1000 people, little change has happened.Another unintended consequence of fast fashion is textile waste, as more people buy more clothes and do not keep them as long as they used to. Wardrobes in developed nations are saturated, so retailers tempt costumers with constant newness and convince them the clothes they already own are no longer fashionable in order to keep selling more and more. For this reason, the fashion industry creates products that aim to be trendy and expressive instead of being sustainable or recyclable. But what happens to all the clothes that we do not want anymore? Only 15 % of the clothes we dispose of each year end up in thrifts stores, while the rest, which annually equals 13 million tons in the United States alone, ends up in landfills. The troubling realities of this supply chain show that the fashion industry has a real waste problem.
Collective action should be taken on this unsustainable business-model. The model of a circular economy has been highly-discussed for some years now. It acknowledges the issues the industry is facing and considers the finite nature of resources. As a rejection of the current, unsustainable linear model, it aims to stop the sheer endless creation of waste and pollution, imposing changes already in the design process. The circular model exceeds the ambition of merely selling a product, instead selling service and value.
However, before changes in economic models can emerge, demand as shaped through choices made by individuals, needs to shift first. We have to start with ourselves and our own beliefs. Our own moral compass must repel the single-use mindset and opt to choose something else. This sentiment is echoed by activists such as Greenpeace, who say fashion’s circularity targets do not go far enough. They say the industry needs to stop marketing cheap fast-fashion altogether, advocating for a slowdown our current consumption level. Besides only blaming the industry, we need to change our buying behaviour. We need to re-discover long-term relationships to the products we purchase. So, it is about a call to action to be active citizen. To talk and think about what are the consequences when you are buying something. Although we collectively have to adjust the way of expressing our individuality through fashion, the future holds promising and adequate techniques to prevent wastage resulting from the garment industry.
Suggested further readings:
The Sustainable Future of the Modern Fashion Industry by Kutsenkova (https://scholar.dominican.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1001&context=honors-theses)
TED-talk: 3 creative ways to fix fashion’s waste problemby Amit Kalra (https://www.ted.com/talks/amit_kalra_3_creative_ways_to_fix_fashion_s_waste_problem?language=en)
UN Environment: Why fast fashion needs to slow down (https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/blog-post/why-fast-fashion-needs-slow-down)
The Guardian: Is fast fashion giving way to the sustainable wardrobe?(https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/dec/29/fast-fashion-giving-way-sustainable-wardrobe)