Fast Fashion and Sustainable Style: Why the Fashion Industry Need to Slow Down

Since the introduction of fast fashion in the early 2000’s, the industry has developed to become the fifth most polluting sector, according to statistics published in the 2017 ‘Pulse of the Fashion Industry Report.’

It’s about time to rethink our fast-fashion habit.

As of now, fast fashion produces 20 percent of wastewater globally, generates more greenhouse gas emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined and contributes 92 million tons of solid waste to landfills each year.

While fast fashion is nothing new, it is receiving increased media attention as people begin to realise the real price of their fast fashion addiction.

Until the 1990's, most fashion labels produced two main collections a year. However, because the cost of clothing has not risen at a rate relative to that of other consumer goods, we are now buying 60% more clothes than we were 20 years ago according to the World Resources Institute.

That is an average of 20 new garments manufactured per person, per year.

As a result, labels such as Zara now manufacture 24 collections a year and introduce new products into their stores on a weekly basis.

To add to this, consumers are wearing individual garments less and keeping them about half as long as they did 15 years ago. These factors are expected to result in a 77 percent increase in CO2 emissions and a 20 percent increase in water consumption by the industry by 2025.

The onus must be on fashion labels to make the environmental sustainability of the industry a priority. However, the role a generation of Instagram influences could play in affecting a positive change should not be overlooked.

Figures from the marketing analysis company ‘InfluencerDB’ estimate that the top 20 fashion brands earned over $650m a year from exposure gained through influencers who are paid to promote their products.

In a BBC documentary, Fashion’s Dirty Secret which aired last year, senior lecturer in fashion marketing at the University of Manchester, Pasty Perry said, “There is so much fashion in the marketplace that it’s hard to make a choice, so the influencer provides a shortcut.” 

Many influencers have started to use this power to direct their followers to a more sustainable style future.

Taz Kelleher and Geraldine Carton who founded Sustainable Fashion Dublin are a great example of this. 

Sustainable Fashion Dublin hosts swap shops, charity crawls and sustainability talks across Dublin. They also travel across Ireland, hosting pop up flea markets and both women promote their sustainable approach to fashion across their Instagram pages.

There has also been an increase in clothing manufacturers such as the Irish brand ‘Grown’ adopting a more sustainable approach to the fashion industry.

Grown aims to only use fully organic, biodegradable and recyclable products to make their clothes. They plant a native Irish tree for every t-shirt that they sell and donate 1% of their annual sales to help protect the environment.

Unfortunately, larger fashion labels have been slow to follow suit and it seems unlikely that they will move away from a business model that allows them to sell more of their product.

However, the 2018 Pulse of the Fashion Industry Report indicates that implementing a more sustainable business strategy will actually increase business profitability.

The report estimates that companies will face a margin decline of more than 3 percentage points by 2030 if they continue business as usual. 

The environmental impact of the industry may not be enough to convince companies to change their business model.

But people say that money talks. 

So it’s time for it to tell one of the world’s most polluting industries to implement a more sustainable approach to fashion.