“There’s no fashion on a dead planet.” This was just one of the protestors’ slogans who were expressing their rage and anger during the London Fashion Week by blocking Mercedes-Benz-sponsored cars and wearing green coats. Still, this year BBC Earth has launched a new brand to “place sustainable fashion at the heart” of London Fashion Week in collaboration with British Fashion Council and clothing company Mother of Pearl. There is a sign of a shift to more sustainable fashion and it has been present for almost two years now. But why is the fashion industry targeted by all these protestors that are present at almost every fashion event? And who is the one to blame for considerable environmental damages made by the fashion industry? The producers or the consumers?
Why is the fashion industry not sustainable?
There is no doubt that fashion is a big business nowadays and its role in the global economy is huge with estimated annual worldwide revenues of around £1.5 trillion. According to the research conducted by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Global Fashion Agenda (GFA) (Pulse of the Fashion Industry 2017) in 2017, “the overall apparel consumption will rise by 63%, from 62 million tons today to 102 million tons in 2030”. And all these facts would not be so troublesome if all this growth of the fashion industry does not come at high environmental and social costs. The fashion industry is one of the largest polluters with uncontrollable water use, massive CO2 emissions along the supply chain, use of petrochemicals, and poor waste management. Fast fashion that presents cheap clothing items produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends has been taking its toll on the environment. Damaging plastic microfibres from polyester fabrics, artificial suede and cheap fabrics as well as hazardous chemicals used for dyeing of clothes. enter ocean ecosystems with devastating consequences. The production of cotton also does not come without a huge environmental cost and it is associated with freshwater resource depletion. Fast fashion does not prioritise health and safety, living wages, welfare and working conditions, forced labour issues, children rights.
Whose fault is it?
But where should we place producers and consumers in this story? There is a certain number of fashion companies that have started their journey in sustainability and the industry already celebrated green leaders, recycled fashion, circular fashion star objects. According to the Fashion Transparency Index 2018 by Fashion Revolution, which demonstrates the readiness of the sector to disclose information on their suppliers, supply chain policies and practices, certifications and standards applied, and most important, social and environmental impact: “the average score for all 150 brands and retailers is 21% out of 250 possible points, proving that there is still a lot of work to be done”. In 2018 we witnessed an improvement of 5% average increase in the brands and retailers’ level of transparency compared to 2017. But is this enough? The lack of globally unified legislation that will be adopted by all countries, leave retailers take self-initiated actions to produce more sustainable products. Yet, the Fashion Revolution has launched the campaign Who made my clothes? in order to encourage brands and retailers to “respond with the hashtag #imadeyourclothes and to demonstrate transparency in their supply chain”.
But should we only question brands and retailers? Apparently not. Consumers, even though being aware of environmental, social and economic issues, their willingness to act may often be hindered by various factors such as availability, affordability, conflicting priorities, lack of trust and force of habit, as stated in the document published by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) – Sustainable Consumption Facts and Trends. Moreover, According to The Sustainability Imperative-New insights on consumer expectations, Nielsen’s 2015 Global Corporate Sustainability Report, 73% of Millennials are willing to spend more on a product if it comes from a sustainable brand. When it comes to fashion, according to the Fashion Revolution consumer survey 2018, that included 5,000 people aged 16-75 in Europe’s largest markets (Germany, United Kingdom, France, Italy and Spain), more than one in three people take into account social (38%) and environmental (37%) impacts when buying clothes.
Let’s raise the awareness of sustainability in the era of consumerism!
Consumers can lead the shift to ethical and sustainable fashion! Vivienne Westwood, one of the most famous designers and environmental activist, urges us to: “Buy less. Choose well. Make it last”. So, lets become more aware of the reality we are living in and the future we want to see. After all, majority of us are not rich enough to buy cheap things.
Photo credits: Atopos