27 JUNE 2020

In late May, Gucci announced that it is reducing its number of yearly collections from five to two, and the abolishment of its seasonal collections. Creative director Alessandro Michele believes that fashion collections represented by the four seasons are a thing of the past, whilst pointing towards the distinct problem of sustainability in the fashion market, stating that “clothes should have a longer life” and “our reckless actions have burned the house we live in”

This move from Gucci serves as a major declaration by a powerhouse luxury brand to support and work towards a more sustainable and less consuming method of producing quality products. It is a strong statement and brings hope to companies who aim to insight and evoke radical change. The announcement also highlights the attention that has been drawn towards the fashion industry in recent years regarding its levels of wasteful consumption and the small lifespan of a garment in a brands portfolio.

We now live in a world where the attention drawn to the damage by the production of garments is constantly gaining traction, with companies continuously searching for ways to incorporate sustainable and ethical methods. One such example is M&S, who have made huge improvements in ensuring that their sustainability commitments are being met, including minimising plastic packaging for carrier bags, no plastic coverings for their cashmere jumpers and 100% of their cotton is sustainably sourced. The company are partners with the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) and WWF in order to support more positive practises for farmers and the planet with better water efficiently, improving working conditions and minimising the use of chemicals that affect the environment.

High street and fast fashion brands have always taken their influence from luxury companies and the catwalks, but does the influence stretch beyond the trends and styles for the upcoming season into sustainable practises that Gucci is making headway on and M&S have already adopted?

Zara has committed to all its clothing being made from 100% sustainable materials by 2025 according to The Guardian 4 , whilst H&M has pledged to all its materials being either sustainably sourced or recycled by 2030 5. Whilst these promises seem appealing on the surface, it is argued that the core of the issue of wasteful consumption is not in the materials, but rather the high level of production to keep up with demand, which therefore uses more resources. Zara currently runs 24 shows/collections, whilst similarly H&M run 12-16 per year 6 , and the Business of Fashion have stated in 2019 that Zara releases up to 500 new items per week 7 . Clothing in order to be labelled as sustainable and ethical in its origins needs to be long-lasting, stand against time, be made from good quality materials and priced well so that consumers purchase less throughout the year.

Are the brands and companies that we walk or drive past every day on the streets, shopping centres or browse online really moving forward with the adoption of less impactful methods on their footprint of the plant? Just what and how much damage is being amplified and created by fast fashion companies, and how can we, the consumer stop contributing towards the damaging impact upon the planet?

Fast fashion pushes through cheap clothing that has filtered down through the fashion market hierarchy from the luxury catwalks, and consumer interest in a more affordable price tag has grown significantly over the past decade. To stay ‘on – trend’, these fast fashion brands tend to release new styles and lines every week, Zara being a key example. Fast fashion’s strength relies upon rapid creation of trends and production of garments in short periods of time, using low-quality materials to produce inexpensive products in-keeping with catwalk trends. As consumers, we are compounding the rise of fast fashion and contributing to environmental damage by investing in these products, frequently without an understanding of how these methods of manufacturing are having an impact upon our environment. This is not entirely at the fault of consumers though, as it falls heavily upon misinformation and lack of awareness, as fashion brands tend to keep their processes of production quiet or publish minimal details due to possible unethical or unsustainable methods. You only need to look at the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse with the coverage that the disaster garnered and the response to working conditions of garment manufacturers. So, what are the facts on the damage that is being caused to the environment through excess garment production?

Fast Fashion’s Impact: The Facts 

  • As recently as the May 2020, it has been reported that the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of the world’s carbon gases emissions.
  • Fashion brands are now producing over twice the amount of clothing and yearly collections as they did at the turn of the century, whereas consumers are purchasing clothing at a much faster rate and frequency.
  • Around 1 garbage truck worth of clothing is burned or abandoned in landfill each second – that is up to 85% per year.
  • Microfibers of plastics are found in around 60% of garments, and 500,000 tons of these microfibers are released into the ocean each year through the process of washing clothing.
  • The fashion industry is the second largest consumer of water worldwide as cotton for example requires hundreds of gallons of water for just one product to be produced, hence the introduction of sustainable cotton

When you look at these facts individually, the effect on the planet is startling, but when the facts are combined, it becomes something that is very worrying, and these facts are just an overview. The facts are there, the research is present, and the issue is constantly being brought to light as campaigns against fast fashion are gradually gaining recognition and scope amongst a vast audience. As an individual, sometimes we may think what difference can I make as one person? What effect would I have on a planet as big as ours? Well if every person had that mindset, there would never be any development or change. So as a consumer, what are some examples of how can we reduce the impact and growth of fast fashion’s negative effect on the planet?

  1. Buy Less, Save More. This is a win-win situation, buying less decreases the demand for product, and you can have more money in your wallet.
  2. Buy Sustainable from brands that are focused on their impact on the planet and are therefore made from higher quality and more lasting materials. Ensuring that you buy a better quality of product means longevity and less buying in the future.
  3. Repair & Repurpose your old clothing by fixing wear and tear or re-creating the garment into something completely new. Alternatively donate to family, friends or charity shops if the garment is unwanted to reduce the amount of product sent to landfill through waste.
  4. Shop Second Hand or Swap. You can find the most amazing original and vintage pieces in charity or thrift stores at a much more affordable price than in high street shops. In comparison, swap some pieces with friends or family to combat fast fashion, and spread the word about a less impactful approach to transforming your wardrobe for the planet and on the cheap.

There are many options available to consumers to pave the way for a more sustainable and ethical approach to purchasing garments. All it takes is the drive to be willing to try something new by investing time in repurposing old garments, browsing through the never-ending rails in a thrift store, or just not buying much at all!

Fast fashion is having a huge impact not only on our development of trends and seasonal styles, but on the environment and the communities that manufacture these cheap garments at a rapid pace to continuously create profit. The good news is that there are many people across the globe who are speaking out, learning, researching and taking more positive steps to make their own impact. It can be done, should be done and must be done for the future of our planet.