Sustainability and Fast Fashion: Know the facts

Sustainability and Fast Fashion: Know the facts

by Martin Newman

Posted on Thursday 24th October 2019

Irrespective of your views on climate change, whether you’re a member of Extinction Rebellion or a naysayer who believes that it’s all a load of hype, the science is irrefutable.

One of the consumer sectors that has the biggest issue in this respect is fashion. As much of what you buy on the High Street falls within the fast fashion category. If you buy from brands such as Zara, H&M and Primark you can be sure that they are introducing new styles on a weekly basis. Their ability to do this means they have been able to dramatically reduce their supply chain, which is the time it takes to get a new style from its design to manufactured to the shop floor or online. And of course, this has implications for the environment.

To combat this, we’ve seen a big increase in what you might call ‘conscious collections.’ Products that have been made from recycled materials and that are fully recyclable. Recently, Zara announced that by 2025, all of its clothing would be made from 100% sustainable fabrics. Similarly, H&M announced that by 2030, all of its material and products would be recycled or sustainably sourced. While this is laudable, the current approach is not. Zara releases around 500 new items every week. That’s 20,000 every year! You don’t need to be a mathematician to work out the potential implications of that. A 2016 report by the management consultancy McKinsey estimated that making just one kilogram of fabric produces 23 kilograms of greenhouse gases. It also noted that current recycling technologies "work poorly," resulting in three fifths of clothing being burnt or left to rot. 

In the UK, 300,000 tonnes of clothing is thrown in the bin every year. 20% of which are sent to landfill and 80% are incinerated. Neither of which are exactly great for the environment.

The thing I believe that will have the biggest impact on driving the necessary change is with you, the consumer. I believe like me, you will have a growing sense of guilt about buying so much stuff. And the implications this is having on the environment. This will in turn, gradually, lead to you consuming less. If consumption reduces, then the fast fashion model will no longer be relevant. As the demand won’t be there to drive it. We will return to an age where our fashion brands do seasonal launches of spring/summer and autumn/winter with occasional drops of new styles in-season as opposed to hundreds of new products every week.

I also believe that overtime we’ll see a big increase in local sourcing. For you, the consumer, that means products will become more expensive. That will also play a part in you buying less but often buying products with better quality.