Can we slow fast fashion and give the planet a chance to recover?

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Fast fashion in a clothes store

The fashion industry is a juggernaut; an economy of its very own. Given its colossal size, the negative impact it has on the environment is unsurprising. Can we slow fast fashion to give our planet a chance to recover?

The cost of looking good

From the agricultural production of natural textile materials – such as cotton, linen, and wool – to the manufacturing processes required to design our garments, to transportation along each step of the supply chain, fashion comes at a high greenhouse-gas cost.

Beyond these high greenhouse emissions, the fashion sector globally is fed by millions of litres of water, deprives ecosystems of natural land, and produces thousands of tonnes of wasted textile materials every year.

The drive for ‘fast fashion’ — inexpensive clothes bought and disposed of as trends change — has led to unsustainable supply chain issues that can no longer remain unaddressed:

  • Manufacturing one t-shirt requires 1,200 kilogrammes of water, and produces nine kilogrammes of CO2.
  • The fashion industry emits as much greenhouse gas each year as France, Germany and the UK combined.
  • 87 percent of the fibre input used for clothing is incinerated or disposed of in landfill.

But this may be changing. Trends have moved on, with eco-consciousness now much higher on the agenda.

Thinking greener and more sustainable

Consumers are now looking for brands that are more sustainable. This could be through the use of more sustainable materials during manufacturing, supporting ethical causes with profits, or re-selling used stock in their lines.

Shoppers themselves are now also increasingly buying local or second-hand, or choosing to repair, upcycle or swap clothes rather than acquiring brand new items.

Conscious of this change, fashion lines are embracing AI and other digital technologies to improve manufacturing and transportation efficiency. Startups are leveraging machine learning solutions to help textile manufacturers reduce waste at source, while on-demand production and digital batch assembly are now also being used by brands to demonstrate their sustainability.

The sector around fashion is changing too. Cecilie Thorsmark, CEO of Copenhagen Fashion Week, is now restricting fast fashion brands from having a platform to profile new lines.

“In 2023, we will introduce minimum standards for fashion brands to comply with to attend our Fashion Week. These will cover the entire value chain, especially supply,” she said.

As the fashion industry becomes greener, consumer behaviour is also changing to reflect a higher demand for sustainability:

  • 50 percent of the US Gen Z cohort has purchased used clothing in the last 12 months.
  • More than two-thirds of consumers consider sustainable materials a key factor when shopping.
  • Recycling clothing textiles into new apparel is a US$100 billion-a-year opportunity.

Hopefully from now on looking good won’t have to cost the planet.

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Main image of a woman shopping: freestocks/Unsplash

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