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In 2018, high fashion giant Burberry shocked the world by destroying a massive amount of goods – almost £28.6 Million worth clothing, accessories and perfumes that remained unsold at the end of the year. At the rate, the total value of goods destroyed by Burberry over the past 5 years was estimated at £90 Million.
That was just one out of many brands that is possibly doing the same thing. The sad reality is that Burberry is not alone in this highly unsustainable practice. In fact, statistics suggest that more than half of fast fashion items produced, are thrown away within one year of purchasing, all of which end up being destroyed, burnt or in landfills.
This causes major harm to the planet. Fashion is already the second biggest contributor of environmental pollution in the world, causing more than 50% of carbon emissions through its different processes, and these numbers are expected to rise by a great margin over the coming years.
In the light of being socially responsible and perhaps with a genuine intent of making the world a better place to live in, a lot of big names in the fast fashion industry are using organic fabrics and launching “sustainable” collections now. One look at the summer catalogs of a few major brands like H&M and Zara will reveal a noticeable use of cheap unprocessed or organic cotton, marketed as part of the “CONSCIOUS” collection by H&M and as part of the “Join Life” initiative by Zara.
A commendable initiative indeed, setting examples for every other high profile fast fashion brand out there. However, does it demonstrate a reliable and trustworthy way of fast fashion turning sustainable?
Let’s put things into perspective first.
Fast fashion is categorized by constant and quick release of new collections or designs in keeping with the fast changing trends in the industry. It is driven by the quick identification of fashion trends and quick turnaround times to produce those trends to make them available in the market for people to buy, only to end up being thrown away once the trend fades.
As is clear, the process is very quick and requires efficient labor.
At the same time, the prices of fast fashion items are always on the affordable side. This is because the items are mass produced with the help of low cost labour from countries like India, where they are made to work for long hours with very low wages.
Now coming back to the conscious collections of fast fashion brands, have you noticed how often they roll out these new sustainable collections?
Have you also noticed how brands like H&M always manage to keep their prices, even in their sustainable collection affordable?
The reality remains that these brands produce even sustainable items in large volumes, which actually takes away from their sustainability.
As per the claims of many of the fast fashion brands rolling out sustainable collections, there should at least be 50% of sustainable materials such as organic cotton or recycled fabrics. On analysis, it was found that the organic content in the materials used was far less than 10%.
Moreover, organic cotton would only be sustainable when grown in areas where there are abundant water resources and when raised along with food crops, rather than as a threat to them. However, lately cotton farming is seen being shifted to desert areas, which once again takes away from their sustainability.
Suffice it to say, there is still a long way to go for many fast fashion brands to genuinely realize the need for sustainable efforts and implement them in production. Their initiatives are praise worthy, however, evidently, not all sustainable collections are actually sustainable.
Out of some of the most popular brands in the market today, there is one brand that seems to be headed in the right direction.
Reformation – a 10 year old brand that primarily sold re-purposed vintage items; which has now evolved in to an amazing sustainable brand loved by the likes of Karlie Kloss and Rihanna.
The brand is recognized as a fast fashion brand as it is indeed driven by changing fashion trends and it releases new collections twice a year. However, they produce items in much less quantity, which results in pieces selling out very fast while the demand still remains. They don’t mark down their prices very often for the same reason, as the demand never completely dies and there is never any excess stock.
Perhaps Reformation is paving the way for other brands as well to move towards an industry that is trend driven and sustainable at the same time; finally a way for fast fashion to turn sustainable.However it would be safe to say that we are not there yet.