With the fashion industry generating a greater impact on the global climate than all international airline flights and maritime shipping trips combined in the last year alone, it is no surprise that ‘fast fashion’ is becoming an increasingly relevant topic of controversy. The term refers to the way in which the rapidly evolving industry has reinvented itself since the 1960s, moving from a business model consisting of four, seasonal collections produced in a year, to different products being churned out every week. This new model has the undeniable appeal of enabling us to stay perfectly on trend, whilst maintaining an affordable price tag for the every-day consumer. The fall out of such a consumer culture, however, delivering looks from the catwalk to high street shelves at breakneck speed, is not so palatable. We have seen the increase in use of low quality and toxic materials and a rise in textile waste, with 11 million tonnes of clothing neglected to landfill in the United States each year alone. In turn, it seems we have initiated another threat to our already-vulnerable environment. So, the questions are: what can be done, and whose responsibility is it to do?
Global consumer pressure has forced a response from those with soft power in the fashion industry. In the past year, we have witnessed the first real action from designer fashion houses to move away from a seemingly well-established culture of fast fashion to bring about a more sustainable approach, primarily with regards to the raw materials used by brands. Sustainable fashion pioneer Stella McCartney has ensured no real fur or leather are to be used across her brand, alongside the introduction of re-engineered cashmere, in order to minimise environmental impact. Non-conformist designer and activist Vivienne Westwood has begun collaborating with Project Zero, an organisation working towards utilising the ocean to reverse the impacts of increased carbon in our atmosphere, whilst declaring that ‘people don’t release how quickly we are marching towards a possible mass extinction’. In June, Prada Group launched their Re-nylon initiative, a collection using 100% recycled materials which can be continually recycled without losing material quality. This in particular seems to be a monumental move, a true reinvention of the meaning of ‘timeless’ fashion.
New approaches to limiting the impact of the industry extend beyond the materials used by designers. We are beginning to see the emergence of fashion rental services, firms capitalising on the increasingly circular fashion economy by offering a subscription fee for members to access the ‘world’s largest shared closet’ for high end, luxury items. Perhaps a bizarre concept at first, yet we have observed the move in type of consumption from owning to renting across a number of goods in this millennium. Consider the switch from iTunes song purchases to Apple Music. What’s more, resale services are projected to outweigh fast fashion outlets within the next decade, with designers encouraging the resale of their products to reduce environmental impact through increasing the lifespan of the goods. It seems as though perhaps consumption truly is changing.
Ultimately, these brand initiatives and the emergence of ‘fashion services’ are acting as a powerful signal to the entire industry to clean up their act. Rightly or wrongly, it is the designer fashion houses who have the influence to pave the way for more sustainable practice, where the message will inevitably trickle down to high street stores. We are already seeing environmentally-aware changes from ASOS, with their recently established ‘Responsible Edit’, and H&M, with their Conscious Collection. Yet, it is clear that it cannot stop here, with the fashion industry projected to be responsible for a quarter of global carbon emissions by 2030 if production and supply chains remain the same. Let’s hope this is the start of a paradigm shift within the industry, moving, with increasing pace, towards a more mindful era of fashion which will do its part in reducing the human impact on climate change.
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