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Let’s get ethically fashionable!

The fashion industry is generally known for not being the most ethical and sustainable industry of all, and this is softly put. However, brands are getting more aware of this, it is a vicious cycle we are trapped in fed by consumers' needs to have everything their heart's desire and brands wanting to meet that desire for the lowest costs possible. Like my mum used to tell me when I was angry at my sister for stealing my mascara again and I was plotting my revenge pretty open at the dining table: ‘’somebody has to be the grown-up and shake it off”. It is almost the same with his subject. Or the brands need to change their production methods, or our buying behavior and expectations need to change. 

We are living in a fast world. Fast food, fast service, fast deliveries, fast internet, you name it. We are also living in a world where the climate is of big concern. We are wasting right, left, and center, polluting our planet. What I find interesting about this topic, and I am speaking for myself now, is that we know we are doing it and we all have an opinion about it, but do we really do anything about it? 

Since I started working in the retail and fashion industry, I have been more aware of this topic and, intrigued by it, I went into the app of my favorite online store and looked back at the orders I did for 2021. Almost embarrassed to say as the year is not even over and there are many more stores I have bought clothes from over the year, but on this particular platform only I already reached the 30 garments bought. Insert shame face here. Let’s do some quick math. Let’s round my number up to 50 garments a year. We have about 8 billion people on this earth. We have approx. 750 million people living in Europe only. If all these people would have the same behavioral pattern as I have, again insert shame face, in Europe only stores would have to produce 37,5 billion pieces of clothing. 37,5 billion for 8 billion people on this planet. Wait, what?

Bear in mind that I have now excluded Australia, the USA, Canada, China, Japan, and many, many more. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global CO2 emissions each year. How come? Because the fashion industry to has become, ‘fast’.

What is fast fashion?

Let’s start with asking the question “what is fast fashion”? The internet states the following: 

“Fast fashion can be defined as cheap, trendy clothing that samples ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture and turns them into garments in high street stores at breakneck speed to meet consumer demand. “

So, in other words: Producing a high number of singular items because an influencer on TikTok or Instagram was seen wearing or promoting it, and now it is so hyped that everybody wants it. Seems like a great way to make money, right? 

Fast fashion is a concept that started in the year 1990 and also meant the end of the traditional seasons as we know them. Summer, fall, winter, and spring seasons are replaced with multiple, mini-seasons throughout the year. Sometimes a singular store can have up to 25 seasons! The items made are usually items that you wear for a short period, made with not necessarily the highest quality of fabrics, and then you discard them. Imagine the waste of clothing that is not sold by the end of these mini-seasons. Next to that, imagine the number of items thrown away because of the poor quality and still ending up at the dump maybe not even long after purchase. Does this still seem like a good idea?

Part of the reason why the fashion industry produces these tremendous volumes of clothes is the fast growth of inexpensive synthetic fabrics. Cotton and silk are swapped for polyester and nylon which are derived from fossil fuels. Clothes can be manufactured more affordable for consumers resulting in consumers buying more of these products at a lower cost.  

So, what now?

We are caught in a vicious cycle. Because we consumers want it, brands will keep on making it. And if brands stop using inexpensive oil-based synthetics to fibers with a lower carbon footprint, prices will need to be raised potentially reducing consumption and waste. But money keeps the world turning and the ‘risk’ of making less money because of these changes then must battle against ethical aspects. 

Who is going to give in first is the question? I think the ‘need’ of consumers to have everything fast and in high amounts will not change which means the cycle needs to be broken by the brands themselves which I also find unlikely. Consumers often don't want to know where things are made. The lesser you know, the better. Why be concerned about something unknown to me? The consumer is not innocent in this matter, so it is unfair to only look towards the brands. As I said, it is an ongoing cycle. 

Using our powers right!

In conclusion, the world is done for, ruined, ready for the trash. Thanks for ready my blog again, bye now. Just joking of course! Because besides the things we are not doing very well in the sustainability parts of life, we humans are also developing in such a way that we are learning more about the world through science and have developed immensely on technology grounds. We can help brands in making the right choices in making their organization more sustainable which then also triggers the consumers to think about what they are consuming.

Solutions can be found in different areas of the matter. Brands can invest in recycling technologies that turn old fibers into new fibers. Or start using friendlier materials like bamboo, anything to eliminate the oil-based fabrics from their assortment. Laying the focus on the production side of the issue.

Another equally important side to this story is focusing on the actual demand. Instead of just producing without doing any analyses on sales potential but just basing the need on consumers' greed, brands should use technologies that will inform them upfront and during the selling of items if it is worthwhile producing more yes or no. Doing this smart and with the right software in place, brands will be able to balance out production and sales. Even for already sustainable brands, it is always wise to keep on analyzing this data, so you won’t overproduce. 

Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor will the fashion industry become ethical and sustainable in one either. But there are options for brands to take the first steps towards setting the right example. Breaking this cycle takes guts, make sure you use your powers right.


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The Netherlands

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