By Surma Said
Sustainability is an emerging term thrown around in this increasingly environmentally conscious world. Other terms, including "green", "eco-friendly", and "ethical", are now used as the driving marketing strategy of numerous corporations to appeal to the more "woke" consumer.
I, myself, am not a sustainability expert. However, I think I represent your average Gen Z consumer who wants to make environmentally conscious fashion decisions but is often unsure where to start.
Influence and impact...
Fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world. In 1980, the average American purchased only 12 articles of clothing per annum; however, this figure has risen to 68 per annum. So what is it that is fueling this surge in consumerism? One primary culprit is social media. Many young people and adults are made to feel shame if they are seen repeating an outfit. While this way of thinking has been normalized, it does in fact, have incredibly unfavorable consequences.
Popular social commerce platforms among Gen Z include Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest, and such sites are compelling when enforcing trends. Unfortunately, the consequent desire of social media users to keep up with trends introduces one of the biggest sustainability problems in the fashion industry - fast fashion.
Fast fashion has completely dominated the industry, surpassing the sales of several high-end retailers such as Ralph Lauren and Burberry. They are now attempting to speed up their supply chains to compete, thus, progressing towards the harmful traits of the fast fashion business model, such as Quick Response Manufacturing and constantly introducing new items to the market. The throw-away culture exacerbates this. We have adopted this by being conditioned to desire more clothing, resulting in an abundance of waste.
The quick-to-market brand, FashionNova, has responded to celebrity fashion looks within only 24 hours, such as the case of their "Winning Beauty Cut Out Gown," a knockoff of Kim Kardashian's Thierry Mugler dress. You ask: how is such rapid production possible? The brutal exploitation of workers in developing countries.
In manufacturing countries like China, Bangladesh and India, the minimum wage represents only a fraction of the living wage. Not only is the pay unfair, but it is no secret that work conditions are also atrocious as garment workers are made to work for prolonged hours in dangerous environments.
However, over the last decade,
Millennials and Gen Z have seen an apparent rise in demanding environmental justice. François-Henri Pinault, the CEO of Kering, stated:
"Millennials, be it as consumers or as prospective employees, set the bar high and demand more transparency and responsibility from corporations."
Consumers are becoming more conscious, wanting to know where and how products are being made. Yet, companies continue to profit off modern slavery, and governments will not respond if consumers do not continue to push for change and Corporate Social Responsibility, governments will not respond.
But is real change happening?
Zara and H&M have introduced more allegedly sustainable clothing lines, Join Life and Conscious, respectively, claiming that the production processes are less damaging. However, they need to be more transparent with their customers. For example, Zara claims that 88% of their waste is reused or recycled... but this figure does not include their global factories or waste from their stores. This is a prime example of greenwashing: disinformation by an organisation to present an environmentally responsible public image.
Stella McCartney is a British luxury fashion designer who demonstrates a clear commitment to sustainability. She does not use leather or fur, and she places importance on ethical values and awareness of environmental issues. Her brand is a pioneering example of what it means to be a forward-thinking designer who is responsive to change. For example, Stella
McCartney has collaborated with NGO partner Canopy Planet to promote a case for forest conservation and has pledged to only use viscose from sustainably certified forests in Sweden.
Ironically, I would be lying if I said I have never purchased fast fashion, and as a 19-year-old student,
Stella McCartney is unsurprisingly far out of my budget. The next step should be to make environmentally conscious brands more accessible to the public.
Rapidly changing trends have to be tackled at their core-the runways. Runways are the predictors for trend forecasters as they dictate what becomes 'in'. Designers for the shows must be aware of their influence and adapt their designs, perhaps by overlapping trends across the seasons, so followers only sometimes require a brand-new wardrobe.
If trends last longer, people can hang on to their clothes for longer, and it has been shown that just by wearing clothes for nine months longer, the carbon footprint of a garment is reduced by 30%.