The Fall of Fast Fashion
The price of the $3 top you just ordered online has a greater cost on the environment than you think. As the popularity of inexpensive clothing websites increases it it time to take into account what the environmental impacts are before the effects become irreversible. Since the beginning of the pandemic, which forced several people to spend the majority of their time inside, these fast fashion websites have gained large amounts of popularity. It’s easy to see why these websites have become so popular, the combination of people being forced to stay inside and the loss of countless jobs makes the websites extremely attractive to people with a small budget and the want for something new to add to their wardrobe. What several people have failed to think about when making their purchases is that there is a detrimental environmental impact that occurs every time an article of clothing is purchased from one of these sites.
The rise of fast fashion websites has shortened the service life of clothes and increased the amount of garments in landfills. “Fast fashion” is the term that has been coined to describe these websites that have become favorable to consumers looking for cheap, trendy clothes. According to the EPA on their website, on their page Textiles: Material-Specific Data, it was “estimated that the generation of textiles in 2018 was 17 million tons.” An even more shocking fact is that of those 17 million tons, only 14.7 percent of those textiles were recycled. Trends are constantly changing, making the practical service life of the clothes being purchased much shorter than the technical service life. The clothes are being thrown away before they have been worn to their full potential. They were inexpensive to begin with and therefore are thrown away without much thought, leading to a huge environmental impact.
But there are ways to lower your environmental impact when you purchase clothes. Consumers just need to be aware of all of the options. There are three important theories to look at when considering the sustainability governance framework; sustainability theory, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and supply chain governance (SCG).
First, sustainability theory measures the performance of the fast fashion supply chain in its entirety. It focuses on the benefit maximization which is based on the balance among society, environment and economy. Sustainability means the development of products meets the needs of the current generation without negatively affecting the needs of future generations. The “Triple Bottom Line” of sustainability is used because it encompasses the importance of economic, environmental and social performances. This forces corporations to change their objectives to no longer only focus on the economical aspects.
Second, corporate social responsibility is applicable when companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their businesses. CSR is consistent with social expectations, which increases the corporation’s benefits and also improves its competitiveness and reputation. There are 2 ways a company can benefit from when implementing a strong strategic CSR. First, they can receive long-term benefits through participation in social projects that communicate the relationship of CSR and the corporate strategy. Second, they will attract customers who pay more attention to the sustainable attributes of a product. Strategic CSR is an effective tactic to combine and facilitate the sustainability governance of the fast fashion supply chain.
Finally, supply chain governance focuses on gathering resources of all participants in a supply chain. SCG focuses on the institution, the structures and the mechanisms that guide, regulate and control the activities which emerge from stakeholders of the supply chain. SCG is a framework for how decision making is carried out in a supply chain. The focal company can ensure the maximum benefit for all supply chain participants by coordinating them and focusing on the sustainability of the supply chain.
What also needs to be explained is collaborative consumption and how it has a low environmental impact. According to Bahareh Zamani, Gustav Sandin and Greg M. Peters in “Life cycle assessment of clothing libraries: can collaborative consumption reduce the environmental impact of fast fashion?”, collaborative consumption is consumers exchanging the ownership distribution of a resource for a fee or other compensation. This includes when a resource is borrowed, swapped, traded or rented. Collaborative consumption is part of the sharing economy. By using these other ways of consumerism, the clothing is worn for much longer than if it was only bought to be worn for a few months or less, and then thrown away.
Fashion is among the world’s most polluting industries: it requires large quantities of raw materials, creates high levels of pollution, leaves a significant carbon footprint, and generates copious levels of waste. The relationship between the fashion industry’s need to continually evolve to satisfy consumers’ insatiable desire to acquire the latest trends and the loss of exclusivity as consumers acquire the most popular garments, shows that the fashion industry is inherently opposed to sustainability.
A movement to combat fast-fashion has arisen known as slow fashion which places emphasis on more sustainable practices. This movement naturally promotes sustainability through more ethical sourcing and production techniques as well as by using organic, recycled, or more durable materials. The labor involved in the production of such garments receives higher wages and greater protection than those in the supply chain of the fast fashion industry. While finished garments may cost more, they last longer and incorporate more timeless styles to combat the need for only wearing the latest trends. While this movement faces a hard battle against mass marketed designs it is important to recognize that there are movements out there trying to compete with fast fashion. Companies that do slow fashion practices should provide a template for the future of the global fashion industry.
There is a solution that promotes collaborative consumption and the slow fashion movement. Going to thrift stores to seek out pieces of clothing that are timeless rather than focusing on the latest trend is a huge step in the right direction of lowering the environmental impact of clothes. Taking the time to look for clothes that will be able to stay in your wardrobe long term is worth the environmental payoff.
Bahareh Zamani, Gustav Sandin, Greg M. Peters, Life cycle assessment of clothing libraries: can collaborative consumption reduce the environmental impact of fast fashion?, Journal of Cleaner Production, Volume 162, 2017, Pages 1368-1375, ISSN 0959-6526, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2017.06.128.
Textiles: Material-specific data. (2020, October 07). Retrieved March 08, 2021, from https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/textiles-material-specific-data
Yongjian Li, Xiukun Zhao, Dan Shi, Xiang Li,Governance of sustainable supply chains in the fast fashion industry,European Management Journal,Volume 32, Issue 5,2014,Pages 823-836,ISSN 0263-2373,https://doi.org/10.1016/j.emj.2014.03.001.