As consumers realize the ways in which large companies contribute to the climate crisis, many industries have responded by adopting a more eco-conscious image. In some cases, they may even resort to greenwashing, a marketing strategy to make products appear more eco-conscious than they actually are. Advertising as a sustainable brand is now the trendy move to make, and the fashion industry is no exception. But what exactly makes clothing sustainable, and are those efforts negated if textiles are still mass-produced?
The discussion on sustainable fashion can't be addressed without looking into the global impact of fast fashion in recent years. Fast fashion can easily be connected with brands like H&M, Forever 21, and Zara. In the last few decades, clothing companies have drastically changed how they operate. The main characteristic of fast fashion is the quick turnaround of clothing production. What once used to be one cycle for each season of the year has now turned into dozens of clothing collections produced in one year alone. Today, fashion brands churn out new items so quickly the average consumer can barely keep up. Zara alone comes out with around 20 collections in one year. And many companies do this at the expense of their workers, giving them low wages and long working hours.
Simply put, Fast Fashion is cheaply-made clothing within a short timeline. E-commerce brands like Fashion Nova and Shein dominate the market for young women in particular and sell their products at incredibly low prices. As a result of these lower prices, their consumers are able to buy more items and continually update their wardrobes without breaking the bank. Although, due to the poor quality of the clothing, these items find their way into landfills faster than ever before. Fashion Nova works with over 1,000 manufacturers both in Los Angeles and overseas.
The CEO of the brand shared that in some cases, the company can have samples made within 24 hours of creating the design, and 600 items are released each week. This extreme level of production can only lead to extreme consequences. Other byproducts of cheaply-made fashion include the lingering smell of chemicals on the products themselves and a significant carbon footprint from international shipping.
As it exists, the constant production of new clothing leads shoppers to consume more. When they consume more, it incentivizes the industry to feed the demand by producing even more clothing. Thus, a vicious cycle continues that has lasting damage to the planet. In the last twenty years, clothing consumption has skyrocketed by 400%, and 80 billion pieces of clothing are consumed each year globally.
Unsurprisingly, technology has also had a significant role in the growth of fast fashion. What once was solely a photo-sharing app, Instagram has now made it even easier to buy any item with a tap of a finger. Amazon Prime users can purchase almost anything and have the item arrive 48 hours later, thanks to the website's convenient two-day shipping feature. All these factors combined create a never-ending production of cheap clothing consumed on a massive scale.