From Zara to H&M, fast fashion faces the age of reckoning
The fashion industry accounts for 8-10% of global carbon emissions - more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. With sustainability being the buzzword that is gaining traction across the globe, fashion retailers are going ...
This was among the company’s host of green goals, which also comprised making all of Zara’s stores ‘eco-efficient’ by 2019 end. This, Inditex had said, would help it to reduce carbon emissions and minimise waste.
The attention to sustainability by Zara is hardly surprising considering how the spotlight has increasingly been on the fashion industry. For all the wrong reasons though.
Consider the facts - the fashion industry is known to the second-biggest consumer of water and accounts for 8-10% of global carbon emissions - more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined, as per a report. The average consumer is buying far more than what he bought years back, but is keeping that purchase for only half as much time.
Fashion retailers are responding actively to the call for action on ‘healthier’ fashion. With sustainability being the buzzword that is gaining traction across the globe, they are going all out in aligning with better environmental practices.
Evidence lies recently enough. Just last month, the fashion extravaganzas of ready-to-wear shows in New York, London, Milan and Paris had one common thread flowing: sustainability. From carbon neutral shows to brands devoted to being ‘green’, from an algae-based vinyl conversations to brands detailing their achievements on recycled nylon — one thing was clear — the stage was set for an all new trend to dazzle the fashionista circles.
Much ado over something
Such conversations are a deviation from earlier times when sustainable fashion wasn’t considered - well - fashionable enough!
A look at the past trends suggests how apparel sales have been soaring in the last few years. Businesses have drastically cut costs, which has led to clothing prices take a dip compared to other consumer goods. Shorter production cycles also mean that new choices come for consumers far more often now. And this is where the entire controversy on fast fashion refuses to dissipate. To put things in perspective, the fashion industry has been in the dock for their ‘fast fashion’ practices perpetuating in production cycles over the last many years. Environmentalists have pointed to the grave threat posed by the industry’s hazardous processes as being highly counter-productive to better living.
Fast fashion is basically the practice of churning out cheap clothing in bulk that takes off ideas from the ramp or popular celeb icons and is sold off in stores at a jetsetting speed. The practice has a heavy cost attached to it and, understandably, has attracted much flak. Use of cheap textile dyes, faster production cycles leading to an increasing risk in labour health issues, waste accumulation due to garments being disposed of by consumers frequently all imply a negative impact on the planet.
Brands are increasingly directing their attention to clothing lines that promote a more ecological chain of thought. Popular fashion retailers such as H&M, Uniqlo, Benetton, Zara and a host of others are driving home the point that sustainability is an intrinsic part of their value chain and ethos.
H&M Group’s 2020 goal, for instance, is to only use cotton from sustainable sources. Their cotton goal ranks high in their global ambition of becoming 100% circular and to use recycled and other sustainably sourced materials by 2030. Japanese retailer Uniqlo announced a revised Environmental Policy in June 2018 identifying five areas of action – climate change, energy efficiency, water stewardship, waste management and resource efficiency, and chemical management. And global fashion brand Benetton just recently fabricated their first sustainable event in Mumbai.
In the midst of the current stir, brands are mulling alternate ways of being more responsible in their leanings. Slow fashion, in direct contrast to fast fashion, is geared towards longevity, longer production cycles and is more qualitative. In essence, it is timeless and extends over a far longer period of time as compared to fast fashion clothing styles. So are brands going that route?
“Good clothing means simple clothing, high in quality, and built to last. It is produced in a way that is harmonious with nature, without excessive burden on the environment,” says a Uniqlo India spokesperson.
The retailer, in partnership with Japanese major Toray, has developed new technology to incorporate recycled material. From autumn 2019, it has plans to collect pre-loved Uniqlo down products in Japan and send these to a special Toray facility. Pre-loved products are basically clothes that have been owned and used before.
And Indians are taking well to it. More awareness and responsibility is coming to the fore. Manish Sapra, Senior Brand Director, Adidas India highlights how millennials have a strong preference for brands which stand for something. “Two-thirds of millennials prefer brands that have a higher purpose. In the sports retail industry, consumers gravitate more towards ecologically friendly merchandise which at the same time is high-performance gear,” he says.
An offshoot of all this has been the coming of brands that offer various clothes on rent. One product shared by multiple users serves the purpose of many. Fractional sharing is a concept that permits many to experience or use the product without having to own it entirely. This, in turn, reduces the need for buying excess products that might not get used much and alleviates the environmental burden as well.
Shilpa Bhatia, Founder of The Clothing Rental, a rental service offering original pieces of clothing to its clients, says that rental is a concept which is based on elongating the life span or yield of a certain product over multiple users who would have otherwise chosen to buy a new product. “Lesser consumption helps in lesser production of fast fashion. The need for low priced quick fashion trends tends to put pressure on retailers to make cheaply produced items for quick sale. However we don’t always know what kind of dyes are being used in the product, what is the treatment in production releasing any harmful chemicals or toxins to the environment. Hence a secondary retail industry aids in sustainable ways of being on trend,” she reveals.
Waves of change
Perhaps this is a sign of the times to come. Indians are realising the worth of living consciously, no matter which style they aspire to adopt. Bhatia observes that bigger brands who rule the fast fashion game like H&M and Zara are realising that fast fashion is putting a negative impression on the environment and are turning towards more conscious collections, recycling and starting to support organic farmers and weavers.
Agrees Uniqlo India which reflects how the Indian consumer is more aware, exposed and sensitive to environmental issues. “They have become more cognizant of their purchases and patterns. As a brand, we have to play a role in educating them on efforts that can change and lead positive shopping patterns which benefits everyone in return. At Uniqlo store, for example, we also have an initiative such as the ‘Eco Bag’ which is environmentally friendly bags that focus on eliminating plastic shopping bags. Small efforts like this can help in changing mindsets and help in working towards a secure future,” adds the India spokesperson.
The consciousness to produce better and wear better has already begun to take shape. And change is coming in, one garment at a time. Perhaps, just in time.