The traditional model of recycling clothing is broken and corporate monopolisation is a key cause of lack of sustainability in fashion. The rise of extremely cheap, efficient manufacturing, particularly in China, has meant that producing new clothing is now more cost effective than even recycling garments that have been thrown away. Fast fashion corporations have also given rise to a dangerous mentality among consumers that clothing should be treated as almost instantly disposable.
This has seen clothing production double in just 15 years between the turn of the 21st Century and 2015, while the average number of times clothing is worn before disposal declined 36% in the same period. In China, it declined by 70%. Perhaps even more shockingly, fashion contributes more greenhouse gas emissions than all global flights and maritime shipping combined. The breakdown of fashion’s recycling model means that this is set to get worse.
The only way forward for the fashion industry is to try and change the attitudes of consumers, which have been manipulated by the short term, unsustainable and seemingly insatiable greed of fast fashion retailers. Durability and a “buy less, buy better” ethos should be new benchmarks of quality and brand credibility, not how many micro-seasons one can cram into a single year.
If climate change continues to raise temperatures and intensify droughts, cotton production will be comprised and clothing production costs could make the fast fashion model impossible to continue with anyway. I’m hoping that it won’t get to that stage, however, and that 2018 will be the year that sustainability in fashion becomes fashionable.
One of the main reasons that, despite a growing outcry at the grave social, economic and environmental problems caused by fast fashion, sustainability is not a focus for many big global brands is because just ten corporations control the production of pretty much everything we buy, from food to home products to clothing. If it’s not a priority for those ten corporations, it won’t be one for any of the hundreds of massive brands they control.
For example, Proctor & Gamble encompasses everything from Pringles to Hugo Boss to Gillette to Head & Shoulders, whilst the Nestle umbrella includes everything from L’Oreal to Nespresso to Ralph Lauren. When it comes specifically to clothing retail, A Morgan Stanley report found that 10 companies controlled 41% of the market. No other retailer had more than 2% of market share. The retailers dominating the market were Walmart, T.J. Maxx, Macy’s, Gap, Kohl’s, Target, Ross Stores, Amazon, Nordstrom, and J.C. Penney.
How, therefore, can attitudes to fashion be encouraged to shift among mainstream consumers?
The major gatekeepers of taste need to change and to focus more on independent brands who attach importance to artisanal craftmanship, transparent supply chains and ethical working conditions. Mr Porter is a step in the right direction, though prices are astronomical and the selection is somewhat limited to fairly corporate brands. Farranoir, on the other hand, is a revelation. They search all over the world for truly creative, independent designers and stock only apparel, shoes and accessories that value unique heritage and stand separate to the fast fashion trends of today. Their ethos is a breath of fresh air and could not be more different from the corporate emphasis on mass market, heavily branded products.
It all comes down to individuality. A fast fashion giant, such as Primark, drives a need amongst consumers to constantly be seen in a new outfit. The faux pressure to not be seen wearing “old” clothing has lead to throwaway treatment of garments.
The reason fashion is the second most polluting global industry is mindset. The policies of corporations, who are, essentially, responsible for shaping trends, need to change to encourage consumers to cherish what they buy and let their individuality be defined by who they are, rather than by the purchasing a new piece of clothing every week. If this means increasing retail prices in and promoting reduced “cost per wear”, it seems like a bargain to save our planet from being needlessly destroyed by needless consumption and waste.
Tom Cridland is a fashion designer who runs an eponymous sustainable brand.