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Is sustainability killing fast fashion for good?


Garment workers of poverty in fast fashion world whitewash COVID-19 Oxfam
Fast fashion has become a growing concern as 11,000 items per week in the UK go to landfill.

Fast fashion was booming in the early 2000s when consumers connected to Primark’s bright mesh clothing and chunky plastic earrings, and like Topshop, H&M and Zara embarked on projects of ambitious expansion across the world.

However, in recent years, the ethics and transparency of fast-fashioned businesses have been the subject of much debate – particularly since the Covid-19 pandemic swept the world in March of this year.

The industry has seen an increase in calls for transparent business practices as well as sustainable offerings from retailers who were once the mascots of fast fashion. Retailers have also had to contend with a domino effect on Main Street – where competition has led many of them to “green-launder” to appear ethical.

Garment workers of poverty in fast fashion world whitewash COVID-19
More Britons may give up fast fashion because of the treatment of their factory workers

The term “greenwashing” was coined in the 1980s by environmentalist Jay Westerveld to describe retailers who grossly overestimate the environmental or ethical benefits of their products and services.

While sustainability was already one of the retail buzzwords before the pandemic, GlobalData predicted in April that Covid would put sustainability concerns on hold as retailers focus on the battle for survival.

Nonetheless, one of the main reasons the British were increasingly avoiding fast fashion was that its effects ranged from poorly paid or poorly treated workers to environmental destruction by burning excess clothing or sending in quantities. of clothes at the landfill.

Oxfam urges retailers to ensure that garment workers’ jobs are “fair and safe and that people receive a living wage for the work they do.”

Garment workers of poverty in fast fashion world whitewash COVID-19 Oxfam
Boohoo was charged with slavery for paying garment workers in Leicester as little as 3.50 an hour

“It is heartwarming to see that shoppers are moving away from fast fashion and making more sustainable choices,” said an Oxfam spokesperson. Retail Gazette.

“The change in shopping habits – buying used clothes rather than new clothes – is particularly exciting because it extends the life of clothes and keeps them from going to the landfill.

“Consumers may be turning to more sustainable products to lessen the negative effects of fast fashion on the planet.”

Oxfam’s research has found that new clothing bought in the UK produces more carbon emissions per minute than driving a car six times in the world.

The organization said that despite the change in British behavior, “there is still a lot to do”.

“The textile industry accounts for eight percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than international aviation and shipping combined,” added the Oxfam spokesperson.

“This could increase by over 60% by 2030. In addition, 11,000 items per week in the UK are sent to landfill.”

A few months ago, fast online fashion giant Boohoo made headlines after being accused of modern slavery for paying his garment workers in Leicester as little as 3.50 an hour. The Leicester plant was also operating during a spot lockdown, allegedly without additional hygiene or social distancing measures.

“The plastic crisis has raised awareness of the growing disposable culture in the UK”

Following the scandal, Next and Asos were among the first companies to stop selling Boohoo items on their websites, saying they were looking for an answer. The scandal led to a 20% drop in Boohoo shares and the opening of an investigation.

Mark Childs, management consultant at Capgemini, argued that while the plastic issue has been on the consumer radar in recent years, “it was only a matter of time before consumers started asking questions. other industries through the same lens ”.

“The plastic crisis has raised awareness of the growing disposable culture in the UK,” he said.

“In the past, fashion as an industry has operated behind closed doors, but increased access to information has given consumers new visibility into the impact of the fashion industry in general.

“Consumers are increasingly aware of the large amount of natural resources required to produce a t-shirt and the amount of clothing that ends up in landfills each year.

“As a result, they are looking for ways to reduce their consumption levels.

Customers not only expect their brands to represent their beliefs and values, but to be authentic and transparent.

With this transparency comes a big caveat, however, consumers are becoming increasingly rigorous in their due diligence when deciding who to deal with.

In December, a market research firm Ipsos found that 74% of Britons agreed that fashion retailers should take more responsibility for what goes on in their manufacturing processes, “and make sure it is done in an environmentally friendly way”.

While being a mid-size or high-end fashion retailer or brand is not a guarantee of sustainable or ethical practices, these companies could use their position of power to invest in their sustainable and ethical practices and encourage customers to buy fewer and more sustainable products.

An example of this is the recent launch of Selfridges in the repair and resale of products as part of plans to radically improve its durability. The luxury department store said it also plans to switch to charging and leasing certain products as part of a commitment to change the way customers shop in its stores by 2025. part of Selfridges’ Project Earth sustainability initiative.

However, the experts said Retail Gazette that the fast fashion industry still has a long way to go in tackling unethical practices.

Natasha Parker, head of consumerism at environmental charity Global Action Plan, argued that the retail industry is far from quickly eradicating the range of unethical and unsustainable practices.

“There’s a ton of money to be made, so fast fashion will likely be the dominant model until retailers start putting the planet ahead of profits,” she explained.

Parker added that this was going to be a big step because retailers will have to fundamentally change their model if they are to stick to carbon budgets, especially since “fashion has a higher carbon footprint than aviation and combined maritime transport ”.

Garment workers poverty in the fast fashion world Greenwashing
Primark pledged to train 160,000 cotton farmers in China, India and Pakistan on ethical farming practices

Rob Webbon, CEO of Presca Teamwear, said the fast fashion model was “an environmental and social disaster.”

“It’s a downward spiral of ever cheaper clothing, made in ever higher volumes to profit from shrinking margins,” he said. Retail Gazette.

“When the only drivers are profit and the rapid turnover of clothing, the environmental and social impact is swept under the table and completely ignored.”

Fashion consultant Elizabeth Stiles argued that while sustainable offerings could kill fashion fast, it would likely be a slow process. She said retailers have a responsibility to educate consumers about why some products cost more than others, as many have become accustomed to fast, cheap clothing.

Fast-fashion giant Primark, Stiles said, is “making a big effort right now” to switch models. Last year, the retailer pledged to train 160,000 cotton farmers in China, India and Pakistan to teach them environmentally friendly farming practices in an effort to promote its sustainability methods. The goal is part of Primark’s sustainable cotton program, which aims to use 100% sustainable cotton in all of its product categories.

“Primark’s business model is based on high volumes and low margins,” Stiles said.

“It would suffer if its quantities were to be drastically reduced based on people buying less, as that is one of the key factors for the retailer to get low prices.”

Stiles went on to point out that Boohoo produces much smaller quantities but very frequently and often under poor working conditions.

“It is time for radical changes to be made,” she added.

The UK fashion market is expected to become the worst hit sector due to the pandemic, with GlobalData forecasting a $ 14 billion drop. However, that forecast came in April, when the UK was in the midst of a lockdown.

Nonetheless, fashion retailers – especially fast fashion chains – will have to move in today’s market. It is undeniable that the 2020 consumer is more aware of their purchasing decisions and the impact they have, as an individual, on the environment or on factory workers. For this reason, fast fashion retailers must be prepared for a change.

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