No matter what we decide to wear, we show our style and how we wish the world to perceive us. With the increased accessibility of online shopping and the desire to be on-trend exacerbated by social media, people are buying clothes at an unprecedented rate.
This rise of consumerism in the fashion industry is not without environmental consequences. How might we encourage young people to make sustainable fashion choices when they need to purchase new clothes?
It’s important to acknowledge that the most eco-friendly way to shop for fashion is to stop shopping altogether. However, this isn’t a practical solution. We all grow and change and shouldn’t be denied the opportunity to reflect that in our wardrobe.
Author of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion Elizabeth Cline described fast-fashion simply as: irresistible. Stores like Forever 21, boohoo, SHEIN, Fashion Nova, PrettyLittleThing, and numerous other retailers pack their sites with hundreds of styles, cuts, colors, and sizes at budget-friendly prices. It’s no wonder they’ve captivated people in the 16–25-year-old category — a group of self-declared “broke” people.
This project will highlight the environmental and social harm, particularly seen in developing countries, of the fast fashion industry. With that in mind, the target audience will land in the “ready to hold an opinion” and “ready to act” on David S. Rose’s Audience Receptivity Gradient. It will examine how to scale back our consumption of new items and how to approach sustainable fashion choices.
Kapner, S. (2019, August 16). The Rise of Hand-Me-Down Inc. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-rise-of-hand-me-down-inc-11565947804
“Sales of second-hand goods are expected to more than double to $51 billion by 2021, up from $24 billion last year.” According to a GlobalData PLC report for thredUP, shoppers aged 18 through 37 are the ones driving the second-hand product shift. threadUP, TheRealReal, Rent The Runway, and Poshmark are retailers focusing on young shoppers who don’t want to be seen in the same outfit twice. Their business models are simple: acquire pre-owned clothing and list it on their website.
Companies like Macy’s and Levi have created resale programs in response to shoppers turning away from department stores. “The technology that created the boom in online shopping has turned the local thrift store into a mainstream phenomenon by providing consumers with more confidence that their purchases are authentic and making it easier for them to browse at times that better fit their schedules.”
The production of a little over 2 pounds of fabric produces an average of 50 pounds of greenhouse gases.
Kitroeff, N. (2019, December 16). Fashion Nova’s Secret: Underpaid Workers in Los Angeles Factories. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/16/business/fashion-nova-underpaid-workers.html
Fashion Nova is a fast-fashion retailer that has harnessed its network of celebrities and influences to post about the brand on social media, notably Instagram. The clothing is priced to sell and can get new designs “in less than two weeks.” The Labor Department found the brand’s garments were made by paying illegally low wages — about $2.77/hour — to undocumented workers in LA.
As Richard Saghian, Fashion Nova’s founder, pointed out: “Everyone wants to be famous. Everyone wants to have more followers.” The brand tagged/was tagged by influencers wearing free clothes and developed a reputation for making cheap clothes look expensive. Fashion Nova produces more than 1,000 new styles each week and can create samples from concepts in less than 24 hours.
Federal law can’t penalize brands for wage theft if the brand can credibly claim they didn’t know illegally low-paid workers made their clothes. “‘We don’t own the sewing contractor, so whatever the sewing contractor does, that’s his problem,’ said a designer at [a factory]. ‘We don’t know what they do to give us the lowest price. We assume they’re paying their employees the minimum.’”
Lee, E., Choi, H., Han, J., Kim, D. H., Ko, E., & Kim, K. H. (2018). How to “Nudge” your consumers toward sustainable fashion consumption: An fMRI investigation. Journal of Business Research, 117, 642–651. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2019.09.050
Sustainability is defined as the ability of biological systems to remain diverse and productive.
“The gap between consumers’ attitudes and their behavior is a significant challenge in sustainability fashion marketing.” As in, people have favorable attitudes toward sustainable fashion but do not purchase it. This is because consumers perceive sustainable fashion as expensive and of compromised quality. Most consumers would select a less expensive, more utilitarian product over environmentalism.
Retailers promote price, quality, convenience, and availability before — if ever — promoting eco-friendly practices. They also use the word sustainable, eco-friendly, green, and ethical interchangeably. There is a greater desire to look good for a good price regardless of environmental impact (especially if “talk down” communication occurs).
To combat this, priming messages have shown they “increase consumers’ preference for green fashion products more effectively than explicit interventions do.” In this paper, “two types of messages were categorized by means of two videos, one that described the “environmental problem” (as an example of priming) and one that explained “sustainability” (as an example of explicit intervention).” The ability to instill knowledge of environmental problems strengthened actual behavior.
Lundblad, L., & Davies, I. A. (2016). The values and motivations behind sustainable fashion consumption. Journal of Consumer Behavior, 15(2), 149–162. doi:https://doi.org/10.1002/cb.1559
There is no industry standard definition of sustainable fashion. However, it’s typically driven by efforts to curb animal cruelty, environmental damage, and worker exploitation.
Sweatshop labor was identified as one of the highest areas of concern when making ethical clothing decisions. Even so, studies suggest consumers feel disempowered, unable to make sustainable fashion choices, and require better consumer education. Many consumers consider sustainable fashion unattractive, limited, and costly — especially when compared to fast fashion.
A sub-group of sustainable fashion consumers believe the “reuse of existing clothing is preferable to purchasing more sustainable versions of new clothing.” Their consumption was driven by self‐expression, self‐esteem, responsibility, protecting the planet, a sense of accomplishment, and social justice. The labor of research on sustainable fabrics, brands, and product lifecycles creates an emotional attachment not present in a frivolous fast-fashion purchase.
The significant motivation for shopping sustainably was to address environmental concerns. In addition to conscious purchasing, people also cared for their clothes by mending, washing cold, avoiding harsh chemicals, drying flat, and avoiding ironing.
McFall-Johnsen, M. (2020, January 31). These facts show how unsustainable the fashion industry is. Retrieved from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/01/fashion-industry-carbon-unsustainable-environment-pollution/
“On average, people bought 60% more garments in 2014 than they did in 2000.” Although clothing production has approximately doubled since the turn of the century, people are only keeping clothes for half as long. When consumers determine their clothes have reached its end-of-life, it’s often thrown away. “The equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is burned or dumped in a landfill every second.”
In addition to general garment disposal, garment production contributes greatly to land and water pollution. Polyester is a plastic in an estimated 60% of garments and releases 2–3 times more carbon emissions than cotton. Since it cannot completely break down in the water, microplastics create around 31% of the ocean’s plastic waste. Cotton is highly water-intensive — a single shirt can require 700 gallons of water to produce. Aerial images show the Aral Sea dried up after about 50 years of unsustainable cotton production.
Morgan, A. (Director). (2015). The True Cost [Video file]. Retrieved from https://tubitv.com/movies/500119/the-true-cost
In the 1960s, 95% of American clothing was made domestically. Today, only about 3% of clothing is still made in the United States; the rest has been outsourced to developing countries where wages are low.
Either the clothes’ price goes up, or the businesses have to cut corners. In Dhaka, Bangladesh, Rana Plaza was an 8-story building that collapsed after factory owners refused to address the worker’s concerns about the building’s cracks. The dangerous working conditions left 1,000 dead. The workers earned $2/day.
3 of the 4 worst garment factory tragedies happened in the same year of record-breaking numbers for fast-fashion retailers. Garment workers often have to leave their families in villages while they work in the cities.
Something new comes each week to shift more product.
Most textile waste isn’t biodegradable and can sit in landfills for 200 years.
Scott, C. (n.d.). How To Overcome Thrift Fatigue. Retrieved from https://www.thegoodtrade.com/features/overcoming-thrift-fatigue
Thrifting wardrobe can be an affordable way of allowing people to add unique pieces to their closet. However, in-person thrifting can be overwhelming, especially when considering the ease of online filters and sorting. There are several ways to beat thrift fatigue.
Before going to the store, determine pieces you’d like to incorporate into your closet. Mood boarding on Pinterest or Instagram allows you to skim the racks instead of looking at every single thing on the hanger. Bringing headphones to listen to music is another method of controlling your experience.
To make the dressing room a more efficient experience, wear tight and lightweight clothes, such as a pair of biker shorts and a tank top, to quickly try on merchandise. Since thrift stores don’t typically accept returns, thinking about the items in your cart over the long-term is important to preventing overconsumption. “It’s easy to buy things just because they’re cheap and then regret it later.”
WASTE [Podcast series episode]. (2016, March 23). In Conscious Chatter.
Fast-fashion values profit over quality. Overconsumption becomes a byproduct of constantly introducing new clothes at low prices — people buy more because it’s irresistible. However, these clothes are worn for a shorter time before they end up in the back of a closet, donated, or thrown away. American women wear an item 7 times before it’s considered old.
The biggest volumes of waste come at the end-of-life. Americans send 21 million pounds of clothing to landfills each year, causing textile waste figures to increase by 40% since 2005.
Ultimately, donating is better than trashing. Goodwill and Salvation Army can only resell 10–20% of donations due to large donation volumes. Used clothing is an industry — the remaining donations are sold to companies that export to resell in developing countries.
Only 15% of textiles get recycled either because there’s no convenient way to recycle locally, or people are misinformed about the process. In reality, 95% of textiles are recyclable even if they’re stained or torn. Damaged textiles can be upcycled into insulation and industrial cleaning rags. A small sliver is upcycled into new clothes.
Welle, D. (2020, July 7). Can Fast Fashion Be Sustainable? Retrieved from https://www.ecowatch.com/sustainable-fashion-2646356550.html?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1
Zara launched “join life” and H&M launched “CONSCIOUS” — collections marketed as sustainable. The brands cite organic cotton as the driving force behind the eco-friendly collections. Organic cotton can’t use genetic modification or synthetic pesticides in its production. However, since sustainability isn’t a defined term, it “leaves the door wide open” for greenwashing. To holistically be called sustainable, brands have to minimize harmful chemical usage, manage water waste, limit CO2 emissions, ensure fair wages, and protect workers. Using organic cotton alone doesn’t ensure all this.
Current sustainable certifications include the GOTS label and the IVN Best certification. Organic cotton GOTS-certified dresses typically fall in the $67 to $113 range. Green collections make up a small portion of major fashion brands’ larger inventory. H&M can produce a $22 eco dress due to the large volume of items they produce.
Textile dyeing and processing generates 20% of global wastewater. Organic cotton can only be sustainably grown in large rainy regions. However, farming has increasingly been shifted to desert regions.
We Talk Sustainability & Second Hand Fashion with Emma Slade Edmondson [Podcast series episode]. (2020, May 8). In Sustainably Influenced.
Admit how we’re working on it. People new to the world of sustainability can experience eco-anxiety. If they feel alienated for not knowing much about sustainability as others, it can turn them away from the concept.
The goal is to admit how to work on sustainable practices over a period of time and educate to change behavior. There is an opportunity to look at your current wardrobe and find new ways to wear pieces. However, renting or thrifting also provides joy through discovery. People have founded worry with thrifting. It can be hard to find something you enjoy because you cannot filter styles or sizes out nor see things on mannequins. Fast-fashion advertising fights hard to promote the trendy options they can provide at low-costs.
It’s also a challenging psychological leap if you grew up receiving second-hand you didn’t particularly like vs. starting to buy second-hand with disposal income — it doesn’t feel negative.
The fast-fashion industry damages the environment and puts communities at risk — damage largely unseen by western civilizations but harbored in developing countries. For the sake of our planet with finite resources, fast-fashion retailers’ unsustainable supply chain has to be challenged by legislation. Consumers can lay the environment-oriented groundwork with their wallets. This project will contribute to the conversations around sustainable fashion and optimistically, empower a new wave of young consumers to demand ethical practices within the fashion industry and industries beyond.