Reading Time: 10 minutes

OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND:
EXPOSING MAINSTREAM FASHION

sustainable fashion

Photography by Emma Tempest for ART New York

THIS SERIES SETS OUT TO CATCH A GLIMPSE OF WHAT REALLY HAPPENS BEHIND THE SCENES OF THE FASHION INDUSTRY. THIS ARTICLE TAKES A BRIEF LOOK AT THE SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS CREATED THROUGHOUT EACH LIFE CYCLE STAGE OF APPAREL PRODUCTION AND BEYOND. IN LIGHT OF THE HIGHLIGHTED ISSUES, FIVE EASILY IMPLEMENTABLE AND HIGHLY IMPACTFUL ACTIONS ARE SUGGESTED TO SHIFT THE CURRENT TRAJECTORY OF THE FASHION INDUSTRY.

Words By Tyler Richmond

women sustainable fashion

@jacquemus

The mainstream fashion industry

When thinking about fashion, we might immediately associate it with our favourite luxury brands, style icons or influencers, or perhaps even the element of self-expression, individuality, or success that goes hand-in-hand with personal style. It is no doubt that fashion plays an essential role in many aspects of our lives, but what happens when we look beyond our immediate perceptions? It is tough to understand to what extent our blind compliance with the industry’s outdated standards has on the wellbeing of people and the planet. Intrigued by these blind spots of the industry, this series sets out to catch a glimpse of what really happens behind the scenes and highlights what we can all do to shift the current trajectory of the fashion industry.

How did the industry get to this point? 

Prior to the 1980s, the fashion industry operated at a more gradual pace in comparison to today. Fashion as we know it, came about after a systematic overhaul to the industry’s business model in the 1980s. This led to a shift in corporate ideology and a new, more efficient, way of targeting and altering the consumption habits of consumers. Throughout the past four decades, the fashion industry has become increasingly saturated with thousands of brands worldwide ranging from inexpensive to luxury brands, focused predominantly on producing ‘in-the-moment’ trends and making a quick turnover in sales. This ultimately led to what we now refer to as fast fashion.

With thousands of brands around the world, each producing upwards of 20 seasons or 52 micro-seasons annually, the extent of fast fashion’s global impact is exponential. While this strategy has led to massive economic success for the industry, accounting for approximately 2% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product and with a global value of approximately $3 trillion, the social and environmental effects it caused along the way have been left with little to no consideration.

What the mainstream fashion industry doesn’t want you to know

The vast majority of brands on the market today follow what is known as a linear design, or liner economy, business model. This ‘take, make, dispose’ structure inherently contributes to serious environmental, social and economic implications, including the production of climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions, freshwater consumption and toxification, resource depletion, reduction in ecosystem quality, and negative health and safety implications for those involved throughout each stage of apparel production and beyond. To make matters even worse, those who are most susceptible to these impacts are already vulnerable populations forced to work in or near apparel production sites.

Garment workers, particularly those based in the Global East, consistently face structural obstacles to basic human rights including access to fair living wages, equality in the workplace, and safe working conditions. After numerous scandals made it to the public eye, fast fashion companies have begun taking measures to cover up their unethical practices. This is often in the form of a glossed over workers rights reports or factory directories published on their websites, or a catchy promise slogan ensuring that the issues no longer exist. Rather than changing their course of action and fixing the issues, brands and companies have found it much easier and cost-effective to implement greenwashing techniques.

Research shows that of the 1,900 different chemicals used throughout the mainstream garment production process, upwards of 165 have been proven to be hazardous to the environment and human health. This does not even take into consideration the toxic chemical cocktail produced by the mixture of harmful waste and by-products produced and improperly disposed of throughout each life cycle stage of production.

As crazy as it sounds, this has been consistently neglected by fashion corporations for decades, because sustainable production strategies were not viewed as an economically viable area of focus. So what was done instead? Companies started to label their products as organic, eco, green, and the like to trick the customer into thinking that the former issues no longer exist.

 

“Research shows that of the 1,900 different chemicals used throughout the mainstream production process, upwards of 165 have been proven to be hazardous to the environment and human health.”

So what happens after?

Perhaps you have noticed that quality and timeless style are not priorities in mainstream fashion. This has led to staggering amounts of textile waste throughout the globe. 

Approximately 80 billion apparel items are purchased each year, and in the United States alone, approximately 3.8 billion pounds of apparel is disposed of annually, accounting for up to 5% of landfill capacity.

This growing amount of unwanted clothing waste continues to accumulate and contribute to a variety of further environmental and social implications worldwide. Donations overflow charity and second-hand shops, causing unwanted clothing to be incinerated, sent to landfill or sold to developing nations where sufficient recycling technology is not available. While the process of recycling clothing sounds like a viable solution, research suggests that only about one percent is properly one-to-one recycled. This is greatly due to the choice in material blends, dyes and chemicals, and non-textile components within each garment, making it nearly impossible for current technology to properly sort, blend, and reprocess fibres into new yarns.

fashion out of waste

Recycled Capsule by Zara

“Approximately 80 billion apparel items are purchased each year, and in the United States alone, approximately 3.8 billion pounds of apparel is disposed of annually, accounting for up to 5 % of landfill capacity.”

 

It is time to take action

It’s not too late, and now more than ever is the time to take action and demand change. To help you along the way, here are five actions you can take to have a significant impact on altering the fashion industry as we know it.

ONE – Reduce your fashion footprint and the overall demand for new clothing by incorporating the 7R’s of Fashion (reduce, repair, reuse, repurpose, recycle, rent, resale) into your existing wardrobe and lifestyle. You can even take the 7R’s of Fashion Pledge via Fashion Takes Action, to further strengthen the collective message and your own personal commitments.

TWO – Email brands asking about their materials, production processes, and sustainability initiatives. Fashion Revolution offers free downloadable Email and postcard templates on their website, in addition to a ton of educational resources dedicated toward raising awareness, taking action, and revolutionizing the fashion industry.

THREE – Use social media to spread the message. Use your platform as a means to expose the social, environmental, and economic implications associated with the standard practices in fashion. Everyone has the right to know what goes on behind the scenes, even if the industry does not want you to.

FOUR – Donate to non-profit organizations like Freedom United, Fairtrade International, and Greenpeace, who are working toward achieving social and environmental justice for garment workers around the world.

FIVE – Do your research first. If you do choose to buy new clothing, be sure to support brands and companies that exercise transparency and follow strict ethical and sustainability standards throughout their supply chains. Also look for clothing that is composed of a single material, as this increases the probability of it being recycled at its end of life. Supporting companies that are actively shifting the fashion industry, is money worth spending!

 

Shop Our Single Material Products for Proper Recycling

LA SORORITÉ

The Emmeline jumper

BIBICO

GRACE LONG SHIRT

KUYICHI

Mia Tencel Shirt Dark Navy

VITOS 1925

VS8 Cotton – Ivory