Green Guilt: How Fast is Fashion Becoming Sustainable? Not Fast Enough!

Over 90% of the emissions for apparel come from four activities: dyeing and finishing, fabric preparation, yarn preparation, and fiber production.

Quantis

At the rate we consume fashion, we buy clothes to throw away!  Today’s fashion industry is plagued by over-consumption, all driven by speed and disposability – fast fashion.

In the last two decades, pre-pandemic, clothing production doubled, the average consumer bought 60 percent more, yet each clothing item is now kept half as long.  The production, consumption, and end-use all contribute to a troubling destiny for the environment.  One of the main reasons I conceived the EDGE platform was to highlight the ugly deeds of the industry’s lack of innovation and purpose and the consumer’s mindless consumption.

Fast fashion’s fashionable, inexpensive, and low-quality clothes and footwear are designed to be worn a few times and disposed of.  Its negative impact on the environment is all throughout the product life-cycle – from design concept to consumption by the consumer to post consumer disposition.  The majority of the climate impact within the industry lies in manufacturing of products and materials.  Quantis, a sustainability consultant firm, did a study in 2018 and found that over 90% of the emissions for apparel come from four activities: dyeing and finishing, fabric preparation, yarn preparation, and fiber production.

Reginald Colvin, EDGExpo.com-ANIMATION
Reginald Colvin, designer

When a consumer is ready to toss, they can recycle to a thrift store or trash to a landfill.  In an interview I conducted with a thrift store manager, I learned that fast fashion items are not as desirable as name brands or designer clothing.  The stores receive and sort, or what they call a “ragged” process. Within this ‘ragged’ process of sorting, about 80% is usable and goes to the selling floor.  The balance is shipped to their warehouse, collected and then sold to the second-hand market.  Although the demand for recycled/used clothing has remained steady over the past few decades, the quality has gotten worse, due to fast fashion.  The fast fashion items that do make it to the selling floor and sell end up being recycled again after a few months of wear.  The manager commented, “the low quality and same look don’t last and the customers are not interested in keeping the item for long”.  At some point, these items end up in the landfill.  And the obvious is that these are not clothes that you invest in and pass down from generation to generation. . .an era that is missed.

Most fast fashion is made of non-biodegradable materials, such as polyester or nylon, and although cotton is a heavily used material, it can have a negative impact as well.  So, if these are thrown out and end up in the landfill, it may take between 20 to 200 years to fully biodegrade.  Even blended materials or blended materials with cotton will take a long time to biodegrade.  The misnomer on 100% cotton, is that although it will biodegrade within a week to five months, it has a lower agricultural yield and fiber strength than other natural fibers, such as hemp; it uses pesticides, and has a high consumption of water.  And the dyeing process adds toxic chemicals to the environment.

How fast is fashion becoming sustainable?  Not fast enough!  You be the judge.  The following is some data to contemplate:

According to statista.com, the global apparel market is projected to grow in value from 1.5 trillion U.S. dollars in 2020 to about 2.25 trillion dollars by 2025, showing that the demand for clothing and shoes is on the rise across the world.  Nike, ZARA, H&M and Uniqlo are the most valuable fashion brands in the world.  The three top selling apparel and footwear retailers were TJX Companies, H&M, and Inditex, the parent company for ZARA.  ZARA, H&M, and Uniqlo are considered the market leaders in fast fashion.

Feature image: Fast fashion demonstration to NOT WASTE.

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Rhonda P. Hill

Founder, Publishing Editor