6 unsustainable practices in the fashion industry

As I am writing this article, I reminisce about the fashion history course I took back in my college years. I remember gazing at the wonderful pictures of fashion designers who changed history forever. I’m still thankful for Coco Chanel, a fierce feminist who turned men’s pants into a casual piece of clothing for women. Re-thinking this through made me realize why I love vintage so much. Yes I do have a penchant for shoulder pads and high waisted jeans but It goes way deeper. I love vintage for what it represents : quality clothes and fabrics, perfectly tailored and built to last. I am also delighted with the thought that I can purchase something that has belonged to someone else, something that had history and life, something that was made with love and handled with care and might have been part of a social revolution. This brings me to wonder, what positive changes is the fashion world promoting nowadays? After weighing the pros and cons, I can’t help but to feel shame and disappointment. With this being said, here are 6 things that make today’s fashion industry a work in progress, especially in terms of sustainability.

1- Cheap quality

I think that millennials have all noticed how the quality of a garment has dropped within the past few years. How often did you purchase something that got destroyed after just a few washes or ripped while you were putting them on? I know it happened to me quite often and I find it frustrating. Clothes aren’t made to last anymore because we live in a society that prioritizes quantity over quality. First, most fabrics chosen by fast fashion brands are made of synthetic fibers because their cost is fairly cheaper, thus allowing higher profit margins. Second, most of the time the workmanship of the garment is poorly executed making loose threads and buttons a regular thing. The truth is, workers are pushed to develop goods in a short period of time trying to keep up with the retailer’s high demand, resulting in a failure to meet quality standards.    

2- One too many

It seems to me that the fashion industry has been operating backwards. More precisely, brands follow high fashion trends and develop their collections accordingly, never really knowing if a style will be a big hit or a major fail. The main reason you see certain styles on markdown is because they’re not selling. In the end, a tremendous quantity of garment is produced and left unsold leaving companies no other choice but to send them to underdeveloped countries (I’ve seen popular brands sold at markets in Nicaragua). The last resort is garbage – clothes are sent to landfills where they end up stacked among other non degradable waste. Customers on the other hand are being offered way too many choices, creating urges for material things they don’t really need.

3- How low can you go

Competition, competition. The lower your retail price, the more competitive you will be, believes every fast fashion company ever. The truth is, someone in the process is paying for that low cost (more exactly NOT paid) and if it’s not the customer, it’s clearly not the retailer. You see, the thing is that this idea of offering the lowest price has created a vicious circle. While companies are striving to get richer by competing with their fellow neighbors, they have trained the consumer to ask for even lower costs. If the consumer wants low costs, companies need to offer that in order to survive. Have they created some kind of monster? Lady Gaga wasn’t far off by calling her fans ‘’little monsters’’. As consumers we need to better educate ourselves and start asking for quality and transparency because living in a world led by money is not an viable world, nor is it really pleasant. It’s okay to not be #1 and it’s not the end of the world if someone takes a bite of your pie, there’s plenty enough for everybody. Sharing is caring.

4 – Work harder

The reality is that the fashion industry is a fast paced kind of industry where trends change almost just as fast as it’s consumers do. Competition is so harsh that if you cannot react quickly to the market you will sink as deeply as the Titanic. Factories are pushed to meet crazy deadlines and people are often overworked by doing extra hours for which they’re not even payed for. If you’ve watched the true cost, you’ve also seen the horrifying conditions  under which people work. In some cases, even basic human rights are being neglected like going to the bathroom for example. We are making other people live in shitty conditions for our own selfish good. You’re probably thinking, why is it the retailer’s responsibility on what’s happening over there? Let me put it this way : Let’s say I own a bakery and I sell bread to people everyday. One day I find out that the flour i’ve been purchasing is contaminated and customers are getting sick. Will I still purchase this flour? Of course not. I will figure out what’s going on with the flour factory and make sure my main ingredient  is made under sanitary conditions. Just because we’re talking about clothing doesn’t mean we should care less.  

5- Ephemeral trends

I find it utterly superficial and unsustainable to have an ecosystem built on trends that are meant to die. Fast fashion is dictated by what is seen on the runways – trends are basically chosen and replicated to be accessible to the mass. Every season, there is something new , whether it’s about colors or shapes fashion MUST recreate itself to sell. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not against creativity. On the contrary, If you think about it, creativity vanishes once a trend is set. Everyone ends up dressed the same way since all the stores end up carrying the almost exact same pieces. Technically, we are all victims of this system since it becomes hard to find something different. How many of us have purchased a piece of clothing that in the moment seemed perfect but after wearing it once, sat comfortably in the closet for a year? We’ve all done it at least once if not more. Why is this piece suddenly not pretty to our eyes anymore? The truth is that we follow trends because we unconsciously need to feel that we belong. The human being wants to fit in, to be accepted and the most common way to do so is by dressing up like what is presented to us, what feels familiar, thus what is seen in stores and in magazines. Once you’ve acknowledged that, you can learn to say ‘’fuck it’’ and be whoever you want to be.  

6 – High pollution   

I must’ve read this a million times and it hurts every time ; the fashion industry is the 2nd most polluting industry right after oil. What is all the more frustrating is that oil projects have a lot of visibility in the media  and are often a controversial subject due to their negative impact on the environment whereas fashion has none. My belief is that because the petroleum industry is controlled by a few major companies and because of it’s strong impact on the world’s economy, their every step has become part of our political decisions. The other reason is that the fashion industry is highly pollutive as a whole. Since there are many steps along the process with multiple stakeholders involved, it makes it harder to pinpoint one responsible and apply the change. It’s the entire chain that needs to be remastered and that would require a lot of time and huge investments which most companies are still not willing to make. Being a vertically integrated company (owning the entire supply chain), or producing locally would make things easier.

In the beginning of the article I called the fashion industry ‘’a work in progress’’ and I meant it in two different ways. First, meaning that it still needs a lot of improvement and secondly  that some areas are actually being worked on for the better. A few companies are investing time and money in research and development on eco-friendly technologies. While some are making a conscious effort to minimize their impact on the environment, others have yet to begin. Just like the way I admire Coco Chanel and how she revolutionized women’s fashion, I want the next generation to look back at us and be thankful that we have changed our ways of consuming and producing, simply to give them a chance to live on this planet called earth.