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Posts Tagged: "Ethical fashion"

HONORING EARTH DAY- The Rise of Fast Fashion: How Did We Get Here, and Where Do We Go?

image of planet and with text Planet vs. Fashion

In honor of Earth Day 2024, on April 22, we thought we might take a look at the rise of fast fashion and what we can do about it. As fashion students, designers, educators, retailers and as citizens of the world, we owe it to our planet!

 

The Rise of Fast Fashion

Neutral-colored clothing hangs on a store rack (Photo Credit: Pexels/Rachel Claire)

Neutral-colored clothing hangs on a store rack (Photo Credit: Pexels/Rachel Claire)

Did you know that over 100 billion new garments are manufactured globally each year?

Unsustainable practices, like overproduction and unethical manufacturing, have become commonplace in the world of fast fashion. Today, fast fashion is a prevalent part of our world, but it wasn’t always this way.

The good news is, it doesn’t have to stay this way, either. In this article, we’ll explore how fast fashion rose to prominence, the issues that came with it, and how we can make change to create a more sustainable future for fashion, where ethical and sustinable practices become the new norm.

The Origins and Expansion of Fast Fashion

Fast fashion companies prioritize rapid production methods to make inexpensive, low-quality clothing. They typically copy popular styles of other designers and make them at lower costs through mass production.

Before the Industrial Revolution, new clothing was mostly handmade by skilled workers, accessible primarily to the wealthy classes. With the rise of new technologies in the early 20th century, fashion production began to see big changes. Manufacturers found ways to lower costs through new machinery and outsourcing to low-paid workers.

Men pull racks of clothing through the Garment District, New York City, in 1955 (Photo credit: World Telegram & Sun photo by Al Ravenna)

Men pull racks of clothing through the Garment District, New York City, in 1955 (Photo credit: World Telegram & Sun photo by Al Ravenna)

In the mid-20th century, fashion companies shifted to global manufacturing, leveraging overseas production to pay workers lower wages. This sparked a new wave of clothing production, where clothes were made faster and at a lower cost.

By the 1990s, this trend was accelerating rapidly. One notable player is Spanish fashion brand Zara. Founder Amancio Ortega began his company by making lower-cost versions of already popular designer looks, which were created in small batches to get them into stores as fast as possible.

Rows of jackets hang in a Zara manufacturing facility (Photo credit: Business Insider/Mary Hanbury)Rows of jackets hang in a Zara manufacturing facility (Photo credit: Business Insider/Mary Hanbury)

In 1989, shortly after Zara expanded to New York, the New York Times referred to the company as “fast fashion,” thereby naming the movement.

In the years that followed, fast fashion would come to drastically change the industry: the clothing itself, the societal view of clothing, as well as the impact on the planet as a whole.

Environmental Issues and Social Impacts of Fast Fashion

As clothing prices changed, so did societal attitudes. The view of clothing changed from something to be cared for to something to be disposed of.

This leads to increased consumption and higher waste, which is especially problematic given the high environmental toll that fast fashion practices take: an estimated 2-8% of annual global carbon emissions come from the fashion industry alone.

Fast fashion also prioritizes the use of cheaper fabrics. While both natural and synthetic fabrics can be used sustainably,fast fashion companies opt for cheap and low-quality options. This often means non-organic cotton, which is referred to as the world’s dirtiest crop due to the high amounts of pesticides used, or cheaply made synthetics like polyester, which rely on high amounts of virgin fossil fuels and cause microplastic pollution.

Fast fashion is also harmful to garment workers. It’s estimated that only 2% of fashion workers worldwide are paid a livable salary, and many work in unsafe or unhealthy environments.

Transitioning Towards a More Sustainable Future

Though the current state of fast fashion may seem grim, as awareness begins to grow around these issues, times begin to change.

Advocacy groups like Fashion Revolution and Good On You bring light to these issues and highlight brands that produce clothing more ethically.

Woman holds a bag made from Econyl, a recycled textile (Photo credit: econyl.com)

Woman holds a bag made from Econyl, a recycled textile (Photo credit: econyl.com)

 

Innovative materials are having an impact as well. For example, Econyl and rPET (recycled polyester) are creating new fabrics from post-consumer waste, like recycled fish nets and water bottles.

Yellow jacket by Danish brand Ganni made in collaboration with Polybion from their bio-based textile, Celium. (Photo credit: Ganni/Polybion)

Yellow jacket by Danish brand Ganni made in collaboration with Polybion from their bio-based textile, Celium. (Photo credit: Ganni/Polybion)

Sustainable alternatives to leather and pleather are also on the rise. One example is Polybion, which is growing a plant-based leather alternative from fermented fruit waste.

As consumers, there are steps we can take to avoid fast fashion as well. From learning how to identify ethical companies to supporting small-scale designers, even a small step is a step in the direction of a more sustainable and ethical fashion future.

So, tell us, how will you choose to embrace sustainable fashion?

 

 

 

To sell or to rent? A sustainable business model for independent designers?

Via Bag, Borrow or Steal Instagram Account @bagborroworsteal

The buzz phrase “ethical fashion” has been tossed around for some time evoking concerns regarding fair labor practices and wages, processes that take the preservation of our environment and animals into consideration and supply chain transparency.

Often ethical fashion is confused with sustainable fashion, and yet there is no doubt the two are interrelated. Ethical practices lead to more sustainable processes which in turn mean healthier workers, an environment that can support generations of fashionistas to come and of course, clothing consumers can feel good about wearing.

But what if emerging and independent designers could take all that we’ve learned about both ethical (and sustainable) fashion and roll it into a business model that is growing in popularity and in my humble opinion, might be a way for young fashion businesses to stay afloat?

Hear me out…

The other night I was at a dinner party where several of the guests were talking about how much they loved their clothing subscription/rental services. The conversation went like this:

“I love your skirt.”

“Thanks! It’s from Le Tote.”

“Le Tote? I’ve never heard of that store. Where is it?”

“Oh, no! It’s not a store, it’s a subscription service, you know, like Rent the Runway. If I stay on top of wearing items they send and sending them back, I can get up to 4 new pieces a week. And if I really like something, I can keep it, pay for it and it’s mine. Otherwise, I wear it once or twice and send it back for the next person to try!”

Via Le Tote’s Instagram Account @letote

As the two talked, I started thinking of all of the sustainable advantages of renting a wardrobe. On behalf of the consumer, subscription services mean fewer unworn clothes packing closets and eventually ending up in landfills. And by giving clothes a “test run” and only keeping those items that the consumer is partial to (or as one guest mentioned, “get a lot of compliments from others”), more thoughtful purchasing choices can be made. Then, of course, there is the option to rent special occasion garments you may only need to wear once…

As a subscription service retailer, there are fewer risks of unsold inventory (and therefore waste in terms of dollars and garments), not to mention real time data revealing what consumers want which can guide future purchasing, order by order. Like the consumer, the retailer enjoys a more thoughtful way of approaching buying and selling in the fashion industry.

When it comes to ethical standards, it is still up to both rental services as well as the consumer to find out how the clothes they rent out (or in) are produced. After my subscription service curiosities were peaked, I did a bit of research only to find companies that curate plus sizes (Gwynnie Bee), bags (Bag, Borrow or Steal), just about any fashion item your fashion-loving heart desires from a wide variety of designers.

Via Gwynnie Bee’s Instagram Account @gwynniebee

But what I did not find is an independent designer who follows this model.

What if (on a smaller scale) independent designers could create a scenario where they could design and produce adhering to their own ethical standards and then rent their pieces in a way that is not only environmentally sustainable, but spares their business from the pitfalls that often cause independent designers to close their doors?

Feeling like I had to be missing something, I tried to create a real life scenario using the wide variety of samples I’ve created and are now tucked neatly away in my storage unit. I could photograph them, write product descriptions and create a website, but instead of selling these samples, I could rent them, earning income, while I designed additional styles. True, I would have to figure out shipping and how to protect myself against damaged garments. I’m sure I might get some pushback for not having a full size range in most styles, but wouldn’t it be amazing for these styles that I still love to see some light of day?

I wouldn’t have to worry about retailers placing an order for my most current (hypothetical) collection and subsequent production, and with the power of a social media following, I could advertise availability of garment rental to those who I already know are fans of my work.

I’m a firm believer that good design is timeless. Just the other day, I was admiring how Thom Browne posts pieces from collections past periodically on Instagram and I can rarely decipher which suit is from 2014 and which suit is from his most recent collection. Does this make me a bad fashionista? Probably. But I believe that we as a culture are trending away from the incredible amount of stress put on designers to produce season after season. Instead, wouldn’t it be incredible to generate revenue, which for a new designer could mean designing and producing the next collection, from styles past that we still love through a rental option?

Emerging designers, I’d really love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Are there additional benefits of this model you can think of? Perhaps pitfalls that I haven’t considered? I’d love to know…