The fashion industry is known for its fast paced, cutthroat environment that is historically capricious with the trends and people it glorifies. Today, trends in fashion change weekly, as the industry strives to keep consumers on the edge of their seats and ready to open their wallets.
However, there is a darker side to the industry's addiction to novelty. The old adage, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” is applicable here. There really is no such thing as free, nor is there such thing as truly “cheap” clothing. We pay the price for Fast Fashion - and that price is extremely high.
Often referred to as “Fast Fashion,” the profit-driven concept of cheap, hastily-made clothing was developed in the 1980’s. Emphasis was placed on optimizing certain aspects of the supply chain in order to get the latest trends in the hands of consumers at the lowest price point possible.
However, this bottom-line oriented method has come under global scrutiny over the past decade, as the true cost of cheaply made clothing is revealed. The price of Fast Fashion that we pay as a global society comes in many forms, including extreme environmental degradation.
The Earth’s natural resources simply cannot support the rapidly-growing demand for cheap, throw-away clothing. The average American disposes of 65 pounds of textiles each year, resulting in an enormous addition to landfills with nylon, for example, taking 35-50 years to decompose. 20% of industrial water waste can be contributed to textile dyeing and treatment. Crude oil waste, emissions, and volatile compounds are also doing irreparable damage to the communities these factories occupy.
As for the products themselves, the rapid pace at which new styles and trends emerge has led to a reduction in quality, as companies strive to keep production high and costs low. It also means that the resources used to produce and ship clothing across the planet has increased, while the lifespan of the garments themselves has decreased. This has led to a throw-away culture in fashion; consumers are buying more cheap low-quality clothing that is not made to last and which does not reflect the true cost of production.
The Burden of Truth
With awareness comes the responsibility to act and make change. Once the truth is revealed, it is hard to turn a blind eye. So, what can be done and what is already being done to make real change in the fashion industry?
Instead of villainizing fast fashion moguls such as Sam Walton (Wal-Mart), Karl-Johan Persson (H&M), Do Won Chang (Forever 21), we need to recognize our power as consumers to vote with our dollar.
Numerous fashion brands are cropping up today with new practices, new messaging, and a commitment to social and environmental sustainability. The great news is that many of these brands are succeeding in their attempts to make lasting change in the industry. This new movement is being referred to, fittingly, as “Slow Fashion.”
Here are a few brands that have taken the challenge by the horns and are helping pave the way to a more sustainable future in fashion. They are not only making big waves of positive change, but their profits are following suit as well.
Brooks Brothers: With the homepage tagline that reads: “A trusted selection of fine clothing and accessories made in America using the highest standards of craftsmanship” this company has become somewhat of a poster child for American-made luxury clothing.
Eileen Fisher: This is a clothing brand that declares they are committed to achieving 100% sustainability. They use certified organic fibers and some recycled fibers; they use dyes free of hazardous chemicals. They even give tips on how to care for their clothing to ensure it lasts for years.
Parker Clay: This brand serves as a great example of a passion project turned successful small business. What has emerged from their high-end sustainable clothing and handbag company serves an American clientele. Creating mostly leather products, they source materials and labor directly from Ethiopian communities. Their branding boldly emphasizes transparent manufacturing policies and a strict code of ethics.
A New Dawn
We believe in creating products that are made with integrity and built to last a lifetime, even multiple generations. When we consider the full life cycle of a product, including who makes it and what materials, resources and processes are used, only then can we start to comprehend the real value of the item. The psychological perspective of buying changes when consumers become willing to invest in a high quality product.
The proof that we can create a win-win for all is exemplified in the success of businesses like those highlighted above, and the numerous efforts by nonprofits and regulatory systems around the world who have united to created a new story for the fashion industry.
Ethical, sustainable fashion is trending now, and we think the Slow Fashion Revolution is here to stay.