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Sustainability in Fast Fashion

Rapid production of clothing pieces with current demands has caused major social and environmental destruction that requires increased effort to support sustainable manufacturing for fashion pieces. While enhancing sustainability is essential, it contradicts the methods of fast fashion. This further makes one question whether is it possible to be sustainable within fast fashion. From 2000 to 2014, production of the fashion pieces doubled and individual consumption increased by 60% (Reny, Speelman & Swartz, 2016). People's tendency to swiftly change their clothes has worsened the situation. The average time the clothing is being used has decreased by 36% overall from 2000 to 2015 (Gueye, 2021) which has contributed to the rise in the purchase. Furthermore, due to the vast amount of distributors and producers, management of ethical production and price range has become more complicated. As fashion evolves fast, the increasingly rapid pace of production has caused workers to be overworked and underpaid.

According to UN Alliance for climate change, 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are caused only by fast fashion industries (United Nations, 2018). While fast fashion greatly impacts the environment, people still tend to choose these brands over alternatives as it offers up-to-date clothing pieces for much cheaper prices. Rather than choosing sustainable brands, convenient pricing overshadows the issues that the brands carry. The lack of transparency about the disruption that the fashion industry creates also seems to have no effect.

Figure 1: A graph examining clothing sales and usage (World Bank, World development indicators, 2017)

Sustainability within Fashion

It is essential to raise awareness and meet the needs of the present rather than merely generating solutions for the far future. Execution of such plan is possible by the consideration of every aspect that sustainability involves. To better understand what sustainability in the fashion industry looks like, it is necessary to be aware of how sustainability works and is being measured. John Elkington in Bamford (2020) explains the Triple Bottom Line approach (TBL) that covers three main pillars of sustainability, namely society, economy, and environment. In the sustainability principle, it is necessary to protect the environment while developing socially and economically (Morelli, 2011). Care for the environment requires fashion manufacturing factories to pollute less, use nature-friendly materials, and recycle clothing pieces regularly. In the social aspect, fashion industries need to treat their workers fairly by imposing economic regulation that supports fair wages and workloads. This economic regulation also helps to reduce pollution from the budget existence for sustainable production.

Figure 2: A diagram explaining TBL (Gelen Ö., 2022)

Furthermore, social constructionists have been conducting research to understand the current situation and the paradox the fashion industry has created. In a short questionnaire, researchers asked consumers about sustainability in fashion; while some merely focused on the environmental aspects, some mentioned socially destructive sides also (Rønholt, Overgaard, 2020). As the answers were vague, people were asked to elaborate on their answers by describing what sustainability is for them in purchasing. The most significant answer concerns the production material that considers its social and environmental aspects. However, the materials' qualities change according to how trustworthy the advertisement is and how transparent the company is through the production process (Rønholt, Overgaard, 2020). While quality may contribute to durability, it may also be just a marketing strategy to lure consumers in.

Even if the lingering problem is the production system of the clothing pieces, consumers create great fluctuation considering the modifications which could be made to change this system. Most of the consumers mention that even though the production is not environmentally friendly, they still tend to choose these companies due to their affordability and accessibility (Rønholt, Overgaard, 2020). One of the consumers said according to this questionnaire that

It sounds nice to say that you are very concerned about sustainability and all that (...) but in regard to something like clothing, although I want to devote myself to it, there are just other more prominent factors (...) that I take into account before taking things like sustainability and environmental awareness into the equation (Rønholt, Overgaard, 2020).

Figure 3: An illustration of fast fashion and sustainability (Chang A., 2018)

Fast Fashion Brands Initiatives

In 2020, a prominent fast fashion brand of H&M created "Conscious Exclusive A/W2020" which focuses on transforming waste into wearable clothing pieces. The materials in this collection consist of fabrics from post-consumer fiber, post-industrial plastic packaging, PET bottles, Hemp Biofibre (from hemp crop waste and oilseeds), and cellulosic fibers (H&M Inside, 2020). Furthermore, Inditex Group which produces brands such as Bershka, Zara, and Oysho, initiated a sustainable project called “Join Life” to promote sustainable production. In this project, the utilization of 100% renewable energy sources in production facilities is developed (Panprium, 2022).

Although sustainable effort has been made by fast-fashion brands, the production still lacks ethical aspects, besides the continuous manufacturing of non-eco-friendly clothing lines. These steps might be effective to initiate movement in the industry as people will observe the changes and make adjustments to their brands, however, their significance should still be questioned. Considering the TBL method, the implementation of sustainability efforts does not completely accommodate socio-economic aspects; and the research done within the framework of TBL may refine the consumers’ perception of these brands and sustainability itself (Park, Kim, 2016).

Figure 4: H&M Conscious Exclusive Campaign (H&M, 2019)

Which Problems Do These Brands Behold?

Fast fashion is indeed controversial. As production gets faster, the worth of craftsmanship gets lower; for a higher wage and protection for the workers, this fast-paced mechanism could not accommodate them (Brewer, 2019). The speedy production and low workers' wages have caused the prices to be lower and favorable for consumers. This psychological move makes it almost impossible to make these inhumane ways of labor vanish.

In response to this, Fairtrade Foundation tries to raise awareness. While promoting raw, natural materials and recycling, they are highlighting the importance of the enhancement of workers’ rights (Brewer, 2019). Furthermore, to solve this multidimensional issue, the government, alongside the sponsors of the “slow-fashion” brands and fashion industry are advised to collaborate to discourage the immoral practices of fast fashion.

Figure 5: An illustration of fast fashion and sustainability (Chang A., 2018)

Combating inequality in the fashion industry is critical. Increased support for companies promoting ethical production with high-quality products is required. Not just producing with natural or recycled materials, addressing social issues by ensuring the workers' welfare is also fundamental to achieving the overall objective of sustainability.

Bibliographical References

Assoune, A. (2022, February 19). Bershka. Panaprium. Retrieved November 25, 2022, from

Bamford, A. (2019). Un helps fashion industry shift to low carbon. the-dots. Retrieved November 25, 2022, from

Bhardwaj, V., & Fairhurst, A. (2010). Fast fashion: response to changes in the fashion industry. The international review of retail, distribution and consumer research, 20(1), 165-173.

Brewer, M. K. (2019). Slow Fashion in a Fast Fashion World: Promoting Sustainability and Responsibility. Sheffield; Sheffield Hallam University.

Conscious exclusive A/W20: H&M IT. H&M. (2020). Retrieved November 25, 2022, from

Gueye, S. (2021). The trends and trailblazers creating a circular economy for fashion. Circular Economy in the Fashion Industry. Retrieved November 27, 2022, from

Moorhouse, D., & Moorhouse, D. (2018). Sustainability in the fashion industry. UK; International Society for Sustainable Fashion.

Morelli, J. (2011). Environmental Sustainability: A Definition for Environmental Professionals. Journal of Environmental Sustainability, 1(1), 1–10.

Mulhern, O. (2022, July 28). The 10 Essential Fast Fashion Statistics. Earth.Org.

Niinimäki, K., Peters, G., Dahlbo, H., Perry, P., Rissanen, T., & Gwilt, A. (2020). The environmental price of fast fashion. Nature Reviews Earth & Environment, 1(4), 189-200.

Park, H., & Kim, Y. K. (2016). An empirical test of the triple bottom line of customer-centric sustainability: the case of fast fashion. Oklahoma; Fashion and Textiles.

Placella, S. A. (2019). Sustainability in Fashion Luxury: An atypical paradox evolving into reality. Gucci wallet case study. Roma ; Libera Unviersita' Internazionali Degli Studi Sociali.

Remy, N., Speelman, E., & Swartz, S. (2016). Style that’s sustainable: A new fast-fashion formula. Paris; McKinsey Sustainability, from

Rønholt, Nikolas & Overgaard, Malthe. (2020). An Exploratory Study: The Fast Fashion Paradox. 10.13140/RG.2.2.33506.15049.

UN Helps Fashion Industry Shift to Low Carbon. (2018). Retrieved November 25, 2022, from

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Very nice article!!

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