Fast fashion is hot. It also makes the world hotter.

When people think about who is responsible for global warming, they probably point the finger at oil and gas companies, logistics companies, and air travel. They probably don’t think too quickly about the trendy cheap tops and jeans they could wear.

But fast fashion – the clothing sector, which includes brands like H&M, Zara and Co now $100 billion Chinese retailer Shein is one of the world’s largest carbon emitters.

Overall, the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of annual global CO2 emissions, more than all international flights and shipping combined. corresponding The World Bank. Fast fashion accounts for about 18% of the $551.4 billion global apparel industry, according to the Business Research Company.

With inventories turning so quickly and quickly as consumers switch to new trends, this is of particular concern to climate advocates.

But if Shein’s success is any indication, those concerns haven’t dampened investors’ enthusiasm for the sector. The same day in early April that the United Nations let go his latest report on climate change, warning that countries are not doing enough to combat global warming, a Wall Street Journal Article revealed the Chinese retailer has raised between $1 billion and $2 billion.

So why is our craving for cheap, cool clothes fueling a global catastrophe? And what, if anything, can clothing brands or consumers do to limit the impact? The answers to both questions are beginning to emerge.

Retailers, for example, are already embracing more sustainable practices in their supply chains — with varying pace and success, said Carol Spieckerman, president of consulting firm Spieckerman Retail.

These retailers know that a new generation of shoppers, led by Gen Z, are taking care of them sustainabilityClimate change and the environment, she said.

“Sustainability is critical to the long-term viability of their brands,” said Spieckerman.

Partly out of concern for the environment and partly because of cost concerns, Gen Z has fueled a rise in apparel resale companies such as: Apps like Poshmark and depop. swap clothes Ventures have also grown in popularity.

As for Shein, Spieckerman notes that Asia, particularly China, is less committed than the West to cutting greenhouse gases if it means harming their still-growing economies. Therefore, consumer demand for sustainable products may not be as strong, she said.

So yes, fast fashion is big today. However, “it must not remain so for long,” said Spieckermann.

Chez Target, the root of fast fashion

People usually think of H&M and Zara as the pioneers of fast fashion, where retailers quickly make trendy clothes at great prices and sell them to consumers.

But in many ways, fast fashion’s roots go back to Target, at least as far as the fashion part goes. Thanks to its temporary partnerships with trendy designers like Isaac Mizrahi, Missoni and Jason Wu, the company convinced consumers that they could buy fashionable clothes and accessories at low prices.

H&M and Zara took Target’s model and put it on steroids. They quickly developed, produced and sold inexpensive clothing that could regularly appeal to fashion-conscious consumers.

While traditional retailers like department stores would take a year to launch a seasonal collection, fast fashion stores could do it in a quarter or even a week. It was also no coincidence that the advent of fast fashion coincided with the rise of social media and the culture of instant gratification that the internet fosters.

Why wait for Target’s semi-annual design partnerships to hit stores, maybe once or twice a year, when you can replace your wardrobe every two weeks?

$500 billion in discarded clothing

After an estimate Fast fashion sales will reach nearly $100 billion this year and grow at an 8 percent annual rate through 2026. Eight percent is pretty good, but the number represents a significant slowdown compared to the past three years, when sales grew 20% each year, according to consultancy McKinsey.

But these booming sales have consequences. A model that encourages consumers to buy new clothes quickly and often harms the environment.

To keep up with demand, manufacturers will run their factories longer to make clothes, thereby producing more greenhouse gases. And consumers who replace their wardrobe throw clothes in the trash. The piles of unwanted clothing that end up in landfills are incinerated, adding more carbon to the atmosphere.

In 2000, 50 billion new items of clothing were manufactured; Almost 20 years later, that number has doubled, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. And every year, about $500 billion in value is lost through clothing that is hardly worn, not donated, recycled or ends up in a landfill, according to the foundation.

The World Bank estimates that less than 1% of used clothing is recycled into new garments. If the industry continues at its current pace, its greenhouse gas emissions will increase by more than 50% by 2030.

Making jeans out of waste water and rubbish?

Spieckermann is a bit more optimistic than these numbers suggest. The global pandemic, which forced people to stay at home, began to convince people to stop buying a lot of clothes. Why buy a new suit when the company can only see your head in that Zoom call?

And manufacturers and retailers in general are more focused on sustainability efforts. For example, Levi’s used Strauss Wastewater for the manufacture of jeans and partnered with the World Bank to provide low-cost credit to suppliers who meet sustainability goals.

Even H&M has looked into manufacturing opportunities Clothes made from grapes and plastic waste. The company is also testing Looop, the world’s first in-store recycling system, turning old clothes into new ones, at one of its stores in Stockholm.

However, these efforts will take time. Meanwhile, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise and investors are pouring money into fast-fashion startups like Shein.

You can see why. As of June 2021, Shein has overtaken its European rivals to become the Top fast fashion brand in the United States, according to data firm Ernest Research. The company controls 28% of the market compared to 20% for H&M and 11% for Zara.

The overall US market grew 15% between January and mid-June of the year, while Shein grew nearly 160% over the same period, “suggesting that the brand’s mobile-first strategy is resonating with post-Covid consumers found,” said Ernest Research.

Perhaps the long-term picture speaks for a more sustainable approach to clothing. But right now, fast fashion retailers are making a lot of money, and nothing, even alarming reports of climate change, is likely to change that anytime soon.

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