Sustainability In The Fashion Industry Essay Example

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This essay by Paper Help writers analyses the validity of sustainability in the fashion industry, further arguing why it is a trick and not genuine. It has equally used specific brands such as Hennes & Mauritz’s (H&M) new product to explain terms such as greenwashing prevalent in the industry. In analyzing sustainable practices in the industry, this discussion has delved into social responsibility practices that the sector could integrate into achieving ethical strategies. There are more ways in which the textile and fashion industry is negatively impacting the environment. Such issues are related to overpopulation, leading to overconsumption and eventually pollution of the environment with used non-biodegradable textiles. Other causes have been pollution via chemical and fertilizer use on the textile raw materials. In addition, there has been an increase in deforestation, poor working conditions for workers, and displacement of people, all indirectly and directly linked with the adverse impacts of the fashion industry. Therefore much focus is on the unsustainable processes in the industry’s supply chain and how they impact people and the environment.

Is Sustainability a Trick in Fashion Industry?

The contemporary society presents some key issues concerning sustainable practices. The business world is becoming increasingly competitive, and equally, outcries to conserve the environment rise are louder than before. Currently, the terms green, natural, eco-friendly, sustainable are popularly used by brands worldwide. Particularly in the fashion industry, there is so much greenwashing that even the customers do not understand whether they are attached to misleading practices or whether it is true that they are leading responsible habits. This term ‘greenwashing’ was invoked by Jay Westervelt, an environmentalist, in 1986, defining the concept as false claims or misleading advertisements that imply sustainable practices when it is just a fallacy (Mehar para. 3). These practices are common in the fashion industry and often deceive consumers by providing claims backed with no proof and could potentially cause environmental, ethical, and social repercussions. Arguably one of the industries not sustainable in the current aspect is the fashion industry. Even though it contributes largely to the worldwide economy, the fashion industry utilizes a disproportionate amount of natural resources. This industry produces wastes that pollute water masses. Precisely, when the life cycle of the garments is over, they are placed in landfills or burned. This essay argues the fashion industry as one of the major culprits in the malpractice of sustainability, given that it often exploits climate crisis in marketing while in reality lacking any fundamental shifts in its sector.

One major challenge of sustainability is that it lacks a quantifiable and clear definition. For instance, the terms ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘ethical’ bear no legal significance (Mehar para. 6). Therefore, this contributes to the lack of sustainable accountability within the fashion industry. More so, the lack of government-subsidized research and empirical data revolving around the fashion industry’s impact is also another challenge. The study also concludes that other reasons causing greenwashing within the fashion industry are inadequate education and the absence of public awareness of the malpractices in the sector, thus permitting the companies to progress in maximizing false information.

Today, the fashion industry remains one of the most polluting sectors and records significant challenges in social responsibility. At this juncture, a major reason for the fashion industry’s lack of steps towards sustainability is the ever-rising consumption of garment wears. Previously, clothing was custom-made; however, contemporary society’s fashion brands such as Adidas, Zara, Prada, and Gucci focus on priorities such as ensuring customers with a liking trendy things never lack new items in their shops. This is prevalent in many other fashion stores, which update collections around 4 to 6 times annually while also making diffusion lines available (Andersen 20). The ‘fast fashion implies an affordable clothing collection that imitates today’s luxury trendy fashion wear and which runs in about twenty seasons annually. More precisely, a study conducted by Ellen MacArthur Foundation in 2013 indicated that the fashion industry sells about 91 billion garment pieces yearly, and this quantity constantly rises annually (Andersen 20). In fact, with the world’s population increase, consumers are purchasing more clothes than before. In particular, Poulton and colleagues’ survey provides that in 1997, the average British female purchased 19 clothing items yearly (Poulton et al.). In a span of ten years, the data had increased to 34 garment items annually. However, in 2013, in Denmark, one individual purchased an average of six kilograms of new garments annually (Anderson 20). Eventually, the increase in fashion consumption has led to a simultaneous rise in disposal. For instance, in the U.K., the average person disposes of 23 clothing items yearly, and most of these textile products are disposed of in landfills (Andersen 20). Even the cloth laundering activity accounts for about one-quarter of the industry’s carbon footprint (Andersen 20). The overall consumption of fabrics in the fashion industry continues to rise despite the sensitization on more environmentally friendly products and the choices of some customers to minimize consumption.

Furthermore, in promoting and maintaining these rising levels of fabric consumption, the fashion industry continues to exploit virgin materials, causing much more toll on people and the environment (Andersen 21). For instance, conventional cotton as clothing’s main raw fiber is often grown in vast monocultures; consequently, contributing to the decline in virgin forests and population displacement. It is also important to know that cotton cultivation uses massive quantities of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which cause negative impacts on the health of workers and farmers besides polluting water and soil and further decreasing biodiversity (Andersen 21). The consumers at large are equally affected due to allergic reactions caused by chemical residues. Back in 2011, when China was the world’s leading producer of clothing and textiles, it recorded the worst water mass pollution worldwide, with almost 70 percent of its reservoirs, lakes, and rivers indicating pollution from all categories of pollutants (Greenpeace 6). Therefore, it can be agreed that the textile and fashion industry does not solely cause hazardous chemical pollutants, but it also contributes to large amounts of wastewater discharge.

As much as the fashion industry is corrupted by a lack of sustainability, many independent brands, more significantly the big fishes, are reinventing their processes towards achieving a conscious environment (Mehar para. 10). However, as it is, the big brands are utilizing huge profits yielded from exploitative and cheap clothing in availing tremendous marketing budgets in promoting the green collections. This being so, it is quite unfulfilling that some big brands are possibly developing an add-on sustainability program relying on an unsustainable and exploitative supply chain in backing climate change and textile waste.

Back in 2019, Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) presented the ‘Conscious Collection,’ including Pinatex products that were leather-like produced from pineapple leaves and orange peelings (Mehar para. 12). However, this collection’s legitimacy concerning eco-friendliness and sustainability was questioned as it possessed components of petroleum-based and plastic agents that ultimately rule out the probable eco-friendly and positive impact of using fruit fibers. Thus, it was still non-biodegradable. One can argue that H&M’s collection engaged with sustainability at a surface level, translating into a mere toe-dip within the prevailing global dialogue on environmentally-conscious practices.

As mentioned earlier, the fashion industry has too many seasons, as much as over fifty micro-seasons. Thus, there is enormous cloth waste with the swiftness and extent to which garments are discarded, produced, and reproduced due to emerging fashion trends (Mehar para. 16). In this case, several fashion entities neglect the duty to treat or handle their waste and instead replace the sustainability agenda via greenwashing, thus enhancing mindless consumerism causing consumers to feel positive ( Blesserholt 7). As a result, sustainability reflects ‘eco-friendly’ at the cost of cultural, social, economic, and health facets. The fashion industry’s unwillingness to deal with holistic sustainability and instead cherry-picking strategies to accomplish its agenda poses more damage than benefits to the ecosystem.

Nonetheless, the fast-fashion entities fail to implement reforms within the textile-producing factories that address better wages and working conditions. The industry does not address resilience in achieving sustainability while endeavoring to massively produce sustainable garments. A good example is ASOS (As Seen On Screen) that claims to support CMiA (Cotton made in Africa), a program driven towards uplifting the region’s farmers’ conditions (Mehar para. 20). While it is true that ASOS claims that it offers crucial business understanding and agricultural training, the farmers are untrained on how to diversify sources of income in a climate that is in crisis besides independently existing from the western brand’s losses and profits.

In supplementing the immediate previous argument, the pressure to minimize costs while maximizing profits has blinded the fashion industry. An instance is in Bangladesh, Rana Plaza Factory, which in 2013 recorded around 1,200 deaths of garment workers, all caused by building collapse (Andersen 21). This got into the history books as one of the ‘world’s worst industrial accidents in three decades’ (Andersen 21). Investigations also highlighted the Rana Plaza factory, which prioritized profits over the worker’s safety and workspace. It is further mentioned that the cracks on the building were visible on the day before the collapse and despite the pleads by employees, the management compelled its workforce to work, threatening to deny them a monthly salary. To date, the incident emphasizes the dangers of poor working conditions in the workplace regardless of industry.

Identifying and navigating insidious greenwashing appears to be a puzzle; however, one could start by using the fundamental thumb rule in determining whether the brand uses sustainability as simply an add-on or is it at the center of the business model. Moreover, scientifically proven figures will go a long way in proving the situation. For example, one can inquire about the percentage of the recycled materials used in the brand’s ‘eco-friendly’ or ‘sustainable’ products (Mehar para. 23). One could further argue that fashion companies enhance greenwashing using degradable fibers such as bamboo, rain, and viscose. At this juncture, further investigation could scrutinize where raw materials are sourced, thus ensuring closed-loop sustainability. An example is bamboo, a fiber that grows faster in conditions exposed to hazardous chemicals and pesticides that cause pollution. Also, viscose is yet another material that could enhance deforestation unless it has a certified source for extraction.

Greenwashing is indeed pervasive across the industry, but it cannot be denied that certain fashion brands are genuinely waking up to the call of sustainability (Dahl 2). Nike has enhanced its supply chains utilizing innovation as a leading driver in sustainability despite its recent drawbacks (Mehar para. 29). Patagonia is yet another brand, offering buyback programs and repair to enable a circular chain in the economy and, in the long term, protect the workforce, consumers, and the environment (Mehar para. 30). The Doodlage brand, not being left behind, has begun sourcing eco-friendly materials, for instance, corn fabric, organic cotton, discarded textile, and banana fabric, thus instigating its rivals in following suit.

To sum up, this essay’s objective was to determine whether sustainability in the fashion industry is makeup or it is genuine. First, leading industries have heeded the outcry on sustainability; however, not all are geared towards achieving a conscious environment. The fashion industry being a fast-growing sector, the ‘buy less pollute less’ is a suitable option as it highlights overconsumption on several seasons due to the fashion trends. Perhaps, fashion giants such as Nike, Patagonia, and Doodlage have genuinely executed significant steps towards sustainability. Still, there is a huge gap as most companies fail to integrate this strategy in their core business model but instead use it as an add-on in falsely convincing and gaining consumers. The fashion brands could begin by comprehending the adverse impacts their products have on the environment; this could be a good starting point, just as Adidas has done (U.S Cotton Trust Protocol 29). Comparable and robust data could be conducted regarding the sustainability of the industry’s manufacturing processes then develop high-quality products that are sustainable and meet the consumers’ demand (U.S Cotton Trust Protocol 29). More significantly, the younger consumers are excited about the sustainable predictions, and firms respond by heightening standards regarding natural materials. There is also a rising need to use technology and innovation in raising reuse and recycling rates for the existing clothing.

Works Cited

Andersen, Kirsti Reitan. Stabilizing Sustainability: In the Textile and Fashion Industry. 2017.

Blesserholt, Josephine. The ‘Sins’ of Greenwashing – Su.diva-Portal.org. 2021, su.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1562569/FULLTEXT01.pdf.

Dahl, Richard. “Green Washing.” Environmental Health Perspectives, vol. 118, no. 6, 2010, doi:10.1289/ehp.118-a246.

Greenpeace. Unravelling the Corporate Connections to … – Greenpeace. 2011, www.greenpeace.org/static/planet4-international-stateless/2011/07/2303cc74-dirty-laundry-12pages.pdf.

Mehar, Mehar. “The Deception of Greenwashing in Fast Fashion.” Down To Earth, 16 Feb. 2021, www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/environment/the-deception-of-greenwashing-in-fast-fashion-75557.

Poulton, Lindsay, et al. “The Shirt on Your Back: The Human Cost of the Bangladeshi Garment Industry.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 16 Apr. 2014, www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2014/apr/bangladesh-shirt-on-your-back.

U.S Cotton Trust Protocol. Home – Trust Us Cotton Protocol. n.d., trustuscotton.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Is-sustainability-in-fashion_Industry-leaders-share-their-views.pdf.