Fast fashion's move to sustainability

Many people, especially since the pandemic, have turned to online shopping. Everything you could possibly desire is only ever a few clicks away. Plus, people felt like they helped slow the spread of the virus by not going out for their shopping needs (1). This convenience led to a 76% stock growth for online retailers, according to McKinsey’s annual report on the State of Fashion. 

However, most are also aware of the environmental issues that have arisen due to the increase in online shopping. Think back to the last time you bought something online. It probably came in a box or a padded envelope, then inside the packing was yet another wrapping of some sort. Fast fashion is notoriously guilty of this. Each item in an order from one of the major retailers can be expected to be wrapped individually. Not only are these clothing brands wasting a lot of plastic in the shipping process, but they are also producing unsustainable clothes in the first place. The clothes made are meant to keep up with trends and fads without a care if the crop top will be in style by the end of the summer.  

Luckily, many brands are making moves to make themselves more sustainable. There are countless ways for retailers to make positive change since the fashion industry is so large. As in, the fashion industry is so expansive it’s responsible for 10% of the human races’ carbon emissions (2). So, many retailers have chosen to announce company-wide initiatives aimed to slow negative effects on the environment. 

The H&M Group, which owns brands like H&M, has created a non-profit called The H&M Foundation. The efforts of the foundation focus on collaboration and innovation in solving issues. Recently, the foundation got attention for its “Billion Dollar Collection.” The H&M Foundation asked for innovative ideas to be submitted as entries to its sustainability challenge. Then, the foundation picked 10 start-ups to include in this virtual collection. The garments are labeled with the prices these start-up companies think are needed to make the innovative ideas come to life. A six-million-dollar shirt from Fairbrics, which if funded, would allow the mass-production of the first synthetic fibre with a net-positive climate impact. Algaeing wants five million to create biodegradable and renewable thread and dye with the use of algae. The innovations are there, it’s only funding that is needed to make these products commonplace. 

Zalora, a Singapore-based fashion retailer, has pushed forward multiple initiatives, as well (3). Two of the company’s major focuses are on packaging and circular fashion. The CEO of Zalora told CNBC that all of Zalora’s packaging is now at least 80% recycled (4). This is a great step towards the company’s goals since by 2022 Zalora aims to have 100% of its packaging using sustainable materials. Circular fashion can mean a few different things, such as how the product is sourced and created, but also how the product is utilized once it’s in the consumer’s hands. When it comes to Zalora, the company is working so that in the future when a customer is done with a product, they can simply bring it back to Zalora for it to be repurposed.  

So, there’s plenty for retailers to do to minimize their effects on the environment. But, what is there for you to do as a consumer? Clearly, a solution would be to minimize how much you’re ordering from online retailers. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t buy a new dress for the wedding you’re going to, or that you shouldn’t have a shopping spree when you get a promotion at work. However, you should be conscious about what you are choosing to buy. Buy the pair of pants that you know you’ll still want to wear next year. Spend a little extra on a brand that supports an environmental cause you care about. Check out your local thrift shop, and donate to it when you know you’re done wearing something. When you hear about a brand’s new sustainability initiatives, hold them accountable. If they haven’t publicized their efforts, make a tweet asking them what progress they’ve made. There are many steps to take, so making an effort to make some will result in great change. 

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