Is Sustainable Fashion the Future?

Let’s rephrase that: sustainable fashion is the future. It has to be - the UNEP having found the fashion industry to be the second largest consumer of water and responsible for up to 10% of global carbon emissions. Ignoring these figures is impossible. Maintaining - or worse, increasing them - would be untenable.

 

The very fact that sustainability now forms part of our everyday vocabulary is itself evidence of sustainable fashion’s secured spot in the future. You simply cannot avoid the conversations of environmental consciousness that have become the centre of every fashion publication, school syllabus and clothing brand alike.

 

What is sustainable fashion?

 

It is important, therefore, to be aware of what sustainable fashion actually entails. Whilst there exists no agreed definition, sustainability in fashion looks to manufacturing processes which are mindful of the environment. This includes ‘green solutions’ like carbon offsetting, sustainably sourced materials, and disincentivizing mass production.

 

The possibility of sustainable fast fashion

 

This is certainly achievable for luxury and boutique brands - for the fast fashion industry, however, mass production remains the epicentre of its revenue stream. This begs the question: can sustainable fashion really be the future, if fast fashion is to remain? Or, are we looking at a future bereft of today’s most popular fashion retailers, like Zara and H&M?

 

As to the latter question: it seems unlikely. The fast fashion industry not only enables a rapid turnover of vast quantities of clothing, but markets them at incomparably low costs - making fashion and trends accessible for all. Forbes forecasts that the likes of Uniqlo, H&M and Inditex will still remain industry front runners in seven years time (as of 2019).

 

Thankfully, fast fashion industries have been as quick to jump on the sustainability band wagon as they have been to produce their low cost garments. H&M, for example, has proven a strong commitment to the sustainability movement - its 2019 Sustainability Performance Report details various climate-based goals, including their ambition to become ‘climate positive’ by 2040. This is made clear in the brand’s current initiatives: a ‘conscious’ concept range featuring products with 50% (at least) sustainably sourced materials; a ‘take care’ program providing the know-how behind garment after-care (prolonging their shelf-life and removing some of the need for mass consumption) as well as allowing customers to recycle their old clothes at collection points. Most recently, a new denim collaboration with the American brand Lee boasts their first 100% recycled cotton jeans collection.

 

The above can be taken as strong evidence that sustainable fashion forms not only part of our future, but that of our present too. This is has been disputed, however, with some industry professionals calling out companies like H&M for ‘greenwashing’. This essentially constitutes the practice of pummelling money into marketing measures that advocate sustainability but take little action to actually achieve this.

 

Problematic indeed - however H&M’s current CEO Helena Helmersson has been quick to respond to such backlash. Helmersson stands by the brand’s many sustainability initiatives, and addresses the mass production problem with a promise of circularity. Using natural resources and encouraging customers to engage in product after-care and recycling, she hopes, will tackle the overconsumption habits from which this industry currently feeds.