In the late 1990’s fast fashion began to take hold, causing more low-quality and inexpensive clothing to be manufactured. Fast fashion companies such as H&M, Forever 21, Mango and Zara frequently stock their stores with new styles. Instead of 4 fashion seasons in a year, fast fashion outlets now replenish their stocks 11 or more times a year. To keep up with these fast fashion trends, consumers buy clothing more frequently and also dispose of these garments without hesitation. Instead of saving up money for high-quality and long-lasting clothing items, consumers are more likely to purchase cheap, low-quality garments that are easily disposable.
Globalized Fashion Industry
In the past 25 years, the cost of clothing experienced a period of deflation. Prices decreased because manufacturing in developed countries moved to developing countries with lower wages and fewer environmental regulations. According to the International Labour Organization, from 1970 to 1990, the number of textile, clothing and footwear (TCF) workers in Malaysia increased 597%, 416% in Bangladesh; 385% in Sri Lanka; 334% in Indonesia; 271% in the Philippines; and 137% in Korea. Since clothing companies pay less for manufacturing, their output of clothing has increased. Now the world has more textile waste than can be sustainably dealt with.
The manufacturing of fast fashion garments has not only created a culture of disposability, but also poses labour problems for factories in developing countries. After the collapse of the Rana Plaza facility in Bangladesh in 2013, audits in Bangladesh factories revealed that many factories were operating without fire safety licenses, occupancy certificates or construction approval permits. Although audits have been conducted, many factories have not improved their operating practices. Earlier this year H&M found Syrian child refugees in their factories in Turkey and one of its suppliers in Bangladesh also caught on fire. The ground breaking documentary The True Cost gives consumers a broader perspective on the human and environmental costs of the fashion industry.
Before fast fashion began to take hold, well-made clothing was the standard for clothing companies. Before factories in developing countries became commonplace, most of the clothing sold in the United States was also made there. Most sweaters were hand knit, jackets were tailored and lined and dresses had blind hems. But in the same 20-year period that TCF workers increased in developing countries, the number of TCF workers in the United States decreased by 31%. Today, most retail outlets will sell clothing that’s made in China, Vietnam or Bangladesh.
Push Back on Fast Fashion
Because mainstream fashion is creating wasteful behaviour and an environmental crisis, ethically-minded brands are making their way to the fashion scene. These companies provide consumers with clothing that is high-quality, sustainably made and affordable. Many of these sustainable brands have launched online to prevent wholesaling and retail markups. This is so the younger generation of consumers raised on fast fashion will see sustainable brands as affordable. Websites such as buymeonce.com and buy-it-once.com redirect customers to high quality clothing that’s made to last.
To help educate consumers and to help them veer away from fast fashion, what’s needed is sustainable alternatives. Earlier ethical-fashion efforts such as bamboo or hemp were not always the most fashionable clothing, but now companies are coming out with sustainably made styles that consumers are willing to buy. Below is a list of fashion companies that value sustainability and ethically made clothing.
Sustainable Brands Worth Investing In
The brand’s slogan is “fewer, better things”. Cuyana manufactures elegant clothing for women made out of premium fabrics such as cashmere from Scotland and leather from Argentina, Italy and Spain. They ensure close relationships with their factories that are transparent and more ethical. The company’s co-founder, Karla Gallardo, says that Cuyana wants to provide consumers with “a product that is durable and affordable [and] that will actually last”. They also want to foster strong relationships with consumers and ensure that customers that trust that their products are made sustainably.
This brand was created by Tom Cridland, a 25-year-old British designer and entrepreneur. Their purpose of the creating the 30 Year Sweatshirt is to not only to provide consumers with high quality clothing, but also to educate the younger generation of consumers. He has designed a handmade sweatshirt made out of Italian organic cotton and treated to prevent shrinkage and pilling. The company will also provide repairs for free until 2046. He wants younger consumers to veer away from fast fashion fads and instead invest in ethically conscious clothing. So far this year he has sold 5000 pullovers and expected to make a revenue of $1 million this year. His 30 Year line will also be extended to include t-shirts, jackets and trousers.
The company is committed to giving consumers high-quality products that are thoughtfully manufactured. Zady designs clothing that is made to last for years as opposed to clothing that falls apart after three washes. They work directly with farmers, washers, spinners, knitters and sewers to monitor the use of pesticides, water treatment, dye composition and energy efficiency of factories. Their website provides consumers with information on textile materials such as cotton, linen, wool, alpaca, cashmere and polyester. Zady also educates consumers on the various ways the fashion industry contributes to climate change, corruption and toxicity, and how the industry affects water, forests, animals and soil.
This fashion brand believes in the importance of transparency. They look for the best factories in the world to manufacture their clothing. Everlane requires stringent workplace compliancy paperwork from their factories to ensure that labour policies are intact. They’re also committed to visiting factories often to help build strong personal relationships with the people who work hard to make their clothing. Another way the company is committed to transparency is by revealing the true costs of their items and their markup. Other retail brands will be marked up 8x by the time they reach consumers, but since Everlane operates online they eliminate any middle-man expenses.
The company contributes to the environmental movement by giving 1% of their daily global sales to grassroots environmental groups that help protect natural resources such as water, air and soil. Patagonia’s mission is to “[b]uild the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” The company has been using a polyester recycling technology on its high quality polyester clothing to be made into new products. To make sustainable clothing items, Patagonia also uses hemp, organic and reclaimed cotton, recycled nylon, 100% recycled down, undyed cashmere, and recycled and reclaimed wool.
The company is certified as a Green Business by the City of Los Angeles. On a daily basis they follow environmental values by recycling, using green cleaning products and lighting, and by encouraging ridesharing among employees. They also make over 70% of their garments with sustainable materials and processes. Their factories work in accordance with the Fair Labor Association (FLA) Workplace Code of Conduct and most of them are also certified by the Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP).
For over 25 years the company has provided consumers with ethical and environmentally sustainable fashion. People Tree was the first clothing company to receive the World Fair Trade Organisation’s Fair Trade product mark in 2013. They produce high quality products that are made by artisans and producers that follow Fair Trade standards. People Tree understands the negative environmental and social impacts of fast fashion and instead choose to protect people and the planet. Their garments are made with organic cotton and sustainable materials (that are safely dyed, recycled and local) and also use traditional skills that help support rural communities.
After a trip to South America in 1993, Scott Leonard and Matt Reynolds were inspired by the beautiful knitted clothing produced by local artisans. They returned to California with a vision to start a new clothing business that would protect both people and the environment. They started Indigenous, a company that would support Fair Trade wages and artisan cooperatives in Peru. The company has invested in natural and organic fibres and environmentally-friendly dyes. Indigenous provides customers with handmade and trendy clothing that is produced ethically and sustainably.
The company strives to make thoughtful clothing that’s intended to last. They use naturally grown bamboo, cotton, wool and hemp that are free from harmful chemicals and pesticides. Their organic cotton is certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and their dyes are Azo-free. Braintree aims to minimize their environmental footprint by supporting slow fashion as opposed to fast fashion. The brand lives by the mantra ‘Wear Me, Love Me, Mend Me, Pass Me On’.
These brands are pricier than the fast fashion prices that most consumers are used to but there is some evidence to show that more Americans are willing to pay more for products and services from companies that are socially and environmentally responsible. According to the 2014 Nielsen study, 41% of Americans who responded are willing to pay more. The global survey which covered 60 countries, showed that over half of respondents that are willing to pay more were under the age of 34. According to Juliet Schor, a professor of economics and sociology at Boston College, “more people are rejecting mass-production for aesthetic reasons and because of the exploitation in the fast-fashion system.” There’s a higher demand for artisanal and handmade products because of the growing trend in “ecological sensibility”. Instead of being a disposable commodity, clothing should be an investment for its quality and sustainability.
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