Sydney, Australia: Seeing the sign “Buy 2 items, get 2 free” on the window of a clothing store recently, made me shudder. It’s the epitome of the problem with fast fashion in one sentence and high street clothing brands are clearly desperate to shift cheap items.
Over the last 50 years, international trade and labour in the fashion industry have become easier and cheaper, which in turn has produced more accessible clothing to consumers on mass, case in point: fast fashion. According to research by Greenpeace, clothing production has doubled from the year 2000 to 2014, led by brands H&M and Zara. This is mainly due to development of cheap synthetic materials, machinery and larger garment factories.
The demand from consumers seems to have previously fed the fast fashion beast, however, it can also slow it down in favour of “slow fashion”. Thanks to innovative designers, campaigners and media, consumers seem to be losing interest in their love affair with fast fashion. Examples of this shift are suggested through the loss of profits for fast fashion giants Topshop (-16% 2017), H&M (-20% 2015) and French Connection (-6% 2017). So, why does fast fashion seem to be falling out of favour?
“Consumers are reaching their limit. While the pleasure of cheap fashion is neurologically very real, consumers are equally experiencing the mental exhaustion from the accumulation of all of this cheap clothing… We have a broken system and a consumer that is hungry for change.” Maxine Bédat, co-founder of Zady.
The Trend of Giving a Sh*t
Personally, the thrill of mass shopping on the high street lost its appeal a while ago. I’d always preferred the thrill of second-hand shopping, it’s cheaper and way more exciting. Once I realised that the fashion industry is allegedly the second biggest pollutant in the world and labour conditions of certain garment factories were referred to as modern-day slavery…I packed it in. That’s not to make other people feel guilty, and nor do I expect them to start buying only recycled, handmade hemp clothes. It’s just to give some context to why I changed my shopping habits.
Apparently, I’m not unique. Millennials care more about their purchasing power, people and the planet. Climate change is a real issue in 2017 and the fashion industry needs more regulation. According to a 2015 Global Corporate Sustainability report by Nielson, 73% of millennials are willing to spend more on a product if it comes from an ethical or sustainable brand.
Related Post: How Millennials Can Save the World Through Eco Fashion
Transparency and Connection
A huge shift in the fashion industry over the last five years and perhaps the reason consumers care more, has been an increase in transparency. Over the last 40 years, garment production has shifted in western countries to cheaper factories abroad, in places like India, China. Indonesia. On April 24, 2013, Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed killing over 1,100 garment workers. It was reported all over mainstream media, not only of the failings of brands to take responsibility but unsafe and unregulated working conditions. This sparked a demand for transparency in the industry and was the incident that fuelled the launch of Fashion Revolution. The organisation campaigns #whomadeyourclothes and provides consumers with essential information about the industry.
Fashion is still an issue with only 1-3% of a total t-shirt price going to the producer but consumers are making a statement. The Wall Street Journal published an article recently about the high street brand Forever 21 needing a $150 million loan after a series of poor factory conditions came to light in the press. Consumers are starting to want a connection with their clothing; I definitely want to wear clothes that I can trace back to the producer.
“The industry is defined by a lack of connection between the original producer of our goods and us, the consumer. We want to change that.” Patrick Woodyard, CEO Nisolo
Quality over Quantity
I don’t want to claim that high-street brands have poor quality clothing; I’m just assuming as that’s my experience. Mass produced clothing is generally made quickly with cheap synthetic material such as polyester and rayon. It’s made to be worn a few times and then thrown away. Synthetic clothing is a big problem for the planet, seeping micro plastics into the ocean and our food chain and not breaking down easily.
Cheap and poorly made clothing seems to be falling out of favour. H&M profits have fallen 20% since 2015 due to mass stock not selling and according to The Financial Times, has forced the company to rethink their business strategy. Clearly, they are listening and are focusing on a more sustainable approach according to their 2017 Sustainability Report.
Fashion giants will never disappear, they make fashion easily accessible and mainstream. What does seem to be changing are consumers’ mindset and accessibility to brand knowledge. Stereotypes of ethical and sustainable fashion are being broken down and consumers are becoming more curious about what they wear. No brand is perfect but I bet that the ones that evolve with more eco-conscious and ethical consumers will thrive.
To further learn about the issues in the fashion industry, this white paper published by Fashion Revolution is a great starting point.
Title image credit: H&M