Can ‘Fast Fashion’ Be Sustainable?
Fast Fashion has revolutionized the textile industry but comes with a steep price tag, turning the fashion industry into one of the world's biggest polluters.
Have you ever noticed whenever there is a fashion show in Paris, New York, London or Milano, you are able to buy the cheaper knock-offs a few days later? It’s called “Fast Fashion,” a new way to produce fashion items in a shorter period and at lower costs (and often with lower quality). While Fast Fashion has revolutionized the textile industry, it’s comes with a steep price in the form of negative impact on the environment and quality of life.
The environment pays a high price for cheaper clothes
Our hunger for new fashion items continues to increase. Unfortunately, this high demand for the latest and greatest has turned the fashion industry into one of the world’s worst polluters. According to the World Wildlife Fund :
The textile industry annually emits 1.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide that is pumped into the air we breathe.
20,000 liters of water is needed to produce 1 Kg of cotton. The equivalent of a single t-shirt or a pair of jeans.
Cotton can be found in nearly 40% of all clothes. In addition to cotton, synthetic fiber like polyester or nylon are the second most used material for fashion, which is in almost 72% of all fashion items. The latter materials are also criticized for their negatively environmental impact.
The production process of garments - from farming cotton, to dyeing and washing - consumes a lot of water and pesticides. Moreover, recycling of these mix garments is often difficult and won’t provide the satisfactory quality the fashion brands and consumers are requesting.
Fashioning a new business model
There is increasing demand from consumers and manufacturers to change the supply chain to transformation to sustainable fashion.
One way could be the idea of circular economy. Circular economy aims to redefine growth, focusing on positive society-wide benefits. It entails gradually decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resource, designing waste out of the system. This model employs reuse, sharing, repair, refurbishment, remanufacturing and recycling to create a closed system and minimizing the resource consumption and waste production as well as pollution and emissions.
The study of the Ellen-MacArthur-Foundation indicates four phases:
1. High quality of the original material means stability and less environmental pollution.
2. Designing and producing to last.
3. Recycling should be considered right at the beginning and the recycling technology should be improved.
4. Reduction of the use of new resources but use of more renewable resources.
There are some fashion brands who has accepted to reach this goal and are busy to rework their sustainability strategy:
Dyecoo, the Dutch company, claims to be the world’s first commercial supplier of water-free and process-chemical free-dyeing technology for textiles. It’s C02-based dyeing process makes textiles dyeing clean, sustainable, efficient and profitable.
Re:newcell, the Swedish bioeconomic company has developed a new way of reusing clothes in a closed loop. The company indicates that it takes in garments that are too worn out to be sent to second-hand shops and shreds, de-colors and turns into a slurry with all the contaminants removed. The result is cellulose, a biodegradable, organic material that all plants on the planet are made from.
Changing a business model is one way, the other way could be to think of alternative materials for fashion items that are both sustainable and bio-degradable. A few examples include:
Water base vegan leather
Supply Chain Transparency
As a consumer, I want to support brands that are doing something good for the world and am willing to pay a little more for sustainable goods.
As this consumer pressure mounts for fast fashion companies to be more proactive about environmental preservation, several companies started to offer their consumers a transparency of their supply chain. Several brands have already moved toward transparency in manufacturing: from the design phase to transport. For example, the Swedish fashion giant H&M Group provides its’ supplier list online.
As most consumers are also price sensitive, brands are responding by trying to become more transparent when it comes to specify costs of materials, labor, transport, duties and mark up. Everlane, a US based company, offers its consumers insights to all these costs.
Supply chain traceability becomes important when it comes to empower fashion companies to embrace transparency. This will enable fashion companies to improve their whole production process and to gain a sustainable supply chain.
Technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and blockchain can help to enable fashion companies to adopt more sustainable end-to-end retail models because every step of the value chain can be traced and shown transparent: from raw material sourcing to manufacturing to shipping and reuse.
Offering our customers an optimized supply chain implicates to help our customers to run better, hence for a better world. For more information, visit SAP Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
To learn more, download the IDC report “Leveraging Your Intelligent Digital Supply Chain.”