Fast Fashion: Is It Sustainable?

Sin To

Have you ever noticed that whenever there is a fashion show going on in Paris, New York, London, or Milano, you are able to buy less-expensive copies of the featured clothing just a few days later?

The practice of producing new fashion items in a short period of time at lower costs (and often of lower quality), has revolutionized the textile industry. It is called fast fashion.

The environment pays a high price for cheaper clothes

Unfortunately, these cheaper clothes are produced at the expense of the environment. Our hunger for new fashion items has been increased over the past years – and unfortunately, the fashion industry has been one of the world’s most polluting industries.

According to the WWF :

Cotton can be found in nearly 40% of all clothing. Synthetic fibers like polyester or nylon are the second most-used material for fashion, found in almost 72% of all fashion items. These materials also negatively affect the environment.

The production process of garments, from farming cotton to dyeing and washing, consumes large amounts of water and pesticides. Moreover, recycling these garments is difficult and does not provide the quality that fashion brands and consumers demand.

The environmental issues caused by fast fashion has inspired a movement to “slow fashion:” Fashion4Climate.

Fashioning a new business model

There is increasing demand from consumers and manufacturers to change the supply chain to sustainable fashion.

One approach to this is modeled on the circular economy. The circular economy aims to redefine growth, focusing on positive society-wide benefits. It entails gradually decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources and designing waste out of the system. This model employs reuse, sharing, repair, refurbishment, remanufacturing, and recycling to create a closed system, and minimizes resource consumption and waste production to reduce pollution and emissions.

A study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation indicates four phases to this approach:

  1. Using high-quality original material means stability and less environmental pollution
  2. Designing and producing to last
  3. Recycling should be considered from the beginning and recycling technology should be improved
  4. Reduce the use of new resources and use more renewable resources

Some fashion brands have accepted this strategy and are busy reworking their sustainability strategy. For example, Re:newcell, a Swedish bioeconomic company, has developed a new way of reusing clothes in a closed loop. The company takes in garments that are too worn out to be sent to second-hand shops, and shreds, de-colors, and turns them into a slurry with all the contaminants removed. The result is cellulose – the biodegradable, organic material from which plants are made.

Alternative materials

Another approach is to create fashion from alternative materials that are both sustainable and biodegradable. A few examples include:

  • Organic hemp has been used as a fabric for hundreds of years
  • Organic linen is a natural fiber derived from the flax plant
  • Tencel is a cellulose fabric created by dissolving wood pulp. It features moisture-wicking properties desired in the manufacturing of activewear
  • Pinatex is a vegan leather alternative made from pineapple leaf fibers
  • Econyl is a fiber created by using plastics, waste fabrics, and fishing nets reclaimed from the ocean

Supply chain transparency

As a consumer, I want to support brands that are doing good for the world, and I am willing to pay a little more for sustainable goods.

As consumer pressure mounts for fast-fashion companies to be more proactive about environmental preservation, some companies are starting to offer more transparency to their supply chain. Several brands have also moved toward transparency in manufacturing, from the design phase to transportation. 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 increasing the transparency into the costs of their materials, labor, transport, duties, and markup. Everlane, a U.S.-based company, offers its consumers insights into all these costs.

New technology

Supply chain traceability is important in empowering fashion companies to embrace transparency. This will enable fashion companies to improve their production process and develop a sustainable supply chain.

Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain can help fashion companies adopt more sustainable end-to-end retail models by making every step of the value chain transparent and traceable, from raw material sourcing and manufacturing to shipping and reuse.

Offering customers an optimized supply chain helps them contribute to a better world. For more information, visit SAP Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

Download the IDC report, Leveraging Your Intelligent Digital Supply Chain, to learn how an end-to-end digital supply chain – from design and planning to manufacturing, logistics, and operations – helps businesses to increase sustainability.

Sin To

About Sin To

Sin To is a senior director of marketing communications at SAP. She is an experienced writer on business topics, digital advertising, and ad-server technology