How many times have you told yourself that exact exclamation in front of a jam-packed closet? Low quality t-shirts, tight jeans, and itchy sweaters all from promotions at low-end retailers just sadly stare at you, while you pick out the exact same pants and exact same t-shirt to go out. (Not to mention the amount of clothes in the very back of the shelve waiting to be thrown away, which existence you simply ignore.)
Filomena Marino. That is my grandmother’s name. She came to Switzerland in 1964 from a beautiful little town in southern Italy to work in a linen weaving mill in the countryside of the Canton of Bern where high-quality fabric was being manufactured and transported all over the world (Worb Online, 2018). To this day, she shows me garments, sheets, and table cloths she wove herself over forty years ago and the thought of throwing away only one of them would never cross her mind.
See the difference? Without a doubt, in the last few decades there has been a shift in mentality in how we deal with our clothes. How did it happen?
One factor is Globalization. The woldwide development drove the fashion industry to grow rapidly, due to lower transportation cost, lower prices in production, and manufacturing possibilities overseas (McKinsey, 2016) and the peak has not yet been reached. According to a study conducted by The Business of Fashion and McKinsey, the forecasted economic business conditions in emerging economies are going to improve, which in fact leads more people to afford more clothes (The Business of Fashion and McKinsey, 2018). This increased economic wealth, makes clothes relatively cheaper for the middle-class population, causing more clothes being demanded and sold, shown by the following graph:
Due to the ability to provide new clothes rapidly and at lower cost, customer’s demand for that kind of fashion (also called fast fashion) increases, not only because fast fashion gets in their reach, but because clothes are a communicator, which is a second factor causing a shift in mentality.
McNeill and Moore argue that clothing is used to send a message about the wearer, and often the desire to be fashionable prevails over the desire to care about the environment (McNeill and Moore, 2015). Moreover, McNeill and Moore find that the attitude towards sustainability in fashion can be influenced by one’s peer-group and the customer’s knowledge about sustainability topics. Some big fashion retailers, like H&M, are trying to change the latter.
According to H&M’s sustainability report, through their garment collection initiative (the collection of clothes through bins situated in their stores) almost 18,000 tons of textiles have been collected only during 2017 (H&M Group, 2017). That sounds great, but there is a problem. When you recycle clothes at H&M you get a coupon for your next purchase. Is that not neutralizing all efforts as it incentivizes consumption?
Now an important question comes up: What are the consequences of globalization, our choices, and the fast fashion industry on the environment?
We could fill books over books about the consequences of the fast fashion industry: Poor working conditions, air pollution, and overflowing landfills just to name a few. There is the saying: “A picture is worth a thousand words”. Well, here is a picture:
Just one comment: It has been estimated that 20% of water pollution is caused by the hazardous dying processes of fabric (WWF, 2017), and in that way, the right of access to pure water for people living in the affected areas is being constraint. Do you think this consequence is sustainable? I think the answer is obvious.
Now, you may be sitting in front of your computer, or looking at your phone thinking: What can I do to change the situation?
Honestly, at this point I do not want to reinvent the wheel. During her TedTalk, Maxime Bédat, co-founder of an ethical clothing platform, explains some easy measures everybody can take to make a difference in favor of sustainability in the fashion Industry (watch from 16:00).
I would like to stress the importance of the last tip she talks about: “Think and ask questions”.
If there is something I will remember from attending Business School, is not how to solve Math equations or how to book a certain entry in Accounting, but to think. Logical thinking and the ability to ask questions is what makes us who we are. So, what I invite you to do, is not to boycott a certain fashion chain or never to buy new clothes again, because let’s face it, it is not realistic. Instead, what we should do, is to think.
Think about the past: Where do the materials come from and how were the clothes transported to the very store you are shopping in? Think about the present: Why does a certain store offer so many promotions and how come a garment can be so cheap? Also think about the future: What can we do to change our mindset and why is it so difficult do it?
In that way, we can tackle the problem from the root and by acknowledging that everybody’s decisions collectively make a difference, it is in our hand to make the earth a better or worse place.
Henry Ford said: “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.” (Goodreads, 2018)
We are not few, we can make a difference. Let’s work. Let’s think!
McNeill and Moore, 2015. Sustainable fashion consumption and the fast fashion conundrum: fashionable consumers and attitudes to sustainability in clothing choice. Online: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/ijcs.12169 (01.10.2018)
Goodreads, 2018. Quote by Henry Ford. Online: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/9789-thinking-is-the-hardest-work-there-is-which-is-probably (12.10.2018)
H&M Group, 2017. H&M Group Sustainability Report. Online: https://about.hm.com/content/dam/hmgroup/groupsite/documents/masterlanguage/CSR/reports/2017%20Sustainability%20report/HM_group_SustainabilityReport_2017_FullReport.pdf (20.10.2018)
McKinsey, 2016. Style-that’s sustainable: A new fast-fashion formula. Online: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/sustainability-and-resource-productivity/our-insights/style-thats-sustainable-a-new-fast-fashion-formula (20.10.2018)
The Business of Fashion and McKinsey, 2018. The State of Fashion. Online: https://cdn.businessoffashion.com/reports/The_State_of_Fashion_2018_v2.pdf (17.10.2018)
YouTube, 2016. The high cost of cheap fashion. Online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5r8V4QWwxf0 (10.10.2018)
Worb Online, 2018. Historische Objekte, Leinenweberei. Online: http://www.worb.ch/de/meinworb/geschichte/historischeobj/welcome.php?action=showobject&object_id=8197 (12.10.2018)
WWF, 2017. Changing fashion, The clothing and textile industry at the brink of radical transformation. Online: https://www.wwf.ch/sites/default/files/doc-2017-09/2017-09-WWF-Report-Changing_fashion_2017_EN.pdf (23.10.2018)