Businesses never stop inventing new ways of attracting new customers. Nowadays, one of the most popular aspects brands like to feature is eco-friendliness and sustainability. Read this ‘Sustainability in Fashion Industry’ essay sample to see how loud claims should be challenged and put against reality check. In case you think this task requires too much effort and/or time, consider addressing a professional essay writer online in order not to get the job done and not to miss the deadline.
Sustainability in Fashion Industry: A Marketing Trick or Genuine Effort?
This essay about sustainability in fashion industry analyses the validity of applying this principle, further arguing whether it is mostly a marketing trick or a genuine effort. The author uses new products of specific brands, such as Hennes & Mauritz (H&M), to explain terms nowadays prevalent in the industry, for instance, greenwashing. In analyzing sustainable practices in the industry, this discussion has delved into social responsibility practices that the sector could integrate into achieving ethical strategies. There are more ways in which the textile and fashion industries negatively impact the environment. Such issues are related to overpopulation, which often leads to overconsumption and, eventually, environmental pollution with used non-biodegradable textiles, as well as via chemical and fertilizer use on the textile raw materials. In addition, there has been an increase in deforestation, poor working conditions for employees, and displacement of people, all indirectly and directly linked with the adverse impacts of the fashion industry. Therefore much focus is on the unsustainable processes in the industry’s supply chain and how they impact people and the environment.
Keywords: fashion industry, sustainability, consumers, greenwashing, eco-friendly, environment
The contemporary society presents some key issues regarding sustainable practices. The business world is becoming increasingly competitive, and equally, outcries to preserve the environment rise are louder than before. Currently, the terms ‘green,’ ‘natural,’ ‘eco–friendly,’ ‘sustainable’ are widely used by brands worldwide. This happens in season and out of season and, eventually, was named ‘greenwashing.’ There is so much greenwashing in the fashion industry that even the customers do not understand whether they are being misled or whether they are showcasing truly responsible habits. This term ‘greenwashing’ itself was invoked by the environmentalist Jay Westervelt in 1986, defining the concept as false claims or misleading advertisements that imply sustainable practices when it is just a fallacy (Mehar para. 3). These practices are common in the fashion industry and often deceive consumers by providing claims with no proof and could potentially cause environmental, ethical, and social repercussions. Even though the fashion industry contributes big-time to the worldwide economy, it utilizes a disproportionate amount of natural resources. This industry produces wastes that pollute water masses, as when the life cycle of the garments is over, they are placed in landfills or burned. This essay argues that the fashion industry is one of the major culprits in the malpractice of sustainability, given that it often exploits climate crisis in marketing while in reality it lacks any fundamental toward sustainability.
The major challenge of sustainability is that it lacks a clear, quantifiable definition. For instance, the terms ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘ethical’ bear no legal significance (Mehar para. 6). Therefore, this contributes to the lack of sustainable accountability within the fashion industry. More so, the lack of government-subsidized research and empirical data revolving around the fashion industry’s impact is another challenge. The study also concludes that other reasons causing greenwashing within the fashion industry are inadequate education and the absence of public awareness of the malpractices in the sector, hence permitting the companies to progress in maximizing false information.
Today, the fashion industry remains one of the most polluting economic sectors, recording significant challenges in social responsibility. At this juncture, a major reason for the fashion industry’s lack of steps towards sustainability is the ever-rising consumption of garment wears. Previously, clothing was custom-made; however, contemporary fashion brands such as Adidas, Zara, Prada, and Gucci focus on ensuring that customers never lack new trendy items in their shops. This approach is adopted by the majority of other fashion brands that update their collections around 4 to 6 times annually while also making diffusion lines available (Andersen 20). ‘Fast fashion’ implies an affordable clothing collection that imitates today’s luxury trendy fashion wear and which runs in about twenty seasons annually. Remarkably, a study conducted by Ellen MacArthur Foundation in 2013 indicated that the fashion industry sells about 91 billion garment pieces yearly, and this quantity constantly rises annually (Andersen 20). In fact, with the world’s population increase, customers purchase more clothes than before. In particular, a survey by Poulton and colleagues found that in 1997, the average British female purchased 19 clothing items yearly (Poulton et al.). In a span of ten years, this number increased to 34 garment items annually. Then, in 2013, the survey discovered that an average individual in Denmark was purchasing an average of six kilograms of new garments annually (Anderson 20). Eventually, the increase in clothes consumption has led to a corresponding rise in the disposal. For instance, in the U.K., an average person disposes of 23 clothing items yearly; most of these textile products are disposed of in landfills (Andersen 20). Even the cloth laundering activity accounts for about one-quarter of the industry’s carbon footprint (Andersen 20). The overall consumption of fabrics in the fashion industry continues to rise despite the sensitization on more environmentally friendly products and the choices of some customers to minimize consumption.
Furthermore, in promoting and maintaining these rising levels of fabric consumption, the fashion industry continues to exploit virgin materials, causing a much higher toll on people and the environment (Andersen 21). For instance, conventional cotton as clothing’s main raw fiber is often grown in vast monocultures, hence contributing to deforestation and population displacement. It is also important to know that cotton cultivation uses massive quantities of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which impact negatively on the health of workers and farmers, pollute water and soil, and further decrease biodiversity (Andersen 21). The consumers at large are equally affected due to allergic reactions caused by chemical residues. Back in 2011, when China was the world’s leading producer of clothing and textiles, it recorded the worst water mass pollution worldwide, with almost 70 percent of its reservoirs, lakes, and rivers indicating pollution from all categories of pollutants (Greenpeace 6). Therefore, it can be agreed that the textile and fashion industries not only cause hazardous chemical pollutants but also contribute to large amounts of wastewater discharge.
As much as the fashion industry is corrupted by the lack of sustainability, many independent brands, more significantly the ‘big fishes,’ are reinventing their processes towards achieving a conscious environment (Mehar para. 10). However, as it is, big brands invest part of their profits into marketing, aiming to promote ‘green collections.’ In the end, it is quite unfulfilling that some big brands possibly develop sustainability programs relying on an unsustainable and exploitative supply chain in backing climate change and textile waste.
Back in 2019, Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) presented the ‘Conscious Collection,’ including Pinatex products – leather-like material produced from pineapple leaves and orange peelings (Mehar para. 12). However, this collection’s eco-friendliness and sustainability were questioned as it possessed components of petroleum-based and plastic agents that ultimately rule out the probable eco-friendly and positive impact of using fruit fibers. Thus, it was still non-biodegradable. One can argue that H&M’s collection engaged with sustainability at a surface level, translating into a mere toe-dip within the prevailing global dialogue on environmentally-conscious practices.
As mentioned earlier, the fashion industry has too many seasons, as much as over fifty micro-seasons. Thus, there is enormous cloth waste with the swiftness and extent to which garments are discarded, produced, and reproduced due to emerging fashion trends (Mehar para. 16). In this case, several fashion entities neglect the duty to treat or handle their waste and instead replace the sustainability agenda via greenwashing, thus enhancing mindless consumerism causing customers to feel positive (Blesserholt 7). As a result, sustainability reflects ‘eco-friendly’ at the cost of cultural, social, economic, and health facets. The fashion industry’s unwillingness to deal with holistic sustainability and instead cherry-picking strategies to accomplish its agenda poses more damage than benefits to the ecosystem.
Nonetheless, the fast-fashion entities fail to implement reforms within the textile-producing factories that address better wages and working conditions. The industry does not address resilience in achieving sustainability while endeavoring to massively produce sustainable garments. A good example is ASOS (As Seen On Screen) which claims to support CMiA (Cotton made in Africa), a program driven towards uplifting the region’s working conditions for farmers (Mehar para. 20). While ASOS claims that it offers crucial business understanding and agricultural training, the farmers are not properly trained on how to diversify sources of income and stay dependent on western brands’ losses and profits.
In supplementing the immediate previous argument, the pressure to minimize costs while maximizing profits has blinded the fashion industry. An instance is in Bangladesh, Rana Plaza Factory, which in 2013 recorded around 1,200 deaths of garment workers, all caused by building collapse (Andersen 21). This got into the history books as one of the ‘world’s worst industrial accidents in three decades’ (Andersen 21). Investigations also highlighted the Rana Plaza factory, which prioritized profits over the worker’s safety and workspace. It is further mentioned that the cracks on the building were visible the day before the collapse, and despite the pleads by employees, the management compelled its workforce to work, threatening to deny them a monthly salary. To date, the incident emphasizes the dangers of poor working conditions in the workplace regardless of industry.
Identifying and navigating insidious greenwashing appears to be a puzzle; however, one could start by using the fundamental thumb rule in determining whether the brand uses sustainability as simply an add-on or is it at the center of its business model. Moreover, scientifically proven figures will go a long way in proving the situation. For example, one can inquire about the percentage of the recycled materials used in the brand’s ‘eco-friendly’ or ‘sustainable’ products (Mehar para. 23). One could further argue that fashion companies enhance greenwashing using degradable fibers such as bamboo, rain, and viscose. At this juncture, further investigation could scrutinize where raw materials are sourced, thus ensuring closed-loop sustainability. For example, bamboo grows faster in conditions exposed to hazardous chemicals and pesticides that cause pollution. Viscose is yet another material that could enhance deforestation unless it has a certified source for extraction.
Greenwashing is indeed pervasive across the industry, but it cannot be denied that certain fashion brands are genuinely waking up to the call of sustainability (Dahl 2). Nike has enhanced its supply chains utilizing innovation as a leading driver in sustainability despite its recent drawbacks (Mehar para. 29). Patagonia is a brand that offers buyback programs and repairs to enable a circular chain in the economy and, in the long term, protect the workforce, consumers, and the environment (Mehar para. 30). The Doodlage brand has begun sourcing eco-friendly materials, for instance, corn fabric, organic cotton, discarded textile, and banana fabric.
This essay’s objective was to determine whether sustainability in the fashion industry is a marketing trick or it is genuine. First, leading industries have heeded the outcry on sustainability; however, not all are geared towards achieving a conscious environment. With the fashion industry being a fast-growing sector, the ‘buy less pollute less’ is a suitable option as it highlights overconsumption on several seasons due to the fashion trends. Perhaps, fashion giants such as Nike, Patagonia, and Doodlage have genuinely executed significant steps towards sustainability. Still, there is a huge gap as most companies fail to integrate this strategy into their core business model but instead use it as an add-on for gaining consumers. The fashion brands could begin by comprehending the adverse impact their products have on the environment; this could be a good starting point, just as it had been for Adidas (U.S Cotton Trust Protocol 29). Comparable and robust data could be gathered regarding the sustainability of the industry’s manufacturing processes, which can then contribute to developing high-quality products that are sustainable and meet the consumers’ demand (U.S Cotton Trust Protocol 29). More significantly, the younger consumers are excited about the sustainable predictions, and firms respond by heightening standards regarding natural materials. There is also a rising need to use technology and innovation in raising reuse and recycling rates for the existing clothing.
Andersen, Kirsti Reitan. Stabilizing Sustainability: In the Textile and Fashion Industry. 2017.
Blesserholt, Josephine. The ‘Sins’ of Greenwashing – Su.diva-Portal.org. 2021, su.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1562569/FULLTEXT01.pdf.
Dahl, Richard. “Green Washing.” Environmental Health Perspectives, vol. 118, no. 6, 2010, doi:10.1289/ehp.118-a246.
Greenpeace. Unravelling the Corporate Connections to … – Greenpeace. 2011, www.greenpeace.org/static/planet4-international-stateless/2011/07/2303cc74-dirty-laundry-12pages.pdf.
Mehar, Mehar. “The Deception of Greenwashing in Fast Fashion.” Down To Earth, 16 Feb. 2021, www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/environment/the-deception-of-greenwashing-in-fast-fashion-75557.
Poulton, Lindsay, et al. “The Shirt on Your Back: The Human Cost of the Bangladeshi Garment Industry.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 16 Apr. 2014, www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2014/apr/bangladesh-shirt-on-your-back.
U.S Cotton Trust Protocol. Home – Trust Us Cotton Protocol. n.d., trustuscotton.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Is-sustainability-in-fashion_Industry-leaders-share-their-views.pdf.