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Are Fashion Labels Fulfilling Their Sustainability Commitments?

Updated: Jun 15, 2023

Is the conscious, sustainable brand label a fad?

Price of exploitation by Nivedita Bansal

The global apparel sector has more than its fair share of social and environmental issues, from the cotton farm to the textile factory to the fashion show. Behind the scenes of beauty and style, there's an unsustainable business that uses water-intensive processes and harmful chemicals in its facilities. The majority of which are hidden in poor nations.


Due to its production and marketing techniques, the fashion industry has been accused of accepting inadequate responsibility for its behaviour in addressing sustainability-related concerns, such as climate change and over-consumption. This leads to a general discussion about sustainability. However, it is a sensitive topic because the business relies on low-cost countries with lax environmental and safety laws.


In February 2011, a group of 30 prominent fashion firms formed a multi-stakeholder alliance to develop a set of sustainability metrics that could be used by the whole garment industry. The programme appeared to be a game-changing move forward in the effort to green textile supply chains, with participants accounting for 60% of global sales. The coalition's first major initiative is the Sustainable Apparel Index. The index is made up of an assessment model that is used on three levels: brand level, supplier level, and product level. It was created as a common, industry-wide tool for analysing environmental and social performance.



Generally known as a business that lacks transparency, the majority of coalition members have been hesitant to utilise the index, and there is no evidence that they are decreasing – rather than simply reporting – their influence. It is based on the Outdoor Industry Association's Eco Index framework as well as Nike's Apparel Environmental Design Tool. The first issue with relying on these two indices is that they are geared toward the outdoor/sports market, making it difficult to apply them to other industries such as high fashion or footwear. Second, these indices were created using criteria that have been heavily criticised, such as one certification body's admission of chemicals that were strictly prohibited by another. The coalition's main goal is to develop cost-cutting solutions that increase sustainability: when fewer resources like water, energy, and material are consumed, a product should be less expensive. Despite the fact that the holistic ‘systems' approach intends to bring together the strengths of the many members and advance the sector toward a green future, the coalition's efforts are less credible than desired due to a lack of a clear plan.


Several small brands are rebuilding themselves as true environmental guardians. Big firms, on the other hand, use the enormous profits created by cheap, exploitative apparel to fund massive marketing campaigns to promote 'green' lines. Unfortunately, including a sustainability goal in their broader business model, which is based on an exploitative and unsustainable supply chain, will not be enough to address the larger issues of textile waste and climate change.


Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) launched its ‘Conscious Collection' in April 2019, comprising leather-like Pinatex goods manufactured from orange peelings and pineapple leaves. Pinatex's legitimacy as a “sustainable” and '’eco-friendly’' product, might be questioned because it incorporates plastic and petroleum-based ingredients, which negate any potential benefit, or eco-friendly impact of using fruit fibres. It may be argued that H&M's new range has just engaged with surface-level sustainability, dipping its toes into the current cultural conversation on climate change and textile waste before returning to business as usual. Similarly, quick fashion brands such as Primark, which is infamous for its child labour issue, ASOS, Zara, and Boohoo are all part of the broader fast fashion industry's sustainability trend.



If the major fashion companies decided to go even further in the direction of truly sustainable manufacture, present consumption habits would make it nearly impossible. The underlying issue is that there is just too much clothing being made. To be successful, the transition from fast fashion to slow fashion will require customers to join in, which will entail purchasing fewer and longer-lasting things, repairing damaged clothing, passing on garments you no longer wear, and opting to buy second-hand.



References

Gunther, M. (2018, July 2). Despite the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, there’s a lot you don’t know about that T-shirt. The Guardian.


Maiti, R. (2021, April 13). Fast Fashion: Its Detrimental Effect on the Environment. Earth.Org - Past | Present | Future.


The deception of greenwashing in fast fashion. (n.d.). Www.Downtoearth.Org.In. Retrieved July 1, 2021, from


Segran, E. (2019, August 8). H&M, Zara, and other fashion brands are tricking shoppers with vague sustainability claims. Fast Company.


Deutsche Welle (www.dw.com). (n.d.). The long road to sustainable fashion. DW.COM. Retrieved July 1, 2021, from


Gandhi, S., & Gandhi, S. (2019, December 3). How Fast Fashion is Greenwashing. Sense & Sustainability.


Thorisdottir, T. S., & Johannsdottir, L. (2019). Sustainability within Fashion Business Models: A Systematic Literature Review. Sustainability, 11(8), 2233.


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