Fashion Retail: Is it really sustainable?

4 Mins read

The climate crisis is continuing to worsen with little to no prospect of change from global brands or those in positions to implement the changes the world needs to see.

Many fashion retail companies have sustainability programmes in place that every employee should follow, and the company is responsible for implementing.

However, this is not always the case, as from the outside, companies such as Urban Outfitters, H&M, Jack Wills, ASOS, Pretty Little Thing (PLT), may look as though they are contributing to the efforts save the planet but in reality, they are not continuing to act upon their promises.

“The amount of plastic packaging and cardboard even used in deliveries is appalling,” one high street retail employee Li-Na Vincent told Artefact.

“For example, one small product is often shipped in an unnecessarily large box or items are individually wrapped in bubble wrap and then in another plastic pouch. It’s excessive and wasteful. Companies should change this, and globally this could save so many materials and actually make an impact on the climate crisis.”

From my personal fashion retail experience, there are many policies that are not upheld when it comes to sustainability and environmental aid. For example, plastic packagings are labelled as recyclable, however, they are often just thrown into the normal waste bins so therefore cannot be recycled into new packaging.

There is also the factor of carbon emissions from the deliveries themselves. The list is endless and starts from the very moment the first piece of material is picked, right up until the customer decides they no longer want the product and throws it away rather than up-cycling or donating it to a charity shop.

Fast fashion has taken over the fashion industry in recent years. Especially during the pandemic, it became so easy to click a couple of buttons and have new clothes at your door within hours.

Brands such as ASOS, PLT and Boohoo, are global companies that claim to have programmes in place to help reuse and recycle clothing. While Boohoo has started to label its products as “Ready For The Future”, only a small selection of clothing can currently sit below this tagline as not all products are made in a sustainable way.

PLT and Boohoo are using the reGAIN app to encourage their consumers to recycle old clothes and in return get discounts off their next shop. While this initiative is getting the everyday shopper to think about what happens to their clothes, it is still encouraging them to go out and buy more, which takes the issue full circle.

As these fast fashion companies make their 2030 pledges of what they want to achieve over the next decade, global brands like Levi’s have already taken that leap into better sourcing of materials and more efficient ways of creating, producing, and distributing products. Levi’s has always been a household name and one that will stick around for a while to come.

“There’s no hiding it: The apparel industry has a tremendous impact on the environment. As a brand that plays a role in this, it’s on us to do everything we can to create the styles you love but do so in a way that still respects our planet,” says the brand’s website.

“It’s an approach best summed by our mantra: Buy better. Wear longer. We’ll make products that are sourced in better ways, from better materials, crafted at the highest quality and made to be extremely durable. And you? Just keep wearing the products you love for as long as possible.”

The Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action was created in 2018 to help fashion retail “reach climate neutrality by 2050.” At the most recent COP26 Convention, this charter was presented in a discussion of how to get the fashion retail industry to a net zero future.

Overall, there is a selection of 166 brands, manufacturers, retailers, tech companies and supporting organisations that are members of the charter: “The charter’s overall goal and mission is to drive the fashion industry to net zero greenhouse gas emissions no later than 2050 in line with keeping global warming below 1.5°C.”

Fashion trends are constantly changing and while most fashion companies are reliving the 1990s and noughties, the vintage and charity shops are thriving as teens are shopping Y2K fashion.

Even though purchasing second-hand clothing is seen as a step in the right direction towards making clothing more sustainable, it is yet another trend, meaning when the next best thing comes along, everyone will likely return to buying new and the cycle will continue.

“Vintage wear is just the latest trend and sooner or later people will want new clothes again,” Chris Abad, stock room manager for a high street retailer, told us.

Working in fashion retail opens your eyes to things that as a consumer you would not think twice about. Many companies have made small changes to help the environment.

However, they are not always as successful as they hope to be. For example, Urban Outfitters include the recycling properties of the plastics used on all items as well as creating 100% recyclable, non-woven polypropylene shopping bags for their customers to use and reuse.

Most high street retailers also either supply their customers with paper bags to be recycled later, or charge for plastic bags which ultimately deters the consumer.

All aspects of everyday life have some sort of bearing on the climate crisis but when industries as large and impactful as the fashion retail world can make small changes to keep the crisis under some control, why shouldn’t they?




Featured image via Adobe Stock
Edited by Annika Loebig and Atiyyah Ntiamoah-Addo.

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