By Léonie Daignault-Leclerc, founder of Gaia & Dubos.
The fashion industry has become a highly complex system. Fast fashion, particularly, utilizes an elaborate structure of supply chains, merchandising, and retail technology techniques in an attempt to shorten the lead time from design to consumers. Therefore, fast fashion places emphasis on speed and quantity, while offering the latest trends at affordable prices. With the increasing access to fashion shows and their rapid dissemination in magazines and on the web, retailers such as Zara, H&M, Mango, and Top Shop are able to incorporate high fashion runway designs into their products, offering lower quality and prices. In point of fact, fast fashion is often characterized by relatively poor quality.
The fast fashion system creates multiple environmental and social issues. Kate Fletcher, pioneer of the slow fashion movement, explains, “fast fashion isn’t really about speed, but greed: selling more, making more money. […] But fast is not free. Short lead times and cheap clothes are only made possible by exploitation of labour and natural resources”.
The environmental concerns mainly come from the fact that fast fashion is designed in accordance with the latest trends and in wide variety, in an attempt to stimulate frequent store visits. Indeed, fast fashion garments and accessories are often only durable enough to last one or two seasons. The short lives of these products means that consumers rapidly dispose of them, which is highly harmful to the environment. The fashion system creates many other environmental impacts through chemical farming, energy-intensive fibre production, air pollution due to manufacturing activities, water contamination, high impact dyes, hazardous waste generation, and pollution linked to packaging. High quantities of chemicals are contained in cheap clothing, affecting consumers’ health on the long run. Moreover, the fast fashion system further deteriorates the environment by multiplying the frequency and the quantity of production, transportation, purchase, and disposal.
Social issues are also created by the fast fashion system. Fast fashion workers are often paid insufficient wages and have to work in poor labouring conditions in order to reduce the production costs. It goes without saying that tremendous pressure is placed on the labourers to work rapidly and efficiently during multiple hours per day.
Even though fast fashion dominates the industry, multiple sustainable solutions have emerged. Slow fashion seems to be the best approach to contribute to the development of tangible solutions to the environmental and social issues raised by the fashion system. Indeed, slow fashion brings quality to the apparel industry by integrating environmental sustainability and the principles of slow living. Furthermore, slowing down the production allows time for the environment to regenerate, and creates better quality of life for people.
Slow fashion encourages people to buy high-quality items less often, diminishing the environmental footprint of clothing. While slow fashion is becoming increasingly popular, greater effort needs to be done in attempt to eradicate the harmful effects of fast fashion. There seems to be a gap between consumers’ behaviour and their sustainability awareness: many are concerned about ethical misconduct of fashion brands, but for the majority, this awareness does not translate into action. Education and information seems to be the best way to create behavioural changes, and this is exactly the reason that drives Gaia & Dubos to inform consumers about the issues of the fashion industry and its ecological and ethical credentials. All together, we can create a positive change in the fashion industry!
Léonie Daignault-Leclerc is researcher, designer, and founder of Gaia & Dubos, a company that creates ecological and ethical high-end garments for women. Gaia & Dubos also acts as an informer by publishing videos and articles on sustainable clothing on its blog. Visit www.gaiaetdubos.com to learn more.