The fashion industry is one of the most resource-demanding and polluting industries in the world. It has also been riddled with numerous ethical issues ranging from exploitative labor practices to the promotion of unscrupulous consumption. The expansion of fast fashion is a main contributing factor to the negative impacts of the fashion industry. Hence, to address its externalities, the sustainable fashion movement was born. Advocates and practitioners believe that producing and consuming clothing items and other related products should be done in consideration of a forward-thinking mindset.
A Look Into the Advantages and Disadvantages of Sustainable Fashion: Understanding the Ups and Downs of Sustainability as It Applies to the Fashion Industry
Pros of Sustainable Fashion: Benefits and Applications
The principles of sustainable fashion run against the linear economic model and are based on the circular economic model and the cradle-to-cradle concept of production and consumption. They are specifically hinged on environmental conservation, worker empowerment, ethical sourcing, responsible consumerism, and corporate social responsibility. The following specific advantages of sustainable fashion also translate to its benefits and applications:
1. Reduces Environmental Impact
One of the main advantages of sustainable fashion is that it addresses the environmental problems stemming from modern and conventional processes and activities within the clothing and apparel market. Take note that the specific fast fashion industry has been considered an environmental threat because of its carbon footprint due to its emissions, generation of microplastic pollution, overconsumption of water resources, and excess waste generation.
The concept addresses the aforesaid through the introduction of processes that lessen resource consumption and waste generation, utilization of non-toxic and sustainable production inputs or raw materials, favoring product quality over quantity of production volume or improving product lifespan and post-consumption recovery, improving efficiencies across the entire value chain, and promotion of informed and responsible consumption.
2. Promotes the Welfare of Workers
Reports about various instances of labor exploitation have haunted the fashion industry. Companies like Nike and Levi Strauss & Co. were once accused of using sweatshop factories that underpaid the laborers and exposed them to hazardous working environments. Outsourcing manufacturing capabilities from developing countries also leave retailers with less control over the treatment of workers involved in the production of clothing products.
Sustainable fashion prioritizes fair labor practices. It ensures that workers are given livable compensation, provided with standard benefits, have security of tenure, are taken in regardless of their demographic and psychographic backgrounds, and placed in safe working environments. Retailers or brands that practice this concept ensure that their operations and even the operations of contract manufacturers enrich the lives of workers.
3. Supports Local Communities
The fashion industry depends on the various economic benefits of globalization. Brands outsource manufacturing capabilities from developing countries. More counties are also becoming dependent on importing clothing items from multinational brands. These can have a negative impact on local economies with homegrown brands, a workforce that can provide manufacturing labor, and craftsmen and artisans.
Sustainability as it applies in the industry also means supporting local economies by sourcing materials and manufacturing products locally. It also strives to incorporate traditional techniques while promoting and preserving cultural heritage and the interest or welfare of involved local communities to produce distinctive products. The concept also underscores the importance of gearing away from cultural appropriation and cultural exploitation.
4. Encourages Mindful Consumption
Another advantage of sustainable fashion is that it informs consumers and stakeholders about the impact of their choices. Relevant companies ranging from suppliers and contract manufacturers to retailers or brands are encouraged to provide transparent and accurate information about raw material origins, operational sustainability, and product quality as part of their corporate governance and corporate social responsibility.
Most mainstream fashion retailers thrive on repeat purchases and unnecessary consumption. Fast fashion retailers specifically bank on low-cost and mass-produced products to drive prices down and encourage overconsumption. These companies also utilize all relevant strategies and means to drive down the overall costs of their operations and maximize their earnings. The industry essentially prioritized unsustainable profit-making practices.
Cons of Sustainable Fashion: Challenges and Limitations
The aforementioned advantages of sustainable fashion solve all of the issues in the modern fashion industry. However, when it comes to implementation, it is easier said than done due to the complex nature of the concept. Some companies that have integrated the concept into their corporate social responsibility programs have also been accused of greenwashing. The following are the challenges and limitations or disadvantages of sustainable fashion:
1. Difficult Transition Period
One of the main challenges of sustainable fashion is that transitioning from traditional or conventional to sustainable practices would require a significant amount of time and investment. There is also a need for a cultural reset that would change mainstream consumer preferences and mindsets. This is only possible through concerted efforts from relevant companies, governments, and non-profit organizations. Some consider these factors as costs.
The global fast fashion industry is valued at over USD 100 billion. This is expected to grow more with the expansion of the population and the further economic growth of developing countries. It has also produced several economic benefits. These include employment generation, international trade, and consumer welfare. Market disruptions could bring forth billions of dollars in losses, unemployment, and reduced consumer access.
2. Limited Consumer Choice
A key factor behind the success of fast fashion is that it has democratized fashion and made clothing items and other related products accessible and affordable to the masses. The rise and further expansion of retailers or brands that use this business model have also given consumers more options to choose from. This raises their bargaining power and makes prices in the clothing and apparel market more competitive.
Low-cost and mass-produced manufacturing would be impossible to implement when factoring in sustainability. There are also a limited number of retailers or brands that have based their business models on this concept. The products of these companies are also not as affordable, accessible, and diverse as counterparts from multinational or mainstream companies. This is another notable disadvantage of sustainable fashion.
3. Other Adoption Barriers
There are different barriers to implementing and embracing sustainability in the industry. For example, to reduce waste generation and emissions, manufacturers need to integrate advanced waste management processes and utilize green energy sources. Developing and adopting raw materials suitable for the environment can also be challenging due to limited research and development resources. These requirements have cost implications.
It is also important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all standard for sustainable fashion. This can make it difficult for retailers or brands to adopt all of its principles. It also makes it difficult for consumers to know what to look for when making choices and purchases. Some brands have been accused of greenwashing in which they make false claims as part of their promotional strategies. This can mislead consumers who factor in ethics in their choices.