Fast fashion and sustainability- a moral lie

Fast fashion and sustainability- Can we achieve?

Table of contents

Looking at the question, "Can we afford sustainability in fashion?" with this interpretation of sustainability, we can't afford to be sustainable. That is, choosing not to be sustainable is to choose a worse outcome. And so we definitely can afford it.

Stella McCartney, who just inked a deal with LVMH, insists there isn’t a shortcut: “The question I’m always asked by other companies is, how can they do what I’m doing?” she says. “Most importantly, they need to mean it and commit to it for long-term results. You’re going to have to take some kind of financial hit.” 


Zara join life- sustainable fashion initiative
Zara join life- sustainable fashion initiative


So far fast fashion industry is invariably trying to push the sustainable fashion hurridly, Zara has decided to go for eco-conscious collection "Join Life " that will account for 20 percent of the company’s offerings by the end of the year. By 2020, the Zara will eliminate hazardous chemicals from the supply chain, introduce donation bins in all stores, and reduce the use of fibers from endangered or ancient forests.

The plan also includes benchmark dates for eliminating single-use plastic from packaging and ensuring the use of sustainably-sourced cotton and linen.

When the goals were announced, Zara CEO Marta Ortega said, “It’s the right thing to do, both morally furthermore commercially, and it’s an approach that we’re committed to.”

Zara, on average, releases 500 new designs a week and 20,000 per year. For most retailers, it takes around 40 weeks to get items out to market. For Zara, it can take as few as one. Wastefulness is an ineradicable feature of any business model predicated on responding to trends that quickly. And the sustainability plan makes no mention of improving the conditions of Zara’s many factory workers. According to Refinery29, “one particular factory in Tunisia, North Africa produces 1,200 pieces per day, 150 pieces per hour”:

Chemical dyeing water-hungry process

The global textile industry is responsible for massive water pollution. According to the research by the by the World Bank indicates nearly 20% of all water pollution worldwide is related to the process of textile color dyeing. By some estimates, the fashion industry is responsible for up to 10% of global CO2 emissions, 24% of insecticides and 11% of pesticides use.

The natural dying process is expansive and less consistent compared to the current process. But as technology is improving soon we could expect it to become a mainstream method where it would be a lot easier to save the water and the method would be very cheap.  

Buying less is also a helpful approach to sustainability. Does this method is really helpful?  The answer is Yes, it could be only if consumers start wearing the item until the end of the product's life and buying new clothes only when they need it. Also recycling and upcycling is a way to go.



This will though slow down the demands but in the long run, it will help to achieve the sustainability goal. It’s enough to make you throw up your hands and say, What’s the point? It’s true that if I don’t buy that T-shirt, it will create a Chain reaction(domino effect)—it’s one less T-shirt the brand won’t have to produce, and if other shoppers adopt the same mentality, it could make a difference down the line. For that reason, it is very essential to educate consumers through government initiative on sustainability.

We’re living in a moment when aesthetics and taste and personal style are tantamount to affluence, yet we expect to get there by spending a handful of bills. Not everyone can afford the $250 dress, but if you knew exactly why that T-shirt cost $5, I think you’d be happy to throw it out.

The question of whether ethical fashion is a privilege requires a complex in-depth introspection rather than a quick yes or no answer. If we’re simply addressing about buying from ethical fashion brands–then yes, it is a privilege. But ethical fashion and sustainability operate way beyond the act of purchase.

Still, more than 80% population buys clothes for less than $5-10 value, they prefer to buy from the value price chain stores. The consumers want to buy new clothes to wear every week that is top on-trend and current. The current setup under the sustainability movement it's impossible to attain the low priced garment. 

The companies offering $5 T-shirts aren’t just continuing to do business as usual, they’re flourishing. The global fashion economy is speeding up at such a rapid pace that it’s essentially canceling out the progress being made on the sustainability front. 

Still, it’s possible that once a culture has normalized these kinds of impossibly low prices, there’s no going back. And maybe it’s not the best use of my time to focus so much on changing the consumer’s mind anyways.

But the planet doesn’t have time for that kind of slow-and-steady build. (A recent U.N. report said the global climate crisis could occur by 2040 if greenhouse gas emissions aren’t reduced soon; the fashion industry is estimated to contribute 10% of those emissions.)

According to the study, the youth market is now dominated by better style rather than the luxury designers logo, consumers want to know the real worth of the garments they wear rather than they least care if the product comes from the very popular designer. Thus consumers look for the cheap and stylish clothes rather than expansive designer one. Also, consumers need to think twice before buying rather than impulse buying.

Based on a study of US consumers on clothing it was found Spending $161 per month on clothing and services is the average for adults. Middle-age adults spend about $50 more per month. They also make more money, so they have more to spend. This explains why people buy new clothes even when they don't need it.

The industry demands new ways of communication to address the real global issues to connect the buyers emotionally and ethically- sustainability is now the biggest opportunity to present to customers.

This is also said by Zara's owner- sustainability is not just ethical but its also a commercially viable trend to move on.

Retailers Role in sustainability

Our research found that Amazon UK, Boohoo, Missguided, JD Sports, Sports Direct and TK Maxx participate in few industry sustainability initiatives. Recycling waste and complying with the Government’s Carbon Reduction Commitment is not sufficient to offset the environmental damage caused by the fashion industry. None of these retailers have signed up to SCAP’s targets to reduce their carbon, water, and waste footprint.

Sustainability and retailers role
Sustainability and retailers role- by


Use of recycled materials in products is limited. Missguided is not engaged with any of the sustainability actions we considered in this assessment. On recycled materials, the retailer said, ‘we recognize that most of the work in this area has been done on the use of PET, turning it into polar fleece, but this is not a material which features significantly in our ranges. This demonstrates a lack of understanding of the range of industry initiatives on recycled materials.

The retailer has a wide online reach and is influential amongst its target audience of 16 to 29-year-old women. We believe they can do much more to understand, raise awareness and address sustainability issues in the industry. At our evidence hearing, the retailer said it will investigate joining SCAP in its next financial year. We recommend that it prioritize this.

The above reports suggest the process in developing sustainable fashion so far proved to be very slow. Only few retailers showed the interest in avoiding to cut the cost of being a sustainable retailer.

Sustainability and economics

The class issue in ethical fashion often goes undiscussed. As it stands in the US, for every dollar earned by their white male counterparts: black women earn $0.63, Native American women earn $0.57, and Latina women earn $0.54. Meanwhile, white women and Asian women earn $0.79 and $0.87, respectively–meaning greater spending power for these two groups. The scales aren’t balanced, and we need to give context to the facts when we speak about ethical fashion.

In 2017, 84.9% of the world was living in poverty. In the States, 80.4 million workers were paid at hourly rates, and among those paid by the hour, 542,000 workers earned exactly the prevailing federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. For the majority of the world (those who live at or under the poverty line, go from paycheck to paycheck, or otherwise), there is little choice in purchasing ethical fashion

As consumers, don't have control over the action of companies but buying intelligently could surely reduce the consumption of cheap clothing items that are hazardous to nature. Yet buyers powerful choices depends on being knowledgable about the current situation that will surely force the companies to lean for the sustainable approach in fast fashion.

Government policies and sustainable fashion

Semaan is advocating for government policies, too; there are startlingly few that address environmental and human standards in the fashion industry. Micro-plastics, the tiny particles released into the ocean as a result of washing polyester and other petroleum-based fabrics, is the issue she’s tackling first.

“They’re very difficult to intercept and are damaging the coral reefs, but corporations have zero responsibility in this,” she explains. “So it’s becoming a citizen’s responsibility—we’re learning how to wash our polyester clothes safely, and we’re buying bags that catch micro-plastics in the laundry [like Guppy Friend filters]. But what do you do with the substance collected in the bags? Where do you dispose of that?”

All of those demands require significant resources: money, for one, and teams of sustainability experts. Perhaps the pace of progress has been so slow because companies aren’t willing to properly invest in new fabrics, conduct life cycle assessments, or develop technologies.

Sustainability slows down the production

While fast fashion is highly dependent on the faster production rates, low labor cost and better working condition it's a very obscure fairytale ideal condition are most likely impossible to achieve.

To meet the sustainability demands, it is very crucial to have money, for one, and teams of sustainability experts. For now, the step of progress has been very quiet because companies aren’t enthusiastic to properly invest in new fabrics, conduct life cycle evaluations, or develop technologies.

According to the HuffPost- More than 15 million tons of textile waste is generated in the United States each year, an amount that’s doubled over the past 20 years, according to the finance website The Balance. Also sustainability could impact the economy initially as it promotes to buy less and when needed.


Reinventing the fashion industry is an only option that is currently built on growing consumption, cheap labor, free public goods such as access to water and environmental pollution is not an easy undertaking. The only solution is Good old regenerative agriculture, organic cotton, living wages in the supply chain, and reusing fibers to create circular material flow.

So far it is more like eyw washing and more like elite specific fashion to differentiate from rest. It still need a greater effort from the government as well as from the fast-fashion companies to speed up the process as the climate change is a real thing.