With Earth Day just gone (22 April), it is important to reinforce the importance of sustainable initiatives within the fashion industry. Sustainable fashion is not an unfamiliar term and is no longer exclusive to high-end brands. More and more, we see common high-street and fast-fashion names 'doing their bit' to attach themselves to the currently trendy label of sustainable fashion and lessen their planetary impact. But are these sustainable efforts just the latest marketing façade, or is it the fashion industry intent on joining the battle in the climate emergency?
I always try to steer clear of fast-fashion retailers, buying most of my clothes second-hand from Vinted, Depop, or eBay, to name a few of the frequently used fashion apps on my phone. However, it is not always easy to stick to second-hand resellers, especially when there is next-day delivery and the temptation to order a few more tops just two days before a summer holiday (only to throw them away after) becomes too hard to resist. No matter how hard we might try, most of us are guilty of a fast-fashion faux pas.
The circular fashion movement, which emphasises the reuse and recycling of clothing, has gained popularity in recent years as a potential solution. However, some experts are raising concerns about the effectiveness of this movement, as some brands are accused of greenwashing rather than taking real action to improve their supply chain.
Major high-street fast-fashion brands have found themselves victims to such critics. In November 2022, H&M reopened their London flagship store (Regent Street) with the launch of a new rental service. While it may seem like a step towards sustainability, H&M has been criticised for not addressing the root problem of overproduction and excessive consumption. By renting out clothing, H&M is still encouraging customers to continuously consume new items rather than promoting a more mindful approach to fashion.
Similarly, Pretty Little Thing's marketplace and Primark's new reuse range have also been accused of greenwashing. While both brands are attempting to create more sustainable options for customers, they still prioritise fast-fashion production, which contributes to environmental and social problems.
Fashion resale, on the other hand, has emerged as a promising business model for sustainability. Companies like Depop and Vestiaire Collective are pioneers in the circular fashion movement, providing platforms for customers to buy and sell pre-loved clothing. By encouraging the reuse of clothing, these companies are reducing waste and promoting a more mindful approach to fashion.
Depop, in particular, has gained popularity among younger generations as a way to express individual style while also reducing the environmental impact of fashion. The company's CEO, Maria Raga, believes that Depop's success lies in its ability to offer an alternative to the traditional retail model. "The younger generation is looking for something different. They want to buy from people, not from corporations," she says.
Vestiaire Collective takes a slightly different approach, focusing on high-end luxury items. The Paris-based company has a strict authentication process to ensure the quality and authenticity of the items sold on its platform. By promoting the resale of luxury goods, Vestiaire Collective is contributing to reducing waste and promoting a more sustainable approach to fashion. In line with their sustainable agenda, the company announced last November that it would ban all fast fashion from being sold second-hand on its website.
While the circular fashion movement has gained momentum in recent years, it is important to acknowledge the potential for greenwashing. Brands must prioritise real action towards sustainability, rather than simply jumping on the circular fashion trend. Companies like Depop and Vestiaire Collective, as well as other sustainable fashion pioneers, are leading the way towards a more sustainable future for fashion. And a final note: always check a local thrift store before buying fast fashion and contributing to the negative impact on the environment.
Written by Eva Cunningham, Edited by Giovanna Vieira Co, 2023