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Mischa Smith

August 31, 2022

Does the Fashion Industry Have to Forgo Profits to Become Sustainable?

The perils of fast fashion are not new to the sustainability conversation, but rather reaching peak relevance in 2022. With the industry touching almost every area of environmental and social concern, upcoming generations are more savvy than ever to the adverse effects of their purchases. But a lack of transparency paired with the prevalence of increasingly brazen greenwashing marketing campaigns raises growing concerns. While profitability and sustainability appear to be in direct conflict, is there a way to rethink the apparel industry to better serve our planet and its people? 

Carbon, Plastic, Water and Lies

The WWF confirms that up to 8% of our country’s annual carbon emissions are attributed to the fashion industry, guzzling the equivalent of one liter of water per day for a decade just to produce a single pair of jeans. Additionally, 9% of microplastics found in our seas come from textile production. Furthermore, the fashion industry is one of the most prominent culprits of labour malpractice across the globe, with power structures preventing workers’ voices ever being heard.

Recent generations have a growing awareness of the need to go green, and, brands have become savvy to consumer pressure. This has brought on the insidious problem of greenwashing. An estimated 59% of company declarations around green practices are proven to be unsubstantiated, making it increasingly difficult to identify an environmentally-friendly clothing purchase.

McKinsey lists the significant contribution to biodiversity loss caused by the fashion industry, drawing heavily on our planet’s natural resources, filling up landfills with textile waste, and producing harmful pollutants through the production process. Is there a way to move towards a systemic balance that prioritises both sustainability and commercial viability? How does the consumer begin to leverage their power by making choices that support a more sustainable world?

Finding Solutions through Tech and the Circular Economy

While the circular economy is a reasonably new term to our common parlance, its principles are increasingly prevalent in buyer behaviour, playing a growing role in consumer psychology. Deloitte confirms that in 2022, customers are more eco-driven in their decision-making than ever before, inventing new ways to create a sustainable lifestyle, spend less, and keep their products for longer. But while thrifting and clothes swapping are feasible options for buyers with eclectic tastes and a close knit peer group, these solutions simply don’t serve the masses.

As these increasingly pressing questions arise, others are providing answers. At the forefront of facilitating the move towards putting your values where your wallet lies, are exciting digital solutions. The volume of research required to find these answers simply isn’t feasible for the everyday consumer, which is why it’s absolutely necessary for easily attainable answers to be published online.

Knowledge is power, and our calculator enables you to make smarter lifestyle choices to reduce your carbon footprint, with measurable results. We’re not the only ones at the cusp of supporting consumers to leverage their purchasing power to build a better future. Project Cece is a database which allows you to filter online shopping through the sieve of your strongest environmental concerns. Categories include trade, environmental friendliness, vegan production practices, the cause behind the business, and more.

As individuals continue to cast their votes for an environmentally sustainable economic system, a systemic change to fashion production principles is dearly needed, with forward-thinking production principles at its helm.

Changing Production Principles to Support a Sustainable Future

How do we begin to reimagine the textile industry with mindful production principles ingrained in its systems? Ellen MacArthur Foundation distills this complex question into three simple pillars, designing products that can be used more, are made to be made again, and are produced using safe and recycled or renewable inputs. This means better products for consumers and a thriving fashion industry, all while taking steps to regenerate the environment.

In the life cycle of clothes, waste begins at production, with up to 15% of fibers and fabrics wasted in the production process. Climate Connect offers a two pronged approach which is proactive about preventing future waste, while reacting to the existing problem through reusage, recycling and disposal. 

With many metrics to consider, an existing structure is necessary to guide decision-making. A comprehensive solution can be found in Ethical Fashion Initiative’s Social and Governance (ESG) Due Diligence and Corporate Sustainability Reporting System reflecting global standards to guide responsible business behaviour. Derived from global legal principles, the system provides a list of checks and balances for social and environmental monitoring and mapping. 

Sustainable AND Profitable - a Paradox Worth Aiming For?

Studies have shown that transparent communication around sustainability practices are good for business. Environmentally-minded purchases are on the rise, resulting in mounting pressure to rethink the role of sustainability in the fashion industry and beyond. The perceived cost of sustainability is losing relevance where a long term perspective is concerned. Although a greenwashing marketing campaign will make a far smaller dent on a short term budget, with the increase of trackable sustainability practices, the repercussions of falling short on a public stage threaten to be far greater.

Considered consumers will continue to use their buying power as a vote for better business practices with increasing wisdom behind their choices. Buying less to last longer supports a better life for the individual with less cost to the environment. Creating products to meet a higher standard with a price tag to match positions corporations in the fashion industry to continue to support livelihoods and produce profits. 


More than social pressure, 2022 sees the emergence of checks and balances to keep fashion retailers accountable for their production practices. The role of the consumer continues to be to research thoroughly and purchase accordingly, to add their efforts to building a better future for the fashion industry. With technology and the circular economy providing easily implementable solutions, it’s becoming increasingly easy to do so. Imagine a future where environmental best practice is entrenched in systemic operations within the fashion industry. The facts speak for themselves - no industry can afford to avoid the move towards drawing mindfully on the earth’s finite resources. The cost is simply too great, to both the environment, and their profits.


Sources:

Geneva Environment Network - Sustainable Fashion

BBC - How to buy clothes that are good for the environment

World Bank - How much do our wardrobes cost the environment?

Ellen MacArthur Foundation - Redesigning the future of fashion

Fairwear

WWF

Deloitte - Sustainable Consumer

McKinsey - Biodiversity: The next frontier in sustainable fashion

Impakter - Greenwashing In The Fashion Industry

Forest Valley - Sustainability reporting

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