Fast fashion is muddled with sustainability, eco shopping, and other marketing buzzwords. It’s understandable that marketing and the use of key terms are hyped up to drive attention to the cause and make consumers think about their purchases. This has resulted in blurred lines and making it easier for brands to hide under the guise of greenwashing and consumers unknowingly taking part in unsustainable practises.
We’re seeing an increase in consumer demand for sustainable, ethical products, with 66 per cent of consumers willing to pay more for sustainable goods and 90 per cent of Gen-Z consumers believe companies have a responsibility to address environmental and social issues. Many consumers provide their support to smaller businesses and advocate to shop more sustainably, but are sometimes being priced out.
Even though the industry data has exhibited strong, continued growth in sustainable product sales, fast fashion is still necessary for some. Despite its negatives, turnaround time and cheap offering is sought by many who view sustainability as luxurious. However, if changes don’t hurry, the fashion industry will be contributing approximately 25 per cent of global greenhouse gases by 2050. Therefore, there needs to be change to meet the needs of consumers who want to be fashionable yet cost-effective so sustainable options become the default option.
So, how can we achieve this?
Sustainability from top to bottom
More needs to be done to produce and sell sustainable goods at a lower price for consumers. They’re competing against fast fashion retailers who have larger profit margins to be able to market better, get on the supply chain and speed up production with their suppliers. This allows them to mass produce at a cheaper cost due to trends that disappear within a week rather than a season, but at a high cost to the environment, and that’s not taking into account the working conditions at the factory.
Large retailers are still run by investors who pledge large amounts of money to charities to overhaul how they source their materials whilst potentially having a dedicated division in the business with a clear mission and clear authority could generate more progressive ideas for business. This independent team without the pressures of short-term monetary targets could achieve genuine structural change for many institutions.
Larger retailers/brands have made next-day free delivery the standard. Consumers have grown accustomed to instant gratification; we want our goods delivered tomorrow when we’ve placed an order and hesitate when we must wait longer and pay. Most same and next day delivery options are unsustainable and unlikely use eco-friendly transport, which makes it harder for e-commerce retailers to meet the consumer need while also doing right by the environment. There are alternatives to the traditional delivery method, like Click and Collect where deliveries can happen at once and consumers can walk to their collection point to pick up items, thereby reducing emissions.
We need more transparency and regulation
The term “greenwashing” is growing with fluffy, confusing language as two prominent ways out of a list of others that the fast fashion industry is leaning towards. By sticking any of these key terms in marketing copy isn’t enough and can dupe consumers into thinking an item is sustainable. We need to break down the key facets of sustainability through introducing icons/labels to grade how sustainable an item is so consumers can make a sound decision on purchases.
The scrapping of single-use plastic has been driven by regulatory agencies as convenience has always been preferential to many. Fast fashion, until more regulated, will continue as they’ll see great sales growth and returning customers. Sustainability should be parallel with price which isn't the case due to the availability and transparency of the fashion industry. In the sportswear market, where shoppers are pickier, there are progressive changes taking place with fabrics like ECONYL becoming more accessible. However, there are a growing number of passionate boutique brands committed to provide the level of quality and innovation that athletes demand. Nonetheless, this will only start to accelerate when the benefits of sustainability aren't so hard to find.
The increase in creative marketing that appeals directly to our hearts, and our wallets, helps to erase the negatives of fast fashion from our minds and prioritise other propositions instead. The industry, especially now, is reliant on fast fashion due to the need to make a profit currently, at the expense of the environment. Though, if real change is to come, we need to be calling for the industry and supply chain to do more to make sustainable items the default. Until this is the case, fast fashion will always be around.