Sustainable Consumption: An Urban Legend?
27 April 2021
Author: Jasmine Waters
In the wake of Earth Day, many consumers are left reeling from retail mixed messages. From one social post highlighting long-term care for denim follows another flogging an ethically made collection at a fraction of its original price. 2020 provided us with an intriguing glimpse at a future that could be, following small but effective environmental changes spotted as the world closed down. With that thinking in mind, it’s never been a better time to question if fashion can actually have its cake and eat it too.
What’s the current conversation?
Just like ‘sustainability’ before it, the new trend of ‘revenge shopping’ is a buzz term is generating a lot of discussion without any real clarity of meaning. A portion of consumers want to seek justice from what’ve lost during the last year by splurging on the goods, shining a light on the rising issue of over-consumption. Shifting from a life of buying to one of doing hardly anything, more media outlets have reported on humanitarian crises such as fast fashion implications, but few have delved further. Links to climate change have been made at the same time as products were relentlessly marketed for Earth Day. With physical retail re-opening to mind-boggling queues and reports of sales skyrocketing, can fashion consumption ever be truly sustainable?
Is fashion sustainable enough?
The answer is not quite – at least, not yet. We’re predicted to experience an industry rebirth in the form of the ‘Roaring Twenties’, with strong rebound already in demand in other parts of the world. Whether the demand will stay put is unknown, but the road of fashion sustainability feels doomed as a consequence. The fact that only 60% of garments are on average sold at full price seems to be both a symptom and cause of overconsumption, with many design processes just as much of an issue. Brands now need to look to actually address issues raise on events like Earth Day, instead of buying into the kind of ‘greenwashing’ marketing experts and consumers are beginning to unpick. Although many big names are pledging to more ethical practices (whereas independent brands are more likely to be sustainable to begin with) the emphasis still remains on buying more. It’s not surprising, given how much global financial strife has been the result of the pandemic.
Because of this, more scrutiny of current sustainability claims seems likely to continue. While reform may help solve our issues, it’s going to take some serious industry reform to get anywhere near where we’d like to be. According to the BOF Sustainability Index, the industry is moving too slowly to properly solve anything, especially the underlying issues. Although this may create some business-related tension, but the efforts of encouraging long-term consumer commitments to re-using and upcycling existing brand products will be the ultimate pay off in years to come.
Image source: @Graham Tuckwell