How Can We Meet Global Climate Targets When The Fashion Industry Is So Far Behind?

How can we meet global climate commitments when everyday in the fashion industry that goal can feel unreachable?

It’s an exciting time in fashion especially with the Met Gala having come and gone and Sydney Fashion Week running full-steam ahead.

But did you know that the fashion industry could end up using one quarter of the world’s remaining global carbon budget to stick to the two degrees global temperature limit by 2050?

Meaning a pretty big chunk of our future climate could hang in the balance of the next Miu Miu mini skirt.

The Wellbeing Wardrobe Report

Clothing production has doubled in the last 15 years, and the length of time people are wearing their clothes has dropped by nearly 40%.

A 2022 report called the Wellbeing Wardrobe, led by the Institute for Sustainable Futures at University of Technology Sydney, wants to change that. It suggests we alter the way we as humans interact with fashion –  by ditching overconsumption and throwaway fast-fashion and fostering long-lasting relationships with our clothes.

Monique Retamal is the Research Director at the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney. She co-authored the report and explained that it was for the European Environmental Bureau, adding that “it was really focused on how we can enable a wellbeing economy for the fashion and textile sector.”

“A wellbeing economy is one that puts people and the planet first rather than focusing on endless growth in the industry,” she said.

Monique and her team suggested that for people wanting to actually commit to sustainability, that means cutting out how many clothes we buy by as much as 75%. Which means if people were to buy 15 new items of clothing per year, they should now only buy 3.75 new items to meet this criteria. That’s a big cut for sure, but that doesn’t include second hand clothes!

“That means purchasing better quality and longer lasting items. So they can also engage with practices like repairing, and borrowing, and swapping, and buying clothes, second hand or sharing, and renting clothes. And this is part of what we talk about in terms of exchange.

In doing that it sort of helps to change that culture of fashion, which is, you know, normalising this kind of slower consumption and re-wear and buying less and buying better,” Monique told Junkee.

How Achievable Is Sustainability In The Fashion Industry?

For the fashion sector there needs to be higher pay to low income workers making the clothes and more support for workers who could lose their jobs to a more sustainable industry.

For example if fast-fashion factories start shutting down over bad sustainable practices those workers need to be given a way out. Just like we expect the renewable energy sector to transfer and secure jobs for mine workers.

Major brands hold huge responsibilities too. Since the start of 2022 clothing powerhouses like H&M and Zara have launched around 11,000 new styles combined. Shein, which is the most popular clothing app in Australia, has had 314,877 new styles this year so far.

Taylor Brydges who is the Research Principal at the Institute for Sustainable Futures notes that some of these ultra fast-fashion brands are almost meant to be consumed digitally – you see them online, you buy them from Instagram, and then you wear them to be seen on Instagram.

Brydes argues that it’s less about whether the material feels nice or if it fits you well or that it’s comfortable to wear on any kind of time scale, and it’s just about that look online and whether they photograph well.

The expectation of buying long-lasting clothes must also come with an acknowledgement of bigger price tags. And the fact that a lot of brands are greenwashing making out to be more environmentally friendly than they actually are.

“When you’re kind of buying into something like biodegradability or “this is made from plants” you need to be thinking about that whole life cycle and what happens at the end of life and that information isn’t always available,” Monique said.