What Will It Take For Sustainable Fashion To Replace Fast Fashion?

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There’s something unusual about the clothes in this photo. 

The material they’re made from, comes from an orange. Like, an actual orange. 

The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world – mainly because of the amount of unwanted clothes we just throw away. 

Designers and tech start-ups have been working really hard to make the fashion industry sustainable. 

Finding more environmentally friendly garment materials has been a big research focus – hence the clothes made from an orange. 

But how unsustainable is the fashion industry at the moment? And what are we doing to change that?  

What Does Fast Fashion Do To The Environment? 

There are some pretty wild stats about the fashion industry’s environmental impacts. 

As a whole, the industry emits more carbon than both international flights and ocean shipping combined (international flights pre-pandemic that is).

The amount of water a single person drinks over 7 years is the amount it takes to make just one pair of jeans. And the equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is burned or dumped in landfill every second. 

That’s enough to fill Sydney Harbour each year.  

Fast Fashion And Influencers 

Fast fashion has made clothing more affordable and accessible.  

The convenience of online shopping has massively contributed to people consuming more now than ever before, and the pandemic lockdowns really exacerbated that. 

Influencers have played their part too. 

Influencer culture has made new clothing more desirable and spawned a kind of ‘wear once maybe twice’ mentality because of everyone’s visibility online. 

Ania Zoltkowski (University of Technology Sydney): “We’re living in this kind of culture of convenience where it’s easier for us to buy new stuff then it is to actually care for a garment and repair it, put time into it.” 

The reality is that the fashion industry exists at the cost of our environment. 

The impact of high volumes of non-renewable waste is not just heavy on landfill, it’s irreversibly polluting all of our ecosystems. 

Sustainable Fashion – Where Are We At? 

So, what are we doing about it? 

There isn’t one specific textile fiber that is 100% sustainable and could solve all our waste problems. 

Instead, designers and tech startups are focusing on developing more degradable materials, made out of things like kelp or even food waste (like those clothes that are made from orange by-products). 

They’re also working on new recycling technologies that can make old materials more renewable. 

One US textiles company for example, recycles old fabric into pulp that then becomes new fibers and is repurposed for big brands like Adidas. 

Patagonia now produces fleece jackets made from recycled bottles, and that really popular shoe brand Veja works with a Brazillian start-up that grows all the fibers that make the shoes through a type of natural farming called agroforestry. 

It’s really exciting progress but what does it mean for us, the consumers? 

How Do We Make Sustainable Affordable? 

Ania Zoltkowskia sustainable fashion researcher and consultant, told me that one of the biggest barriers to uptake is the affordability of the clothes attached to all this new science 

That top made from orange costs 150 US dollars. 

And even though some bigger more affordable brands are pivoting to sustainable practices, Ania thinks we need be aware of greenwashing.  

AZH&M and Zara are bringing out these eco-green collections whilst they’re putting new clothes into the stores every seven days. It doesn’t make sense. 

It’s important in my opinion, that sustainability doesn’t become this dogmatic, rigid [thing] – this is what you have to do, this is what it looks like – because it’s not and it shouldn’t be. It needs to be an extension of our values and I feel like we need to pick and choose where we can start and build from that.” 

The Takeaway 

Building a circular economy should definitely be a priority for the future of the fashion industry. Its current environmental impacts are significant, and they really need to change. 

But if sustainability going to work, the industry needs to make it a viable option for all consumers, not just a privilege for some.