Shoppers respond to fast fashion’s social and economic impact
With the closure of Forever 21 stores across the country, the company name is now painfully ironic.The clothing brand, known for its inexpensive prices, has been a staple in Canadian malls. From $20 cocktail dresses to $5 T-shirts, you could either spend your money on a sandwich or a new date night outfit.
Fast fashion giants such as Zara, H&M and Forever 21 have dominated the fashion industry. It’s become commonplace to mass produce cheap clothing in an attempt to stay on top of the latest trends. To put that into perspective, there are more than 52 micro seasons within the fashion industry per year. On average, Canadians purchase more than 70 garments a year, according to the Recycling Council of Ontario.
However, the rising trend of fast fashion could be on the decline. Founder of sustainable fashion brand Local Buttons, Anne Pringle, said she sees an impending shift in the industry. It’s a result of years and years of unsafe working conditions, underpaid employees in overseas sweatshops and the industry neglecting its own ecological footprint.
“Consumers are starting to mind the devastating impacts of fashion,” Pringle said. “I think we’ve seen a rise in activist activity and awareness campaigns around fashion, both in a sustainable angle and an ethical angle. I see a rise in all areas and brands engaging.”
Following Forever 21’s bankruptcy in Canada, H&M’s $4.3-billion pile of unsold inventory and Zara’s slow sales growth, a new trend is emerging. Enter player one, the sustainable fashion brand.
Slow and steady wins the race
Frank and Oak, along with Reformation, two brands that pride themselves on eco-friendly and transparent environmental practices, are only a few sustainable fashion companies rising in popularity.
Slow fashion expert Alyssa Beltempo, who shares advice on her YouTube channel, said that more and more consumers are looking for sustainability when purchasing clothing.
“To be sustainable in fashion is just consuming more wisely,” Beltempo said. “So it’s shopping less, purchasing high quality clothing and having fewer garments.”
Lyst, a fashion search engine, tracked over 100 million searches in 2018. Of those searches, there was a 47 per cent increase in consumers looking for ethically made items with terms such as “vegan leather” and “organic cotton.”
Whether a garment is sustainable depends on how it was manufactured. For instance, a sustainable T-shirt would be made out of a biodegradable fabric such as linen or organic cotton. The production of the T-shirt should have minimal impact on the environment, meaning that any waste created in making the garment shouldn’t contribute to air or water pollution.
Even though sustainable fashion can often come with a heftier price tag, Beltempo said people are more concerned about minimizing their ecological footprint.
“The price of fast fashion is that there is a human and an environmental cost to cheaply made pieces,” Beltempo said. “I think people are starting to realize that.
“You pay a little bit more per garment but it will last you a lot longer.”
The minimalist trend, a fashion style where less is more, goes along with the practices of slow and sustainable fashion and has become more popular. The trend favours simple clothing such as jeans, monochromatic sweaters and plain jackets — a direct contrast to the bright, heavily patterned designs that were sold by Forever 21.
“You don’t have to seek out new clothes every season to feel like you’re in fashion,” Beltempo said, adding that the minimalist trend encourages the purchase of wardrobe staples that will never go out of style.
“You’re kind of getting out of the whole insatiable need to constantly consume.”
The future of fashion
Following Forever 21’s bankruptcy and the rise of sustainable fashion, it comes down to the question of whether other fast fashion giants will soon meet their demise. Pringle said that she isn’t certain that brands like H&M and Zara will close.
“I do think that everyone is beginning to make small movements and talk about sustainability, from Zara to H&M and beyond,” Pringle said. “For instance, H&M now has a conscious collection brand.”
In July, Zara announced that by 2025 all of the fabric used to make its clothes will be organic, sustainable or recycled. Even though there is a shift in the fashion industry in terms of sustainability, Pringle said there is still a lot more to be done. `
“The truth of the matter is that when you pay $5 for a T-shirt, the T-shirt costs more than that because someone is paying for it along the way,” Pringle said. “I see shifts in trends in what consumers are thinking about, but we still have work to do.”