A Short Story About Fashion
Got it! So, what is linking climate change to the fashion industry and Untraced?
That’s a good question! The clothing industry is a great example of the irrational human consumption we were talking about earlier… Also, sadly, this is the second most polluting industry in the world today (I take into account emissions, soils and water pollution as well as generated wastes).
Let me quickly take you through the scary escalation of the fashion industry over the past seventy years:
- 1950s and 1960s: Fashion was under control. It started to be a big industry, but everything was still local, and brands created two or three collections per year.
- 1970s: Factories grew in size, and brands began producing overseas to take advantage of cheap labour. Brands were no longer local; they were growing their presence globally.
- 1990s: A revolutionary concept started to emerge, called fast fashion. Corporations like Zara and H&M set out to make low-cost trendy clothing out of low-quality raw materials. They released countless collections per year. Designs were produced cheaply in Asia and sold all over the world. Brands like Uniqlo, Primark, Gap, and many more followed the same path. Things got out of hand.
- 2000s: The internet made it possible to produce and sell ultra-fast fashion, with online retailers like ASOS and Boohoo gaining popularity. Clothing got even cheaper than before, leading to an unimaginable amount of wasted products and materials. (Yes, I’m talking about that sweater you never returned but will never wear again.)
- 2010s: Direct to consumer brands began popping up like wildfire. Leaders of this movement are, among others, Million Dollar Shave Club, Everlane, and Warby Parker. It became easier than ever for a small business to interact with their customers via social media. Customers could come in from anywhere in the world since the need for a physical storefront was eliminated.
- Today, a new concept is discreetly emerging, and it’s not for the best... Its name? Real-time fashion. Now, fashion is all about algorithms, AB tests, data, and software. You don’t try on clothes anymore. You don’t buy an existing piece that will be delivered to you in a week. You buy a piece of clothing that does not exist yet, proposed to you through a targeted ad, and it will be created and sent to you in three days. If you don’t like it, you send it back for free. No seasonal collections anymore, instead the industry is responding in real-time. Super low-cost clothes, super cheap materials, and everything is made with cheap labour. The leader of this harmful business model is Shein. They had ten billion in sales in 2020, thousands of influencers working for them, a 100% growth each year since its creation and they recently became the 18th most valuable start-up in the world.
We have now arrived at a point where 80 billion clothes are produced every year for 8 billion people.
So what do you think? Are you seeing the link between fashion and climate change? Pretty scary, right?
No, we are not on the right track. Yes, the clothing industry is responsible for emitting huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere each year; between 5% and 8% of all global emissions to be more precise. This is absolutely enormous, and if we continue at this pace, the clothing industry will be responsible for emitting 26% of the global emissions by 2050.
To achieve the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees, many of the biggest fashion brands have committed to cutting their emissions in half by 2030. Sadly, not a single one of them is on track. Some are making big claims about sustainable fabrics, others are focusing on packaging or lights in their stores but very few are taking measures to face the real problem: fossil fuels in their supply chain… This is the number one action to take if we want to reach the 1.5 degrees target.
Today, we no longer have a choice. We have to change the way we operate by producing less and producing in a healthier way.