The elephant in the fast-fashion changing room | WARC | The Feed
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The elephant in the fast-fashion changing room
For all that many fast-fashion companies are tipping their hat to sustainability issues amid fears of the potential reputational risk if these are not properly addressed, few are willing to confront the contradiction inherent in their business model.
What’s happening (or not)
Responsible sourcing of raw materials, increased recycling, reduced usage of plastics and water, and offsetting carbon emissions are all worthy steps that some fast-fashion brands are taking to burnish their environmental credentials.
But the fact remains that people are still buying more than they really need and disposing of (cheap) items that may be hardly used, with a huge amount of waste then being incinerated or ending up in landfill.
The success of brands like Shein and Temu – price-focused fashion apps coming out of China – reinforces the perception that much consumer shopping behaviour has yet to catch up with professed intentions as regards sustainability.
Elsewhere, a brick-and-mortar-based retailer such as H&M has modelled various scenarios and is now aiming “to attract more customers by providing a more sustainable and transparent offering”.
“While there is mounting evidence that companies and shoppers are paying attention to how clothing is made and how to dispose of it, the boom in resale is the only indication of anyone interrogating the quantity of clothing currently produced,” Bloomberg observes.
Regulation can drive change
The regulatory environment is changing. For example, the UN’s Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) has informed mandatory climate-related financial disclosure requirements for UK companies. In turn, these have prompted brands such as Asos and Boohoo to conduct their first detailed climate analyses. Greater transparency will bring greater scrutiny and pressure to deal with the waste problem.
What it means
In surveys, people say they’ll pay more for sustainable products, but when facing straitened economic circumstances (in the UK, for example, the Office for Budget responsibility this week said that real household disposable income would fall by 2.6% this year, on top of a fall of 2.5% last year), the reality is that many will make spending decisions based primarily on price. But at some point there will be a recovery and consumers may feel more able to “shop their values”.
Brands that plan around the long term, and the sustainability issues that assuredly are not going away, are more likely to reap the benefits even if they suffer some short-term pain. As to the future of a business model that depends on more people buying more things more cheaply, that’s a bigger problem and one that extends beyond fast fashion.
Sourced from Bloomberg, World Bank, OBR, gov.uk
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