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The true cost of fast fashion

The true cost of fast fashion


Buying clothes has never been easier. 80 billion items are manufactured every year. We’re putting too much product out there, most of that product ending up in landfill. So-called ‘fast fashion’ allows consumers to buy more, but they’re wearing these garments less often and disposing of them a tan unprecedented rate. This is where wardrobe castoffs end up.

 Savanna Rags is a clothes recycling and processing plant in Nottingham, England. They process discarded clothes from recycling bins around the country. Mohammed Patel has been running this plant for 12 years. Majority of it will go to Africa and Dubai. We send some of it to Europe and we have a couple of buyers here in the UK that buy from us also. Globally, sorting plants like this only deal with around 25% of discarded clothes. In Britain, more than300,000  ton’s of clothes end up in landfill every year. It’s the fastest growing category of waste in the country. But this is a global problem. Expanding middle classes in emerging markets are hungry for more and cheaper fashion. It’s estimated that by 2050, global clothing sales could more than triple. One of the things that we’ve noticed is that the quality of the actual material being used has gone down. We’re now having to process a lot more just to get the same quality of goods that we can sell on. But how can the fashion industry continue to grow while addressing the environmental need for people to buy fewer clothes?

New York fashion ista Ijeoma Kola is less about rags and more about the latest runway fashions. Because I post often on Instagram,   there is a little bit of pressure to have a new outfit. She’s a fashion blogger. Her stylish posts and clothing tips are attracting a big online following. I found myself before buying a lot of clothes. I usually bought clothes from H&M and Zara, or ASOS. But if you’re looking for trendy pieces they have them, they’re pretty affordable. Today she’s looking for a new outfit for a swanky industry event. But this store doesn’t sell clothes, it rents them. Ijeoma has been championing Rent the Runway’s radical new approach to high end fashion. Rent the Runway is a clothing borrowing service which allows you to rent clothes for either 4 or 8 days at a time. You are cycling through clothing as fast but you’re borrowing it with other people so other people get to wear the same thing that you’re wearing as well. On average only 20% of clothes are worn on a regular basis. Rent the Runway’s mission is to change consumer’s relationship with the clothes they wear. Rather than buying something only getting to wear it maybe three or four times before you decide to give it away or throw it away an item is worn a lot more when it is being shared across different people. Rent the Runway only has a couple of flagship stores but online it’s a giant and it’s disrupting the fashion industry. To date, there are 10 million members so it comes with a hefty laundry bill. The company claims to have the largest dry cleaning facility in the world. Rent the Runway is getting more mileage out of items of clothing, it’s also helping to tackle an increasing throw away culture. But the last thing clothing brands want is for consumers to buy less. Except perhaps, for Patagonia, an outdoor apparel brand which sent shock waves through the industry with this full page advert in the New York Times on Black Friday 2011. Here in Amsterdam, Ryan Gellert heads up Patagonia’s operations in Europe and the Middle East.

The apparel industry has become one of the most polluting in the world as an industry we’re creating product that people don’t need by stimulating demand and creating this sense that if you don’t buy it now it’s not going to be available. There’s this race to the bottom on price and quality that is an unsustainable model. Patagonia’s philosophy flies in the face of fast fashion to buy once, buy well, and mend clothing for a longer lifespan. So maybe doing that in Amsterdam and then figuring out how to share it elsewhere. With the largest single repair facility in North America, and mobile mending services around Europe and America, Patagonia’s anti-fashion environmental message has resonated with people who buy into their vision. Helping our customer’s keep their product in use longer was also one of the original big ideas in Patagonia. Between 2008 and 2014, profits reportedly tripled. Patagonia claims it generates revenue of nearly 1 billion dollars a year. It’s hope is to inspire other brands to tackle the environmental impact of fast fashion. If I had the opportunity to sit down with leaders from some of the bigger fast fashion companies in the world, what I’d really encourage them to understand the full impact of their supply chains. Patagonia provides a glimpse into a more enlightened approach to fashion. But they’re a rare example.

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For Mohammed, the boom in fast fashion has been good for business, but this throw away culture sits uncomfortably with him. Sometimes it’s soul destroying, because you come to work and you just think, is this what we’ve come to that the human race all we think about is dispose of things. The environmental impact on the planet is just colossal and I don’t think we as the human race realize what it is that we’re doing, just for the sake of wearing a pair of jeans. In order to tackle the throwaway culture, brands and consumers need to change their behaviors. Industry pioneers are proving that there are viable business opportunities in selling less, others need to follow suit.

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