It is increasingly common to see giants in the world of fashion such as H&M, Topshop, Zara or Mango, among others, jump onto the bandwagon of sustainability and ecology through capsule collections that they claim to be more respectful at environmental level, with clothing made from recycled materials, organic cotton, bamboo, etc. And it almost seems that sustainability is here to stay as a fashion itself.
However, the basic question that arises when analysing the movements of these large companies, all exponents of fast-fashion, is whether or not the release of these collections represents a sign of change and evolution towards a more sustainable business model or if it is just a marketing strategy capitalising on the new trends towards a more responsible consumption.
In this sense, and too often, the term sustainability as applied to fashion, is not being explained clearly and comprehensively, causing some confusion in consumers who do not know exactly what to understand when a brand claims to be sustainable. In the words of Sylvia Calvo, president of the Association of Sustainable Fashion Barcelona (MSBCN) (Asociación Moda Sostenible Barcelona), sustainable fashion is "any piece of clothing or accessory that respects the environment, human health, its workers and that boosts the use of sustainable materials, the reuse of existing materials and local production."
Sustainable fashion thus encompasses each and every one of the processes and agents that make up textile production and results in a system that forms “part of a transformative will and strong commitment to develop garments out of respect for the fragile balance of the planet and through processes that dignify people. All of which involves decisions from the origin of the materials to the way the products are distributed, marketed or communicated" describes Àngels Biosca, MD of the platform The Slowear Project.
If anything is certain it is that we are witnessing a change in current consumption trends. An evolution that will gradually see a consumer increasingly dare to ask what lies behind that item that they are buying. Traceability is unfortunately very difficult to discover in large multinational companies that have plenty of suppliers and workshops in many countries.
Given this reality, it is difficult to imagine that the sustainability attempts of these large firms are based on anything greater than simply capturing a new market niche. "For now, these collections seem more like a sales gimmick and we could even award them with the title greenwashing , but at the same time, we must also appreciate that they actually reveal a consumption trend that is in growing demand," argues Orsola de Castro, designer and co-founder of the global movement Fashion Revolution.
"A little late but it is a beginning" thinks Safia Minney, founder of the sustainable fashion brand People Tree and creator of the research book Slave To Fashion, which relates the real case slavery situations to which millions of people around the world are subjected daily in the textile industry, who also believes that "it is not about the large fast fashion companies making certain eco or sustainable collections, but that the real problem lies in all the non-sustainability that they simultaneously produce with their customary business model", perpetuating situations of work slavery, pollution, child labour, etc.
In this sense, we must recognise that "it is difficult to completely transform a textile industry that has spent its entire life manufacturing the same way and moving by inertia" explains Paloma García president of the Association of Sustainable Fashion of Madrid (MSMAD) and founder of the Circular Project, although it is also true that one of the fundamental pillars of sustainability is to create with more moderation and, at the moment, "these big companies at no time plan on reducing their productions, but, on the contrary, are always talking about expanding market share, introducing new outlets, producing more... something that totally conflicts with the values and principles of sustainable fashion" continues the president of MSMAD.
It seems clear that in the midst of this process of change and evolution, there is still a long way to go before the implementation of new ways of working that are more responsible and ethical in all respects becomes a reality in large textile companies. "It is possible to implement change, but it is also true that companies need to be fully engaged in this direction, and many of them still seem reluctant to do so," said Orsola De Castro. And that ultimately means a "change of the business philosophy in which they operate and one directed in a more humane direction" concludes Sylvia Calvo.
Faced with this scenario, the consumer has a fundamental role since, with their purchasing decisions, they have the key to open the door to sustainability or to close it completely. It is therefore essential that "consumers are aware and informed, and ultimately make their decisions based on what makes them feel good and according to their principles and values. Because, in the end, it is not so much about buying an item of sustainable fashion, but on taking a stand or not for different and more responsible consumer habits" concludes Orsola de Castro.
Author: Alicia Carrasco, is a journalist, teacher and creator of the benchmark blog https://greenandtrendy.com/ specialising in sustainable fashion and lifestyle She collaborates in the magazine Moda Sostenible Retahíla, itFashion and has actively participated in the movement Fashion Revolution spreading the importance of educational work for achieving a real change in the fashion industry.
Photos: Fashion Revolution / Mango