It's unlikely that fast fashion will disappear from the high street anytime, but perhaps the tide is starting to turn. Consumers are starting to become concerned about supply chain sustainability in the garment industry, and the new 'slow fashion' trend reflects this movement.
The downside of fast fashion
Supply chain sustainability has become a hotly debated topic in recent years. Now more than ever, consumers are curious about where their clothes were made and under what conditions.
The Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013 killed more than 1,000 Bangladeshi garment workers, and brought the subject of worker rights and ethical labour into the spotlight. Research by Greenpeace has also fuelled concerns surrounding the environmental costs of the garment industry, as the presence of hazardous chemicals in children’s clothing could pose a health threat to both the wearer and those living close to waterways polluted by garment factories.
A little closer to home, some campaigners are also concerned about the amount of waste that the fashion industry produces. According to WRAP, 350,000 tonnes of used clothing worth an estimated £140 million goes to landfill in the UK every year.
The fast fashion movement has come under fire for prioritising supply chain speed and low costs above ethical and environmental standards. So what is the alternative for consumers who want to avoid the fast fashion market?
Slow fashion offers alternative
The slow fashion movement promises to be the antithesis of the fast fashion trend, delivering sustainably sourced and produced garments to mindful consumers. Rather than following fast-changing trends, slow fashion items are designed to be functional, durable and stylish for years to come – therefore coming at a higher cost.
“As our closets fill with cheaply made clothing, our wallets start to empty out,” Soraya Darabi, co-founder of slow fashion brand Zady, told Triple Pundit. “A $5 dollar t-shirt may feel good initially, but that’s an empty high.”
Some of the leading fast fashion retailers on the UK high street are also looking at how to improve supply chain sustainability. H&M, the world’s second largest fashion retailer, is also the world's biggest user of certified organic cotton by volume and has set an ambitious goal to use only sustainable cotton by 2020. In addition, the fashion brand has cited that all strategic suppliers should be paying textile workers a fair living wage by 2018.
The North Face is also investigating the potential of supply chain sustainability and has launched a cotton hoodie that is designed, sourced and produced in California. In fact, apart from the yarn being spun in the Carolinas, the complete garment supply chain is contained to within 150 miles of the brand’s headquarters. The hoodie leads the North Face’s ‘Made in our backyard’ project, which promotes the use of local suppliers and industry.
Fast fashion isn’t leaving
Despite these impressive developments, slow fashion is still a distant second to fast fashion in the global garment industry. Triple Pundit reported that fast fashion brands Forever 21, H&M, Uniqlo and Zara generated total global sales of $48 billion (£31.5 billion) in 2013, and financial services firm Cowen Group expects fast fashion sales to enjoy an 11% increase year-over-year until 2020.
“I think the consumer ultimately wants more ethical products, but they’re not willing to sacrifice what they’re used to and what they like,” Jason Keehn, CEO and founder of fair trade online retailer Accompany, tells Forbes. “The consumer will grab the ethical item as long as it’s not a trade-off.”
To benefit from the demand for ethical clothing, fashion retailers need to make supply chain sustainability a top priority. Segura’s supply chain technology provides manufacturers and retailers with the ability to secure supply chain processes within a framework of pre-approved suppliers. This means that brands are able to enforce ethical standards across any product range.
Originally Published 08/07/2015