Eco-Friend or Eco-Foe? The Fallacies of Fast-Fashion

Kelthie Truong, Backpage Editor

At first glance, it may seem that the outspoken generation revolutionizing the understanding of sustainability has recently reached a victory in the fashion industry. Zara’s promise of “100% sustainable manufacture” by 2025, the bankruptcy of Forever 21 as one of the largest fast-fashion brands in the world and today’s hottest trends being recycled, organic, and ethical only begin to exemplify the many wins for the environmental movement.

But many claims by big brands lack the depth and foresight that would secure their reliability, making them likely to be as short-lived as the 15 million tons of excess clothing that leading fast-fashion companies throw away yearly, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. 

“Corporations are falling all over themselves to demonstrate that they are environmentally conscious,” Greenpeace, an organization that campaigns for environmental protection, reported to Scientific American, “The average citizen is finding it more and more difficult to tell the difference between those companies genuinely dedicated to making a difference and those that are using a green curtain to conceal dark motives.”

Of course, there could be worse trends to exploit than environmental-consciousness, which undoubtedly spreads awareness and enlightens consumers into being more thoughtful of lifestyle choices. However, it is the faulty execution that spreads misinformation on what it means to do so.

As stated in a university study report titled “Fast Fashion, Sustainability, and the Ethical Appeal of Luxury Brands,” “The difficulty [in the fashion industry] is to see how all the suppliers of the individual components can be ethically secured and accounted for, together with the labor used to manufacture the garment, its transport from factory to retail outlet, and ultimately the garment’s aftercare and disposal.”

Greenwashing involves falsely conveying to consumers that a given product, service, company or institution factors environmental responsibility into its offerings and/or operations

— Scientific American

Merely changing one aspect of the product, like using organic cotton, does not ensure that the company is entirely shifting production towards sustainability. If the product is marketed with the same philosophy as any other fast-fashion good, it encourages the same perspective that clothing is cheap, disposable and meant to be replaced every season.

The word “sustainability” itself begins to lose meaning in such exhaustive use of the blanket term. With the vague claims and lack of transparency regarding the brands’ manufacturing practices, using sustainability as more of a slogan than a pledge to make change becomes a firsthand example of greenwashing.

“Greenwashing involves falsely conveying to consumers that a given product, service, company or institution factors environmental responsibility into its offerings and/or operations,” according to Scientific American.

A truly effective environmental contribution boils down to the consumer: buy less. A “sustainably-made” item still uses energy, resources and labor to bring a new piece of clothing into existence. Consider the necessity of instant gratification through retail therapy and habituate reducing consumption overall. Alternatively, rather than purchasing newly-produced clothing with a future destined to landfill, try secondhand shopping.