“Fast–fashion”—apparel’s equivalent to fast food—has become a worldwide problem. Consumers are purchasing new, low-quality, cheap, clothing at an alarming rate with little regard for the environmental consequences. Because much of this clothing is considered “disposable”, it is often simply thrown away and winds up in landfills. In addition, the production process has significant environmental consequences as it consumes vast amounts of water and energy.
The problem did not happen overnight, and it will not be fixed overnight, but some leading fashion brands such as Gap, H&M, Under Armour, Patagonia, and Levi Strauss & Co. have taken steps to boost sustainability and encourage customers to embrace a more thoughtful, responsible mentality in fashion consumption. H&M, for example, has outlined a goal to use 100% recycled or sustainably sourced material by the year 2030. Currently, their usage of sustainably sourced material is 35%. The Gap is working on ways to source all of its cotton from sustainable suppliers by 2021. Under Armour makes some of its apparel from Repreve, a fiber made from recycled plastic bottles. And shoppers are patronizing more second hand and thrift stores—both for the cost savings, and the environmental consideration. Clothing Swaps are becoming more common; women exchange clothing both to find deals and reduce waste. But these are small steps toward addressing a major issue.
The problem was created over time by several concurrent forces. First, many companies moved their manufacturing operations to low-wage countries in the 1990s, which enabled them to make and sell clothing more cheaply and often avoid stringent environmental regulations. Secondly, the rise of social media created a perceived need among some consumers—particularly young women-- to acquire the latest fashion and post pictures wearing it. There was also the pressure to “not repeat” an outfit on social media platforms, so consumption increased. Clothing production doubled from 2000 to 2014, and people are keeping their clothes for about half the time that they did in the past. The result: massive amounts of textiles being thrown away.
As manufacturers become more responsible about sourcing and production, and consumers recognize the need to reuse and recycle, there is a strong business opportunity for companies to capitalize on this trend by setting up a clothing collection operation.