Can All Fashion Companies Be as Sustainable as Patagonia?

Today we visited the Catholic University to hear a lecture from an experienced fashion professor on the subject of sustainability. She touched on many topics such as luxury goods, fast fashion, and some issues that face the industry. I always feel as if I already know a lot about fashion, but then I just end up learning more and more things that surprise me, especially on this trip. For example, we learned that the fashion industry is the second most polluting business, the first being oil. I had known it was not the best for the environment, but I had no idea it was making that large of an impact. I also learned many other things from the presentation.

First, I thought the above fact in regards to the fashion industry being the second most responsible for pollution was very interesting, because I had no idea the caliber to which it was harming the environment. I believe many people do not know this, because it is not highly publicized in the news. Quite often, you hear about the dangers associated with oil drilling, transportation, and practices such as fracking, but similar issues associated with the fashion industry are never discussed. Instead, you would see a commercial of a girl wearing a new outfit running through a field of flowers advertising for H&M. If the world expects to make a change about the fashion industry’s harm on our planet, it needs to be discussed more, at least on the news. One company that addresses sustainability in their business is Patagonia, a company that makes quality outdoors wear. They use a technique called the circular economy approach, in which they try to use waste to make new products or improve older ones. They also try to make their products as durable as possible so people are not buying more than what they need. Some companies in the fashion industry are also trying to address helping our planet, but to no avail. Sadly, there are companies that are guilty of “greenwashing,” a practice in which you boast sustainability practices but actually participate in barely any. This is upsetting, because they are basically lying to their customers. Another thing that I found interesting was simply learning more facts about the fast fashion industry. We learned that it has revolutionized the fashion world; before stores such as Zara, H&M, and Forever 21, all traditional models of fashion worked two years ahead of seasonal schedule. Now, stores like Zara get shipments into their store twice a week. This is a completely different business model; instead of large orders of collections for an entire season, fast fashion stores send small, frequent shipments to their locations. They send the small batches because, since the designs are so last minute, they need to manage the risk associated with their selling. What if no one likes the designs? With a small shipment, it is not much of a big deal. The scarce supply caused by these also creates the scarcity affect; if someone is shopping and they see something they like, they know it might not be there the next time they shop in a fast fashion store, so they are more inclined to buy it. This especially interested me because I shop at these stores often and I love to know what goes on behind the scenes. Of course, fast fashion causes its own issues for the environment. Its fast production schedule encourages the use of sweatshops and under compensated labor, and their frequent shipments most likely cause excess pollution. This is something that mostly H&M has paid public attention to.

In addition, this is a good opportunity to discuss some cultural differences I have faced on this trip. When interacting with the citizens of the country, I find it interesting when they automatically start speaking English to me; how did they know I was American? I have been thinking nearly this entire trip what gives it away just by looking at me where I am from. I think it might be how I am dressed usually, since Italians definitely have a unique sense of style. Some cultural differences I have noticed when interacting with Italians have mostly been at restaurants. Since I go out to eat often at home with my parents, I am used to the rushed style of American eating. As soon as you are done with your meal, the waiter brings the check. My dad hates this. Anyway, here, me and some friends have found ourselves sitting at the table for awhile wondering where our check was before realizing we actually had to ask for it. Also, overall people have been very kind and accommodating toward me as a foreigner. They all have spoken their best English and have done their best to be clear in their words. When going to the Catholic University, however, I definitely felt some strange judgement among the students. I am not sure if they just did not like Americans or were simply acknowledging that we were different, but the ones we passed in the cafeteria and in the library definitely gave some strange looks and a few laughs. However, I believe the basic value system in Italy is to be kind and friendly to everyone who does not give you a reason not to be, and who at least makes an effort on their end. I could tell that many Italians appreciated my attempt at their language, and they were very kind to me. I think in America, we try to see if we can trust people before we are outwardly nice to them, but here the trust is automatically granted in regards to just being friendly. It is a great system. Also, some major differences in living situations is most likely that people usually live with their parents until they are 30; in the US, that might be considered strange. Also, economically, most Italians take awhile to finish college compared to us because they are expected to work simultaneously. It may be harder here to take out loans or get financial aid. Politically, I do not know much, but I do know that Italy is split practically north and south on political views, and our country is split on our beliefs as well. This is an interesting similarity. Given all of this, I think someone I would meet on the streets of Italy may think of me as an American as someone who is less fashionable, rushed, and maybe less cultured compared to Italians, but I also believe they respect us. Many of the students I talked to at the Catholic University had either been to the US or wanted to go, and I appreciated their respect for and interest in our culture.

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