For the second to last day of our tour if Italy, we returned to Cattolica Universtiy in Milan for a lecture about sustainability in the world of fashion. This lecture, taught by professor Francesca Ronaldinho, was a crash course in various aspects in which the fashion industry has interacted with the concept of sustainability. One aspect that I found particularly interesting was the fashion industry’s transition to offering “fast fashion” and its corresponding effect on the environmental impact that this industry has.
For many years, what retailers of the fashion industry stocked in their stores revolved around what season it was in their region. Trends would generally last for a whole season at this time, so stores would buy decently sized stocks of clothing at a time. Much of this has changed in recent years however. The lifespans of trends are becoming much shorter than the seasons they are contained in, and retailers have reacted accordingly. Instead of buying large batches of clothing, fast fashion companies such as Zara and H&M have started to purchase small batches of clothes for their stores, assuming that they will go out of style sooner rather than later. The goal of these companies is to sell out of all of these styles before the season is out, keeping the number of excess, out of style products in their stores as low as possible. After the trend is out, these stores will rotate their stock, bringing in the next style that is on trend at that time. One effect of the fast fashion construct is that it encourages shoppers to visit stores much more often than they used to. In an effort to stay on trend, avid shoppers will now visit a store weekly instead of the monthly trip they may have taken in the past. Turns out, this method of buying small batches has had other effects that were less than expected. These companies carrying a very limited number of the same clothes has created what is called a scarcity effect with their customers. Shoppers at these fast fashion stores have become much more apt to buy something out of the fear that it might be gone from the shelves should they decide to wait and visit the store at a later date. This in effect drives up and maintains the demand for such clothes, helping the cycle of fast fashion to move forward profitably. This operation can be seen as mutually beneficial for both consumers and producers in the fashion industry. The producers of fast fashion are able to run their company economically, eliminating the problems that excess products present, while consumers are able to stay trendy through relatively inexpensive clothes. Unfortunately, the earth has been the worse for wear because of this cycle.
Let it be said that the fashion industry was not particularly beneficial to the environment in the first place, actually coming in second for the most polluting industry, behind oil. However, the rise of fast fashion has seemed to exacerbate the problems that the fashion industry has. Many retailers are not using economically friendly materials in their clothing, as well as utilizing chemicals that may be harmful to their workers. Adding insult to injury, the small batches of clothing that retailers now buy has necessitated much more frequent shipping from warehouses to stores in an effort to keep up with retailers’ constantly rotating stock. With a need for a change, the UN has actually stepped in, mandating an improvement in sustainability by 2030. I sincerely hope that the fashion industry can reform itself in that span of time.
I found these topics interesting because I believe that the rise of fast fashion and its environmental detriments work to reveal some of the less than spectacular qualities of our society today. In many cases, the price of the good that a person purchases is the aspect of the good that is emphasized the most, with quality coming second and other aspects of the product sometimes being left by the wayside. I think that these sort of problems really demonstrate that we have to reevaluate our priorities for when we are purchasing or producing goods, as this lecture really opened my eyes to how much of an effect just clothing can have on the environment.