Fundamental changes to the fashion business model, including an urgent transition away from ‘fast fashion’, are needed to improve the long-term sustainability of the fashion supply chain, according to a global review published in Nature Reviews Earth & Environment.
University of New South Wales (UNSW) Associate Professor Alison Gwilt, one of the review’s co-authors, said the fashion industry is the second largest industrial polluter after aviation, and accounts for up to 10 per cent of global pollution.
“However, the industry continues to grow, despite rising awareness of the environmental impacts, in part owing to the rise of fast fashion, which relies on cheap manufacturing, frequent consumption and short-lived garment use,” she said.
“Fast fashion pieces are viewed by the consumer as disposable garments, since they are cheaper to produce and often made from poor-quality material. Normally they are designed to be on-trend, which means that new products are constantly arriving in store all the time.”
Academics from Finland, Sweden, USA, the UK and UNSW have identified the environmental impacts of the fashion supply chain, from production to consumption, focusing on textile waste, water use, chemical pollution and CO2 emissions.
“While impacts from the production of cotton and polyester continue to create concern, there has been a global response to developing new innovative fibres and fabrics that aim to replace resource-intensive natural fibres and petroleum-based man-made fibres,” the review states.
While most environmental impacts occur in textile-manufacturing and garment-manufacturing countries, the authors write that textile waste is found globally.
“Current fashion-consumption practices result in large amounts of textile waste, most of which is incinerated, landfilled or exported to developing countries,” the review states.
A/Prof. Gwilt said that when a garment is sold on the shop floor, producers often feel that’s the end of their relationship with the product.
“But there is a discussion about whether producers should actually be responsible for the waste that they produce, and how they can they better support the extended life of garments through repair services,” she said.
According to the review, these impacts highlight the need for substantial changes in the industry, including decelerating manufacturing and introducing sustainable practices throughout the supply chain.
“As we look to deceleration in fashion manufacturing it means that brands and retailers need to look at other avenues and opportunities for growth,” A/Prof. Gwilt said.
“Currently there is a real interest in the fashion rental and subscription service. For example, Rent the Runway, the US clothing rental service, has grown exponentially. While repair and remanufacturing services enable consumers to keep their garments for longer.”