Fashion is the world’s second-largest environmental polluter after the oil, gas & energy industry. The multi-channel layers of fashion-related pollution & subsequent social & ecological implications for sustainability has 3 dimensions.
Beginning of Cycle – Ecological costs of monoculture, water usage, energy, fertilizer, land clearing and habitat loss on the environment. The human cost: are the garments contributing to increasing the 40.1 million people engaged in garment related human slavery (from farming to sale)? Are the conditional ethical and traceable?
During – What direct ecological impacts have the activities had on the environment long term? How are Chemical pollutants in the environment from garment manufacturing such as dyes, microplastics, petroleum & energy usage and toxic fumes affecting the organisms that rely on those ecosystems? How is this negatively affecting humans in vulnerable locations where pollutants are high?
End of Cycle – Where does the waste go after it is used? Are these garments high quality enough to be re-usable or after a few washes will they contribute to global waste? Excess products are being re-distributed in society or destroyed (contributing to increased carbon footprints).
I think the grey area of fashion, consciousness & sustainability arises when performative & genuine attempts at sustainability in fashion are confused to be the same without taking into account the 3 dimensions of sustainable fashion.
Performative sustainability also known as ‘Greenwashing’ arises when instead of making tangible change e.g. making supply chains & products sustainable, ethical, and recyclable and beneficial to underprivileged communities, businesses instead engage in performative actions that appear to engage and appear to action sustainable dialogue. However, these ‘performances’ do not lead to direct tangible change or change within the business structure to align with the commitments proposed. Performative sustainability is most often used by brands when public outcry happens and investors demand a response, although it also occurs when consumers are exploited under the belief, they are supporting a socially & sustainably responsible cause. As social & environmental sustainability is currently not policed and is voluntarily incorporated, performative sustainability ensures maximum PR coverage whilst undertaking the minimum possible response or attempts for genuine tangible sustainability.
Without name dropping, an example of Performative sustainability comes from an eyewear brand in Australia. Whom last year was under review for claiming to provide a pair of glasses to underprivileged individuals for each pair sold. This became an integral part of the brands marketing strategy and consumers began to prefer the brand for its ethical & sustainable commitments. However, a consumer watchdog found that over 5 years the company sold 320,000 glasses under the social responsibility premise, however only provided 3,000 glasses to the underprivileged in the same period. The courts concluded the misleading claims had ‘exploited consumers’ desire to support social responsibility, sustainable development & charitable causes.
Unfortunately, this is not the only example, there have been dozens of luxury fashion brands who made commitments in 2018 to ethical & sustainable practices and have not delivered in the years since, continuing to use endangered Chinchilla & Lynx furs as well as continuing supply chain & environmental atrocities.
Despite the lack of speed toward change, it would be naïve to discount the extraordinary change happening. Large conglomerates, business structures and countries worldwide have taken a long hard look at their environmental impact and unsustainable practices and made commitments toward sustainable development & practices. Due to the large size of many of these organisations with rigid internal systems, change is delayed whilst they change from the inside out and find ways to solve the puzzle of maintaining quality, keeping costs low whilst being sustainable. I do believe eventually most businesses will change to meet the conscious minded consumer’s demands. Those that do not will be naturally selected out of the equation.
Furthermore, for every brand that is performing sustainability, there is one who is genuinely sustainable with tangible progress both internally and throughout processes, surpassing all others. In a world of ‘woke’ consumers genuine sustainability is obvious & transparent, whilst ‘performances’ are immediately called out. Commitment toward genuine tangible change will divide educated consumers throughout the next decades. The profits of sustainable companies will rise, whilst unsustainable & performative companies will plateau or diminish to exist, as destructive capitalism in consciousness decreases and desire for social & sustainable responsibility increases worldwide.
So, let us collectively become socially, ethically & environmentally conscious & sustainable, on our own accord not because we are forced into it. It is wholistic, great for the planet and for the people that live in it. It fills me with hope that the world is becoming more conscious x