1.1 Consumption and Use
The fashion industry has a lot of impacts on the global environment, and pollution is one of the impacts. But “the demand to minimize the environmental pollution is not only from fashion firms but also consumers” (Shen, B.et a.,l 2012, pp.6237). A common idea in the fashion industry is “that once the product has moved into the hands of the consumer, it is no longer the responsibility of the designer and/or company” (Gwilt & Rissanen, 2011, pp.101).
However, the recent use of LCA to find the environmental impacts of apparel has shown that the consumption phase of the garments not only has one of the largest negative environmental impacts but is severely underestimated – this phase is associated with the cleaning and maintenance of apparel (Fletcher, 2008, pp.95). “A LCA is the assessment of the environmental impact of a given product throughout its lifespan. The goal of LCA is to compare the environmental performance of products in order to be able to choose the least burdensome. “(ISO standards for life cycle assessment to promote sustainable development)
While products like energy/water efficient washers and dryers and changes in textiles and fabrics may reduce some of these impacts, technological innovation alone will not solve the problem (Gwilt & Rissanen, 2011, pp.105). Since some of the largest impacts in the LCA of clothes are during the consumer use phase (Fletcher, 2008, pp.24), the consumption phase actually also affects the environment greatly and customers should take the responsibility for the ethical consumption.
One of the most important factors in the environmental impact during the use phase is the garment’s lifetime. “Currently, garments are far cheaper compared to household incomes than a few decades ago” (Niinimäki, 2011, pp.1876). Due to these low prices and households’ high incomes, the consumption of extremely cheap and disposable fashion with a very short lifespan has increased (Jackson and Shaw, 2009, pp.66). Textile and clothing prices have fallen, and currently, the consumer possesses more and more impulse-buy cheap garments and low-quality textiles (Niinimäki, 2011, pp.1877). Low-quality and cheap garments are not wearable and discarded shortly after use. Therefore, extending the lifespan of garments is one of the problems that need to be solved in sustainability.
To slow down consumption, it is important to invest in high quality and durability as well as in aesthetically aging materials, high design, and lasting style. Regarding this, one challenge is how to design products that encourage consumers to adopt a more environmentally responsible attitude.
Consumers play a vital role in the effect of environmental change. But sometimes they are led unconsciously by the marketing of different fashion companies to conduct unnecessary consumption. They don’t realize the unnecessary goods, including apparels, are part of the burden to life and the whole supply chain creates an impact on the environment and consumers are a key factor.
To decrease the speed of fast fashion, more durable garments should be sold to stand the test of quality. At the same time, the easily forgotten design of garments will not help slow down the changing speed. “One challenge in the current system is how to design products added with services that encourage consumers to adopt a more environmentally responsible behaviour” (Niinimäki, 2015, pp.8). Another way of promoting sustainable consumption may be green marketing. Consumers’ environmental attitudes directly influence their eco-fashion consumption” (Chan, T.Y et al 2012 pp206). They understand that if the supply chain is more sustainable, more natural resources are used and fewer CO2 are emitted, in return, retail prices might be also increased (De Brito, M.P.et al., 2008, pp. 534-553?. Previous studies reveal that fashion consumers are interested in purchasing sustainable fashion products and also willing to pay a higher price as long as the quality of eco-product is satisfied (Ellis, J.L. et al., 2012, pp.290-305).
Green retailing is the link between green products and marketing, which helps to promote the sustainable manufacturing goes far and educate the consumers to be more aware of the sustainability of consumption. It is important to pay attention to clustering user experience and rethinking value creation (Niinimäki, K.; Hassi, L., 2011, pp.1878-1883). The innovation of sustainable fashion product should be targeted to ethical consumer markets.
In recent years, consumers have an increasing awareness of sustainability. Companies realize the importance of sustainability and know they can target some customers with the awareness. If they operate marketing strategies it may attract some loyal customers and increase the sales of products. A great deal of existing literature has shown that consumers are willing to purchase eco-fashion products if green marketing is successful. In addition, in green retailing, ethical practices, such as offering recycling service and recyclable product in stores, can enhance fashion consumer awareness of sustainability (Sharma, A.et al., 2010, pp.330-341). However, the education for the consumers are still not available everywhere and most people keen on fast fashion don’t realize the importance of the sustainable consumption. It’s not a single job that can be done by one company or media. When western consumers have environmental awareness, the consumers in emerging market may still lag far behind. But at the same time, they’re one of the largest growing market of the textile industry in the world.
As we have mentioned, with a shorter lifespan of textile than before, the unwanted clothes will not stay in the closet forever. Where have all the unwanted clothes gone? Some people donate them so that it can be reused, some throw them and some just burn them. However, we do have other ways to recycle them.
So far textile recycling has been more and more popular due to several reasons.
Economic reasons: “Recycling programs cost fewer than waste disposal programs; The high water, energy, manufacture consume makes it much cheaper to recycle than to produce some new textile products; Recycling can be financially rewarding, people can receive money for turning in certain recyclable products” (S. Cuc, M. Vidovic, 2011, pp.108).
Social reasons: Recycling creates jobs. The study also documented the “indirect” impact of recycling on support industries, such as accounting firms and office supply companies. Recycling builds community and makes more people gather together to work for it?S. Cuc, M. Vidovic, 2011, pp.109).
Environmental reasons: Many countries and regions are already facing water scarcity today due to the excessive use of water for agricultural and industrial purposes; The extraction of water by humans has doubled since 1960 (WWF, 2008); Saves energy and produces less greenhouse gases; Prevents the destruction of natural habitats; From a sustainability perspective, a reduction in the total amount of land used for textile production is another positive save for environment. (Cuc, M. Vidovic, 2011, pp.109)
Recycling is the method of reusing or reprocessing used products to new products. In terms of textile recycling, we must realize that there are different categories of textile, of which some are biodegradable while others are not. Biodegradable materials mainly consist of vegetal fibres (cotton, flax, hemp, jute, ramie, kenaf, flax, abaca), animal fibres (wool, catgut, sinew, silk, cashmere, mohair, angora), mineral fibres, wood fibre, man-made fibre (lyocell, rayon, modal) and non-biodegradable (typically composed of polypropylene, polyethylene, nylon or other synthetic fibers) (Cuc, M. Vidovic, 2011, pp.109).
There are complicated results of different materials in landfill: synthetic products will decompose, but woollen garments produce methane when decomposing, which contributes to global warming. The composition of material will affect durability and method of recycling, so the producer’s manufacturers like to use a biodegradable and sustainable material to reduce the impact to the environment in the recycling process.
According to the Council for Textile Recycling, textile recycling material can be classified as pre – or post-consumer waste. Pre-consumer waste is arising during the manufacture of a product and post-consumer waste is “any type of garment or household article made from manufactured textiles that the owner no longer needs and decides to discard.” Pre-consumer waste textiles consist of by-product materials from the textile, fiber and cotton industries (Council for Textile Recycling).
Post-consumer textile waste consists of any type of garments or household article, made of some manufactured textile that the owner no longer needs and decides to throw away. These articles are discarded either because they are worn out, damaged, outgrown, or out of style. They are sometimes given to charities or sold second hand, but more typically are disposed of into the trash and end up in municipal landfills.
Some collecting systems have been built to collect material to be recycled from the public users. The main categories of textile collection are through drop-off centres, curb side collection, door to door collections and newest in-store collection. All collected textiles are sorted and graded by experienced workers, who are able to recognize different material types after training. Workers sort and separately collected textiles into good quality clothing and shoes which can be reused or damaged. Also, “fiber reclamation mills sort textiles according to fiber type and color. Colour sorting eliminates the need to re-dye the recycled textiles. There is a trend of moving these facilities from developed countries to developing countries either for charity or sold at a cheaper price” (S. Cuc, M. Vidovic, 2011, pp.110). And the recycle system of garment industry is becoming more and more mature. If most of the garment can be recycled as “cradle to cradle”, then the cycle is can reduce a lot of waste and impact on the environment.
H&M is one of the fast fashion companies that have the awareness of sustainable supply chain. It launched a pioneer in the fast fashion industry, the clothing conscious collection worldwide in 2013 and promotes the sustainable concept in retailing. Consumers can return the old apparel (any brand and any condition) to all H&M stores across 54 countries. In return, consumers can get a 15% discount coupon for their next purchase. By offering rewards, more ethical consumers are encouraged to return the old apparel products. “Green retailing was successfully launched at H&M. In 2013, customers brought in 3047 tons of used clothing, such as new jeans made of recycled fibers” (Conscious Action Sustainability Report, 2013).
For now, the recycling project seems successful. But whether the recycle process also creates more waste of energy due to the transportation? What about the clothes that never been used then go directly into recycling? Can fast fashion stop all these tricks or it encourages consumers to buy more? Or is it better that H&M just improves its products’ quality to make the lifespan of textile longer?
It’s not easy to answer because companies have to choose between profit and responsibility. Customers’ benefit is one thing that they cannot ignore. If they fail to be faster to catch up with the trend, they may be out of date soon and stockholders will not be satisfied. If their clothes are more durable than current ones, will customers just stop buying more clothes and they face a severe financial problem.
There’s always a struggle to keep a balance.