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Earth Day and Your Closet: Fashion's Impact on the Environment

Posted by Mary Barbour on April 11, 2017

On April 22nd, people around the world will pause to look at how their behavior impacts the environment. Renewable energy and recycling programs will get some much-needed focus but U.S. consumption habits need to change too.  

U.S. shoppers represent 4.5% of the world’s population but consumes 28% of the world’s apparel according to Scott Leonard, CEO of Indigenous. Thankfully, consumers are rewarding companies like these, whose products, values and policies are aligned with protecting the earth and slowing climate change. The movement is gaining momentum and brands are taking notice.  Technology is providing better insights into trends and designs that reduce returns, markdowns, and waste.  It turns out that sustainability is good for the bottom line.

Fast Fashion

Many brands have found success in recent years with “fast fashion” — fashion made to satisfy our short-term demands for the latest styles at low prices. This trend against traditionally long production lead times is a biproduct of social media and the immediate gratification demanded by a generation that the industry is wideley refering to as IWWIWWIWI or "I want what I want when I want it."  pile of old clothes.jpg“Social media is the laxative of the fashion system,” said Scott Galloway, the founder and chairman of the digital consultancy L2. “It makes everyone digest everything much faster: trends, product discovery.” Fast fashion clothing is not made to last so consumers have to replace their wardrobe more often, contributing to the 80 pounds of textiles per American that annually end up in landfills, more than double the level recorded in previous decades.

Fast Fashion vs. Slow Fashion

Slow fashion is a more traditional and thoughtful way of textile manufacturing but it doesn't solve for increasing consumer demands for personalization and quick-churning trends.  Coincidentally, a countertrend of responsible consumerism is driving rapidly evolving technologies that can shorten supply chains and minimize production waste. Textile Production Process.jpg

Some Leaders in Eco-Friendly Fashion


Everlane has helped encourage a consumer shift away gigantic trend-driven wardrobes. Everlane promotes a pared-down, minimalist approach to fashion. The company offers an essentials-based model of wardrobe staples and takes great lengths to source from ethical factories and materials.


Cuyana promotes the Lean Closet Movement, a philosophy of having fewer, higher quality items in your wardrobe. It also encourages customers to donate unwanted wardrobe items to those in need. The company keeps its prices reasonable by cutting down on advertising costs and suppliers.

Freedom of Animals

Freedom of Animals is a high-end luxury brand that insists on using cruelty-free, eco-friendly materials that imitate real leather. Their handbags and other items look and feel the same as leather but decompose more quickly and don’t harm animals in the manufacturing process.

H&M Conscious Collection

One of the pioneers of fast fashion, H&M is pivoting to put a strong focus on its Conscious Collection, which is a new, exclusive line of eco-friendly items.

"At H&M, we have set ourselves the challenge of ultimately making fashion sustainable and sustainability fashionable."

Karl-Johan Persson, CEO

Earth Day is a chance for everyone to reflect on their individual choices.  Consumers can objectively inform themselves before going to the mall or shopping online.  Industry leaders making up the Sustainable Apparel Coalition have developed the Higg Index, a standardized supply chain measurement tool for all industry participants to understand the environmental, social and labor impacts of making and selling their products and services.  Everyone has a role in protecting the earth and it can't be be left to government regulations to reduce our environmental footprint. By adjusting shopping habits and paying attention to the practives of the brands you support, everyone can make meaningful contributions to protecting the environment.

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Topics: H&M, Retail, sustainability, Ecoconscious, Fast fashion, Higg Index, Earth Day

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