Fashion employs over two million people ranging from designers to programmers to accountants to project managers, and as a 1.2 trillion dollar enterprise, it has helped to fuel our economy.
In the past 20 years, there have been tremendous changes in the fashion and retail industry. Following the 2008 recession, fast fashion rapidly made its way to the scene. Many company executives used this movement as a quick and cost effective way to mitigate expenses while increasing shareholder revenue. Fast fashion is the popular runway-to-retail phenomenon that is based on an expedited mass production which is then offered at a low price for the consumer. Fashion is always changing, and customers always want the next big thing. On average most clothes are worn about seven times before they become discarded. As a result, over a hundred billion new clothes are produced annually using non-biodegradable materials like polyester and nylon both of which are incredibly energy intensive since they are primarily based on crude oil and other volatile organic compounds.
Recently, however, there has been a trend in fashion companies adopting more sustainable approaches in their business models. In 2013, H&M launched their global People Give Clothes Back program. Through this program, customers can drop off unwanted clothes regardless of the condition. They are then either sold as second hand clothes, remodeled into everyday household products, or completely recycled into textile fibers to then be used for various energy processes such as insulation. CEO Karl-Johan Persson states, “Corporations have a big responsibility to act in a way that helps to drive change, making their business economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.” Zara, the main brand of the Spanish multinational clothing company Inditex, has also recently released a new sustainable collection known as “Join Life” which utilizes resources like organic cotton and recycled wool. Inditex itself has also taken on more sustainable efforts in terms of operating eco-efficient stores by using geothermal energy as well as photovoltaic panels, commonly known as solar panels. As of 2015, approximately 54% of overall stores were labeled as entirely eco-efficient and they strive to reach 100% by 2020. High end designers and brands are too working to implement greater sustainability practices. By 2022, UK-based luxury fashion house, Burberry, expects to source all of its electricity from wholly clean energy.
Fashion is definitely starting to move toward a more eco-friendly and innovative direction. Smart fashion, manufactured through the use of smart textiles, is changing the industry and will continue to do so with the rise of technology. This type of fashion begins at the nanoparticle level where technology is embedded while clothing material still maintains its normal appearance. A couple of years ago, researchers at Cornell University unveiled a solar-powered dress made of cotton fibers which were then coated with semiconductor polymers and nanoparticles. The dress looked like an average pink pastel dress one would find at their local retail store, however, the conductive cotton yarn joined ultrathin flexible solar cells to a USB charger that allowed the dress to power any sort of cellular device. Technology will inevitably play a huge role in any future changes we see. In order to help our planet thrive for the next generations, we must use the resources we have in the most efficient way possible- the smart way.