Here’s the truth: It’s going to take every person on the planet (individually and professionally) to commit to protecting our world for future generations. Did you know that the fashion industry creates 10% of global carbon dioxide emission and 20% waste water? To make things worse, luxury fashion brands are known to burn unsold inventory so maintain their exclusivity so it doesn’t end up in the hands of discounters. The US has the largest apparel market of any country in the world and 13% of US clothing purchases occur online. These online purchases are then packaged and shipped to the consumer. This is a major environmental crisis!

Fashion is a very complex industry, it encourages consumers to continue to buy its products each season in a vicious purchasing cycle. We must continue to develop new ways to make the fashion industry less harmful for the planet. Although it requires cooperation among many brands and consumers, the fashion industry can be sustainable. Being mindful of product packaging is a great first step. Brands are concerned with the “experience” of the customer opening their package. They layer boxes, tissue paper, stickers and notes to make sure the consumer has a positive first interaction with the brand. But it doesn’t have to be that wasteful. According to a 2022 Global Buying Green Report, 88% of consumers between the ages of 18-44 want to buy products that use environmentally friendly packaging. There are several great eco-friendly packaging materials: recycled, compostable, corrugated, cornstarch, mushroom, seaweed and green cell foam. Although upfront costs might be slightly higher, their five-year return on investment is less than using traditional packaging because they can be reused. The customer will associate your brand with environmentally friendly business practices which creates brand loyalty. It’s a win-win for everyone!

In the last ten years, companies all over the globe have figured out ways to have a sustainable yet profitable fashion brand. The key to success is to promote clear marketing messages to consumers from the start. Consumers say they want sustainability but their actions don’t always prove it. Brands need to clearly tell them how their purchasing habits protect the planet without “greenwashing” the message. There is a balance between price and sustainability. Sustainable fashion has to be both economical and fashion forward at the same time.

As a future fashion designer, I need to be a part of the solution. Good On You, an online social impact business, recommends fashion brands and consumers follow the 5 R’s of Fashion: Reduce, Rewear, Recycle, Repair, and Resell. This should be a blueprint for fashion brands everywhere. The design process should begin with using upcycled textiles to create clothing. By creating a quality product that will last for many years, the brand will become known for construction integrity. Brands and retail outlets should offer a trade in option so that customers may trade in items from previous season’s clothing lines and receive a discount on a new item. Old items can be repurposed into new clothes and fabric packaging. Fashion brands can use recycled fabric to create wraps and tote bags. These could be used to wrap their product and then shipped in eco-friendly packaging. Then the consumer can use the tote or wrap as an accessory. This creates a trusted bond between eco-conscience consumers and the fashion brand which in turn, creates bottom line profits. Fashion and the environment do not need to be mutually exclusive; they can coexist in a respectful, meaningful way.

Essay by: Ella Piret/b>
Steamboat Springs High School

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