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The Challenges to Sustainable Fashion

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Fashion is good business. The global industry generated $1.2 billion in revenues in 2013. In addition to the industry’s economic weight, it also has the potential to positively impact the environment and society. The industry also contributes a lot of benefits to the lives of people all over the world. But fashion too has an unfavorable side to it typified by factory workers’ exploitation, spawning a fashion bulimia, encouraging wasteful and unsustainable consumption, and depleting natural resources.

In less than 10 years from now population is expected to increase by another billion people. This increase in population coupled with climate change will have considerable aftereffects on the demands of customers on the fashion industry, labor availability, agriculture and global land use and more. There will be an increase in demand for food and other natural resources such as water and power. Prices are also likely to rise and control of resources will become a crucial political concern.

The birth, goal and challenges of sustainable fashion
All these concerns gave rise to a new fashion philosophy called sustainable fashion. Its aim is to create a new order that can be indefinitely supported by social responsibility and protection of the environment. A sustainable fashion industry is designed to help industry practitioners to become involved in safeguarding their future, improve the lives of the workers & suppliers in the supply chain including customers, and protect the environment.

The goal of sustainable fashion is unequivocal and clear. However, the road to the attainment of this goal is paved with challenges that need to be surmounted. It is a very idealistic and complex effort, but the realization of this ideal will require confronting the following challenges, some of which were identified in a feature story on “the guardian.”

Low level of awareness

It is to the movement’s advantage that top models and other fashion personalities have championed the eco-fashion philosophy. It has focused media attention to sustainable fashion that in turn raises customer awareness and also encouraged working together towards sustainability.
However, in the minds of many garment buyers, there seems to have no connection between the clothes that they buy and its origin and how it came to be. And a gap between behavior and intention exists. The desire to do the right thing is completely forgotten once they are inside a shop.

To be able to build a mainstream market for sustainable fashion, there should be a massive and sustained awareness campaign. The question however, is who should finance the campaign, non-government organizations, the government or the industry?

Social pressure and status driven consumption
Consumers, especially the younger generation, are subjected to fierce social pressure to buy more and more clothes. To these young consumers it’s a social sin to be seen wearing an outfit they’ve already been seen in. Changing such a mind-set and convincing consumers to buy less and encouraging them to buy sustainably is one big challenge to the movement.
Sourcing materials

The environmental concern in the choice of materials is an integral factor of sustainable fashion. The supply of sustainable fabrics in the market is however, very much less than the standard choices.

The ultimate challenge to sustainable fashion is to achieve long-term and more profound change. Rather than reject and negate fashion changes, it will be more productive to take practical advantage from design principles that consider sustainability.