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I’m so sick of half-arsed ‘sustainable’ fashion lines

PHOTOGRAPHY BY AMELIA J DOWD

WORDS BY MAGGIE ZHOU

When will fast fashion brands stop pretending to be sustainable?

If I see one more fast fashion ‘sustainable’ campaign shot on film in some leafy, beachy location, I will scream. If I see any more vague wording around being ‘green’ and ‘eco-friendly’, I will lose it.

I’m over all these fast fashion empires who get away with profiting off the sustainability movement. There’s Glassons’ new pledge Made with Care that focuses on sourcing materials but doesn’t consider workers’ rights or changes to production.

H&M’s Conscious Collection ironically boasts 290 product offerings (which doesn’t seem very conscious or curated), while Boohoo’s recycled range For the Future insultingly mirrors the name of Greta Thunberg’s Fridays For Future climate strike movement.

Like me, Jasmine Mayhead, the founder of sustainable fashion platform Ethical Made Easy, despises these disingenuous attempts at sustainability.

“Fast fashion, in my opinion, can never be sustainable as [its] entire business model is built on endless growth and exploitation of resources. They’re focused on producing as much as they can, as fast as they can,” she says.

Without a dramatic overhaul of these brands’ business practices, the greenwashing tactics they employ are the equivalent of slapping a Band-Aid on a terminally ill patient.

I keep seeing this happening time and time again, and I’m tired of feeling so frustrated. The pursuit of profit over the livelihoods of garment workers is, at best, selfish and at worst, actively racist.

By preying on a consumer’s desire to be eco-friendly and more sustainable, these brands are co-opting the climate crisis for their own monetary gain. Gen Z is continually pegged as the ‘activist generation’ with climate change being cited as the most pressing issue facing young people globally. Exploiting this fear is nothing short of callous selfishness.

Consumers are expecting brands to reflect the changing values of society and to do better. We are expected to research and contact brands for information regarding their ethics and sustainability, but the onus shouldn’t fall on us.

Jasmine mentions that platforms like Ethical Made Easy and Good On You have been created to relieve some of the responsibility of consumers. “We spend hours upon hours emailing brands, interviewing the founders and learning more about where they are doing well, and also what they’re working towards achieving,” she explains.

And if you can’t see a brand listed in ethical directories like these, common sense should be employed. “Go with your gut,” Jasmine recommends. “If you feel like it’s a load of greenwashing, then you’re probably right. Look at the price tag and question whether someone could have possibly been treated fairly for that price (even when factoring in economies of scale).”

“At the end of the day, fast fashion is fast fashion,” she says. “You can’t make thousands of lines of the same purple hoodie and call yourself sustainable – it’s a total contradiction.”

There’s a part of me that almost prefers fast fashion conglomerates like Shein and Zaful that don’t try to bullshit their way through sustainability. These global eCommerce faster fashion nightmares fling pieces for a couple of dollars; there’s no confusing how unethical their practices are.

If you compare them to Instagram-savvy Australian brands like Showpo, Princess Polly and Beginning Boutique, there’s not much difference apart from smart marketing and good photography.

I ask Jasmine whether she thinks there is a big difference between these tiers of fast fashion.

“It’s incredibly difficult to answer questions like this when fast fashion brands make their supply chains so opaque. However, we have spoken at length about brands like Shein and the likelihood of slave labour existing in their supply chain,” she says.

It’s frightening to see so many people fall victim (or just remain apathetic) to Shein’s faster fashion antics. With Shein boasting over 16 million Instagram followers and covering over 220 countries, we can’t ignore its influence.

In a year marked by the surging climate crisis, a global pandemic and a renewed fight against systemic racism, there’s no space for tokenistic gestures of goodwill. Just like the Instagram black square we saw earlier this year in place of real anti-racism activism, the sustainability space is awash with faux-environmentalism and brands doing the bare minimum.

Unfortunately, fast fashion will continue to exist and thrive, and we’d be kidding ourselves to believe otherwise. But to have fast fashion giants make a mockery out of brands actually championing sustainability is a step too far.

Brands can choose whether to be part of the change or to stay rooted in their archaic ways, but it’s time they stopped trying to dress fast fashion up as anything more than what it is.

“Now is the time to really shake up your business from the inside out,” Jasmine firmly says. “It’s time to question whether perpetual growth on a finite planet is worth it… it’s time to hold yourself, and your business to a higher standard. It’s time to hold yourself accountable.”

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