Consumers lack understanding of the environmental issues associated with fast fashion and are also “refused or unable to change their buying habits”, new research shows.
The research, led by University of South Australia PhD candidate Erin Skinner, examined Australian attitudes and understanding of fast and sustainable fashion. It also found Australians favor more sustainable fashion choices.
Fast fashion refers to clothing that is produced quickly at high volumes and sold to consumers at low prices. While these brands are popular with shoppers because of their affordability and variety, the industry is facing increased scrutiny and criticism for their impact on the environment.
“Many of the participants in my first study had never heard of the term ‘fast fashion,’ and couldn’t really explain what it meant,” says Skinner.
“The fashion industry is responsible for up to 10 percent of global carbon emissions; it’s huge. The impact is much bigger than people think.”
“Ultimately, we need a change in consumer knowledge and attitudes … by clarifying what the average Australian knows or thinks about sustainable fashion, we will be able to design appropriate solutions and policy changes to better support ‘slow’ fashion .”
When it comes to consumer behavior, research finds the main reason shoppers choose fast fashion is the price, with many sustainable brands being more expensive than their mass-produced counterparts.
“The biggest hurdle (we) ran into was this cost issue… I think when consumers hear the term ‘sustainable fashion’, their mind immediately goes to expensive expensive labels,” said Skinner.
“Because of COVID, many people have worked reduced hours or lost their jobs altogether, leaving them with no funds to make other choices or even buy clothes at all.”
The research coincided with fast fashion giant Shein holding its first pop-up in Melbourne from May 13 to 15, which garnered attention from critics and enthusiasm from fast fashion fans.
According to Reuters, Shein generated $22.8 billion in revenue in 2021. Shein has more global app downloads than Amazon, has surpassed brands like H&M and Zara, and claims to launch thousands of new clothing items every day.
Slow fashion advocate and content creator Catherine Jia says she believes many fast fashion shoppers are feeling pressure to follow trends promoted by brands like Shein on social media.
“A lot of people are really not consumer conscious,” he said.
“Fast fashion is often about a luxurious lifestyle and instant gratification, and there’s a lot of pressure from the media, from influencers, from brands that are constantly trending and making us feel like we need to look a certain way.”
When it comes to understanding environmental aspects, Ms Jia said while some people are unaware of the issue, others simply choose to ignore it.
“I don’t think it’s just up to us as consumers … I think there needs to be tougher laws for brands to be held accountable,” he said.
“I don’t really want to just blame the consumer. I also want to blame the brand and the government.
“I think this is a collective change that everyone needs to be a part of.”
Advocates say legislation is needed to improve environmental practices in the fashion industry. Source: AP
Sustainable fashion educator and environmental stylist Nina Gbor also supports legislation to practice fashion, and told SBS News that there needs to be a change in Australia’s attitude around shopping.
The truth is it is much more difficult [for sustainable brands]especially when they don’t have the same capital as these other big brand companies,” he said.
“We consumers need to support these brands, and also push for legislation around sustainability … that’s the missing piece of the puzzle.”
“We need to push for laws and policies that make brands responsible for emissions or toxic chemicals or whatever they do that harms the environment, and make transparency absolutely mandatory.”
The fast fashion industry is a major contributor to climate change due to water consumption and pollution caused by supply chain operations, along with the large amount of synthetic textiles ending up in landfills.
According to Australia is the second highest consumer of textiles per person in the world, with the average Australian consuming an average of 27kg of new clothing per year and throwing an average of 23kg of clothing into landfills each year.