The Myth of Sustainable Fast Fashion

By Armoire’s Chief Boss Lady, Ambika Singh

Last week, clothing-industry giant Zara released its plan to only use sustainable fabrics by 2025. The statement comes in an effort to reduce the carbon footprint that has taken off with the fast fashion industry. However, the problem that notorious fast fashion pioneers like Zara have created is bigger than the materials they use— it stems from the overconsumption that the fast-fashion business model drives. Switching to sustainable fabrics is a step in the right direction, but it’s ignoring the real issue at hand.

Fast Fashion and FOMO

Fast fashion goes through 50 “microseasons” a year, while traditional fashion only goes through two (spring/summer and fall/winter). This is why a store’s entire inventory changes within a week— these microseasons are designed to create this unachievable desire to keep up with trends. Consumers are purchasing 60% more per year than we did in 2000, but only keep each item for half as long. We’re constantly buying new clothes, then getting rid of things we’ve only worn a few times because they go out of style a week later. It prompts a cycle of endless consumption — we see new clothes, we feel out of date, and we spend our money, time, and energy trying to stay on trend. Fast fashion’s got consumers hooked. 

Fast fashion has created an incredibly profitable business model. It’s cheap and easy to churn out new, lower quality, clothes every week, and it’s also easy to replace them once consumers have seen these styles. This drives up demand for new products and pushes trends to cycle through faster. By replicating styles from the runway or celebrity culture to the hands of consumers at breakneck speeds, trends move at a pace that only their own production model can keep up with. It’s in the company’s best interest to keep this cycle up, creating a demand that only their model can meet.

It’s Time to Recognize Our Environmental Limits

The core of the problem is this: there’s no real incentive for fast fashion brands to stop.  Overconsumption habits prompted by fast fashion drive up our waste and pollution with no incentive to slow down. As consumers, we’re voting with our dollars, effectively telling these brands their actions are acceptable. If companies don’t care about the devastating effect their process has on the planet, and we as consumers fuel their irresponsibility, there’s no reason for them to change. 

There has to be a better model where we can work within our environmental limits. That’s why, with no fashion industry experience, three years ago, I started Armoire, a clothing rental business.

Clothing Rental Solves the Root of Our Consumption Problem

The core of clothing rental’s impact is disrupting an unsustainable business model. We’re not solving the world’s consumption problems, but we are targeting the root of the problem. Fast fashion assumes infinite resources in a finite world, which isn’t the reality of the situation. 

Instead, clothing rental has two primary aims: cut down on consumption (and thus production), and get the most use out of the garments already produced. The consumer goods rental industry is expected to grow by nearly $12 billion by 2022, and for good reason. As consumers, we’re cognizant of the insanely detrimental impact the consumer economy has on our planet, and are trying to do better. Renting allows us to reduce this impact, not only by decreasing the need for production of these goods, but by not wasting money on single-use and discarded items. Our wants and needs fluctuate, so renting gives us flexibility. We can try something once without commitment, or meet our immediate demands without permanent impact. 

The rise of the sharing economy has done wonders to destigmatize renting. It’s become the norm to use someone else’s car by jumping in an Uber, or to stay at someone else’s house using Airbnb. If we can accept this with cars and homes, why not with other aspects of our lives? If we can use less on an individual level, less needs to be produced. Clothing rental provides a practical option and a more sustainable business model for both consumers and the planet.

As Consumers, We Need to Change Our Habits

When we shop, our most important criteria are usually price and style. Environmental impact should be just as important. A key component to changing our habits is redefining what new means. There’s a thrill that comes from buying new, but what if we changed that to new to you

You can find this newness without environmental damage. Try thrifting, repurposing, stealing from your sister, or renting! Consuming is exciting because it’s a new experience for you, not because it’s fresh off the production line. Our rental model gives the same rush — an unlimited closet and the ability to try new trends without commitment or the negative cost to the planet. Even if demand for new is high, one garment can meet the demands of many people. 

The idea of sharing clothes just makes sense. We share cars, homes, and the finite amount of natural resources around us. Sharing items in order to optimize their use benefits everyone. If we can’t change our habits to align with environmental needs, everyone loses. Changing components of fast fashion won’t solve the problem— changing the model itself will. 

If we can’t change our habits to align with environmental needs, everyone loses.

Clothing rental can’t reverse the damage that has already been done, but it does address its root cause – overconsumption.

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