Fashion Week in over in New York, and it’s clear there’s a big trend afoot: sustainability. Designers showcased collections made with recycled fishing nets, models walked the runway with reusable water bottles, and one show was inspired by rising seas.
A first-ever report also delved into how much the industry emits each year for travel tied to the various global Fashion Week events. New York Fashion Week alone was responsible for 37 percent of the 241,000 tons of carbon emitted annually. But for all the focus on Fashion Week itself, the events are not the problem, the entire industry is. It will have to to do more to clean up its act than putting on a few eco-conscious shows and buying some carbon offsets here and there.
Fashion weeks take place twice a year in major cities around the world. They were designed to give fashion editors and buyers the opportunity to preview designers’ collections to-be-released six months later, giving magazines and shops enough time to curate their collections. That’s why fall/winter looks are shown in September, and spring/summer looks shown in February.
But as the industry has changed, that setup has begun to feel kind of archaic. And new trends in fashion have accelerated its carbon problem. Production has sped way, way up, and fast fashion brands can churn out new collections in just two weeks. Increasingly, high fashion designers have been expected to follow that model, or risk getting their clothes ripped off by quick-turnaround brands who copy images from their collections shown at Fashion Week events. The quickening pace has totally changed the fashion schedule—now, instead of just fall/winter and spring/summer collections, brands are creating “micro-season” collections for “pre-fall” and “mid-winter.” Some brands cycle through 52 micro-seasons every year.
The increased churn means more clothes are being made globally. Clothing production has roughly doubled since 2000. The fashion industry now produces 150 billion items a year—that’s 20 items per every person on Earth—and our appetites for new trends have changed accordingly. The average consumer today purchases 60 percent more clothing than 20 years ago. As I’m sure you can imagine, this all puts a lot of strain on workers who are expected to produce more clothing more quickly. And it also puts a lot of strain on the planet.
According to the United Nations, the clothing industry is responsible for some 10 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. Producing clothes also pollutes rivers and streams normally used for drinking water or agriculture.
Increased production also means increased waste. Since 2002, the average number of times a garment is worn before it’s discarded has dropped by more than a third, and most of that clothing waste ends up in greenhouse gas-producing landfills and incinerators. Worldwide, the equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is burned or dumped in a landfill every second.
That makes Fashion Week a veritable drop in the bucket of an industry of waste. It’s ostentatious, to be sure, but abolishing Fashion Week or offsetting emissions tied to it won’t make the industry even remotely sustainable.
It’s dope that fashion designers are taking steps to combat these environmental problems by raising awareness, recycling, and renting. But frankly, the best thing the industry can do is to produce fewer things. Maybe that means less profit for the industry and less choice for us. And don’t get me wrong, I like clothes! But given the choice between a bunch of beautiful clothes and a livable planet, I’d choose the latter every time.