Enough! Disappointments in Reaching our Environmental Goals - Sustainability Problems in Fashion. An editorial photoshoot by AVESSA and Miami Fashion Institute

Updated 12:58 pm EDT, April 23, 2024

Published 08:02 pm EDT, April 22, 2024

Photo Credits

Fashion Designer: Fabiola Alfaro Beirute & Joshua Flynn, Miami Fashion Institute
Model: Torian Wilson, Posche Models International
Fashion Stylist: Dana Yurglich
Hair & Make-up: Kayli Swanson
Photographer: Flávio Iryoda
Special Thanks: Oscar Lopez, Gabriella Smith, Tyler Molinari

Enough! Disappointments in Reaching our Environmental Goals

By Alfonso de Hoyos-Acosta

Dive into the dark side of fashion: sustainability problems and their devastating impact on the environment.

By Alfonso de Hoyos-Acosta

Updated 12:58 pm EDT, April 23, 2024

Published 08:02 pm EDT, April 22, 2024

Photo Credits

Fashion Designer: Fabiola Alfaro Beirute & Joshua Flynn, Miami Fashion Institute
Model: Torian Wilson, Posche Models International
Fashion Stylist: Dana Yurglich
Hair & Make-up: Kayli Swanson
Photographer: Flávio Iryoda
Special Thanks: Oscar Lopez, Gabriella Smith, Tyler Molinari

Centuries of Destruction

Humans have been destroying Earth for centuries. We have thoughtlessly cut down pristine forests since the classical Greeks and Neolithic Chinese walked Earth and founded their cultures. But in the 20th century, we took a breathtaking step forward in polluting Earth and eradicating nature. Between both World Wars, Southeastern Asiatic conflicts, and Middle Eastern battles, humans have ignored and exploited our planet with enormous and gleeful indifference. Even with this conflicting history, in the 21st century, the human race has decided to say, meh, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Although it is evident that war is destructive, it is shocking to realize that, more recently, our social media culture and fashion have more committedly killed Bambi.

Enough! Disappointments in Reaching our Environmental Goals - Sustainability Problems in Fashion. An editorial photoshoot by AVESSA and Miami Fashion Institute. Fashion Designer: Fabiola Alfaro Beirute.

According to Fortune Magazine, the apparel sector accounts for between 2% and 8% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions, which makes it one of the most polluting industries on the planet. Based on data from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), studies have found that more than half of global industrial emissions since 1988 can be traced to 25 corporate and state-owned entities. It is no surprise to many that most of these entities are in the oil industry. Yet, a simple logical thread links these companies to the fashion industry.

First, plastic is made from oil and gas. Second, polyester is a thread made from plastic woven into fabric. Over half of the clothes produced today use synthetic materials like polyester. Finally, these materials do not break down or, worse, cannot be recycled, creating a massive plastic waste problem. Since the 2010s, there has been an increased spotlight on the fashion industry, pollution, and the remedies that the industry has promised. Looking back at the last five years, one has to ask, has the fashion industry improved?

The Fashion Hype

Few industries preen in the mirror and declaim their sustainability credentials more enthusiastically than the fashion industry. Most fashion corporations and individual designers trip over themselves to describe their latest attempts to be carbon neutral or at least reuse their textiles to diminish waste. How many of us have read about or seen textiles identified as organic, vegan, or made from algae, mushrooms, or pineapples? The runways are filled with self-aggrandizing designers with new experiments to diminish our obvious guilt.

Enough! Disappointments in Reaching our Environmental Goals - Sustainability Problems in Fashion. An editorial photoshoot by AVESSA and Miami Fashion Institute. Fashion Designer: Fabiola Alfaro Beirute.

Nonetheless, we should not be too hard on the fashion industry. The sad truth is that humanity and the avaricious desire to follow fashion trends are the ultimate culprits. AVESSA firmly adores capitalism; however, we must face the fact that we have already met the greatest villain for fashion environmental issues, and the villain is us.

One of the most common attributes of today’s society is our desperate need to show or wear trendy clothes as quickly as possible and with almost no repetition. We look in the mirror and breathlessly wish to be admired for being fashionable and attending premier events to the envy of everyone else. Look at social media; the inhabitants of this constantly changing world breathe and ache for this type of infamy.

Demand x Supply Dynamics

Ultimately, our looming environmental Armageddon is simply a matter of demand and supply. We must acknowledge that if people greatly desire to consume a product or service, then someone else will be ready to supply their desires for a price. We have created a culture that constantly demands fresh looks, fascinating poses, and numerous costume changes to ensure our existence stays relevant. So, to fulfill these heart-breaking screams for attention, a group of ultra-fast companies have come into existence to supply what is needed.

Enough! Disappointments in Reaching our Environmental Goals - Sustainability Problems in Fashion. An editorial photoshoot by AVESSA and Miami Fashion Institute. Fashion Designer: Elio Rojas.

Two decades ago, Zara was considered revolutionary for offering hundreds of new items a week; nowadays, Shein and Asos, two extraordinarily successful ultra-fast fashion sellers, add as many as 7,000 items a week. Besides providing an unceasing parade of clothes with marginal quality, these companies sell their products at eye-popping low prices and with free shipping. Consequently, Shein has recently become the largest online-only retailer in the world. But at what cost is this ultra-fast access to cheap clothing?

Take the production of shirts and shoes. The creation of these products has more than doubled in the past quarter century, yet three-quarters end up burned or buried in landfills. Although we as an industry have declared war against pollution, in many ways, we have failed. The reasons for the industry’s sustainability failure are complicated. The main contributors are consumer demand for cheap, fast fashion and the manufacturer’s need for growth. Adding insult to injury, these new clothes are made from non-biodegradable petroleum-based synthetics to fulfill this demand and remain cost-effective.

A Murky Impact

The precise negative environmental impact of the fashion industry remains unknown, but it is significant. The global fashion industry and its multitiered supply chain remain complex. Added to this complexity is the opaqueness of how exactly clothes are manufactured and who decides how much to produce. This constant influx of new clothes has shaped consumer shopping habits and exacerbated the issue of overproduction. Given the short lifespan of fashion trends, brands have a limited window to sell products at full price. If they misjudge demand, they’re left with significant unsold stock, which is why they end up in the dump or hidden deep in the recesses of our closets. There are solutions to lead us out of the dark. Although flawed, they are still meaningful.

Enough! Disappointments in Reaching our Environmental Goals - Sustainability Problems in Fashion. An editorial photoshoot by AVESSA and Miami Fashion Institute. Fashion Designer: Elio Rojas.

Transparency

Public fashion companies should continue to present their environmental, social, and governance performance. Currently, there is no standardized language or regulated presentations for ecological governance, so deciphering what successes they achieve is challenging. We need to be clear on how fashion companies quantify their carbon emissions profile, which will provide a metric for success. In the future, standardization will be essential for these numbers to guide our success.

Recycling

Recycling is a valid solution but cannot be the primary solution to our problems. Designs and fashion are planned like any other manufacturing good. They require planning and a consistent long-term supply. At the moment, recycling cannot promise standard quality or quantity, so companies cannot plan for the medium or long term. As a result of these obstacles, less than 1% of all clothing is recycled into new garments.

Enough! Disappointments in Reaching our Environmental Goals - Sustainability Problems in Fashion. An editorial photoshoot by AVESSA and Miami Fashion Institute. Fashion Designer: Shlomoh Astete.

Bio-Based Materials

As referenced earlier, weird and wonderful materials are being created as new bio-based textiles. These materials should be used as a direct substitute for fossil fuel-based synthetics. Nonetheless, developing these textiles requires significant investment and can remain quite costly since its polyester alternatives rely on financial benefits from the scale of economies. It will take time for money to fund production and for designers to get comfortable with the aesthetics of these new textiles.

Resale

Although a time-honored idea, this solution is limited in practice. Fashion manufacturers do not have the infrastructure to resell their goods. Besides, the current trend is to create cheap and lower-quality clothes, so this solution is quite limited in scale. Nonetheless, it should not be ignored entirely.

Enough! Disappointments in Reaching our Environmental Goals - Sustainability Problems in Fashion. An editorial photoshoot by AVESSA and Miami Fashion Institute. Fashion Designer: Joshua Flynn.

Rental

Renting fashion is not a new phenomenon. For decades, we have rented clothes for special occasions, but there was stigma and humor about the practice in the past. Today, more celebrities are leading the charge by destigmatizing the rental of clothes. The industry is expanding to the rental of accessories, plus-size clothing, and kids’ apparel.

We, the Enemies

In the end, though, it comes down to us. Hamlet states in Shakespeare’s play, “Denmark’s a prison. A goodly one, in which there are many confines, wards, and dungeons.” I loathe Hamlet as a character; he is selfish and arrogant, but Shakespeare provided an incredibly insightful thought about how humans limit themselves and shackle their thoughts, preventing advancement. We are our own worst enemy in the fight for the environment. We need to leave current ideas of what is fashionable and on-trend.

Enough! Disappointments in Reaching our Environmental Goals - Sustainability Problems in Fashion. An editorial photoshoot by AVESSA and Miami Fashion Institute. Fashion Designer: Joshua Flynn.

Think about this: at least three out of five articles of clothing are discarded within a year of being produced and sold. Take a look at the tags on your clothing. Is any of it synthetic? Is it made out of plastics—including polyester, nylon, acrylic, spandex, or fleece? When thrown away, clothing made of these fabrics almost immediately pollutes our air, soils our water, and, ultimately, damages us. As consumers, we must spend our money wisely on environmentally friendly and durable items. As a society, we must first make more eco-friendly fashion choices. Less is more. Invest in high-quality, sustainable pieces that you know you will wear repeatedly. We must prevent ourselves from imprisoning ourselves with fast fashion and binge shopping.

It will require a drastic change of mind. Look in the mirror and recognize, please do not faint, that an investment of time, money, and character is needed. We at AVESSA believe in beauty and fashion and that you, as the consumer, can make positive changes. Most importantly, we believe in Bambi’s right to live and flourish in nature. No one wants to wake up to a dystopian bleak future, but the time for action is immediate. Climate despair is real, but so is climate hope.

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