In recent years, the concept of sustainability became highly essential in the sphere of manufacturing all over the world. In particular, fashion companies demonstrate a growing interest in their products’ environmentally and ethically appropriate manufacturing, distribution, and consumption. However, according to many consumers, the option of sustainability in the fashion industry is unrealistic. The purpose of this paper is to evaluate sustainable fashion in order to compare and contrast its probability in the future for luxury and low-cost brands.
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Concept of Sustainability
Sustainability unites the ideas of environmentalism, economic development, and social equity. The fundamental goal of global sustainability is “to meet society’s current needs by using Earth’s natural resources without compromising the needs of future generations” (Liu et al., 2015, p. 964). The appearance and current increased popularity of the practice is determined by the necessity to concentrate on the impact of human activities. Regardless of the fact that the planet is an integrated system that comprises the complex interaction between nature and people, management and research isolate the component of this system, such as energy, air, biodiversity, land, water, food and population (Liu et al., 2015). That is why the compounding influence on the environment frequently goes “beyond the organisational level, space, and time of focus” and cannot be evaluated (Liu et al., 2015, p. 964). Meanwhile, global sustainability challenges caused by human activities include climate change, air pollution, freshwater shortages, biodiversity loss, and infectious disease spread.
Sustainable practice may be currently observed in fashion, an industry that traditionally has a controversial attitude to manufacturing and consumers’ needs. A substantial number of people view sustainability and fashion as inherently contradictory concepts due to short life cycles of products and striking hedonism that do not imply durability, product reuse, and ethics(Lundblad and Davies, 2016). However, the global fashion industry currently demonstrates a heightened interest in environmental protection and socio-economically appropriate development (Bly et al., 2015). Sustainable fashion may be defined as the production, transportation, storage, marketing, use, and recycling of clothing, shoes, and various accessories with the consideration of both socio-economic and environmental aspects (Gurova and Morozova, 2016). Modern trends that support sustainable fashion include the circular and sharing economy, consumerism, and fair trade (Todeschini et al., 2017). Fashion companies should provide appropriate working conditions for all employees by aligning with international guidelines and corporate ethics. In addition, the aim of sustainable fashion is to minimize all negative effects of manufacturing through the efficient selection and use of natural and renewable energy sources and maximize recycling, repair, and reuse of products.
In general, the influence of personal ethics on the fashion industry is not an exceptionally modern tendency. In the 1980s, the first anti-fur campaigns were organized to attract the attention of fashion retailers to moral issues (Lundblad and Davies, 2016). The first clothing line without fur and leather in all designs was launched by Stella McCartney in 2001 (Lundblad and Davies, 2016). At the beginning of the 21st century, sustainable fashion shows were subsequently held in Paris, New York, and London (Lundblad and Davies, 2016). Later, low-cost fashion brands started to integrate the concept of sustainability into their products’ life cycle as well.
Fashion Sustainability for Low-Cost and High-End Brands
As a matter of fact, fashion may be defined as a highly complex industry where luxury corporations, multinational mass-market retailers, and artisan tailors work and cooperate with each other. That is why, any innovative trends, tendencies, or ideas inevitably affect all members of the system. It goes without saying that both mass-market and luxury fashion segments are currently affected by the concerns of environmental and socio-economic sustainability (Arrigo, 2015). In fact, they perform similar strategies in order to make the life cycle of their products more sustainable (Henninger et al., 2016). High-end and low-cost brands evaluate “the environmental impact of each activity from product design to store management” to reduce the excessive use of natural resources (Arrigo, 2015, p. 19). In addition, they implement new technologies that aim to emphasize recycling policy, reduce total emissions, and moderate waste (Arrigo, 2015). Both segments additionally pay attention to socio-economic sustainability by the improvement of employees’ working conditions, the development of social policies, and the prevention of discrimination.
Fashion Sustainability for Low-Cost and High-End Brands
However, the prospects of sustainability for mass-market and luxury brands are substantively different, as general conceptions, the principles of manufacturing, and target audience differ for these segments. In particular, mass-market fashion may be characterized by “the growth of the fashion demand caused by the reduction of clothing price and the wide availability of fashion offerings” (Arrigo, 2015, p. 13). Substantial volumes of manufacturing and global logistics’ processes have a highly negative impact on the environment (Moon et al., 2015). In addition, outsourcing and the strategies of delocalization frequently lead to “the adoption of unfair labor practices” that include overwhelming working hours, low wages, and child labor (Arrigo, 2015, p. 13). For low-cost brands, the implementation of sustainable practices inevitably results in the rise of material, labor and transportation costs. As a result, the increased prices for clothing limit the consumers’ shopping capacity.
In turn, sustainability for high-end brands may be regarded as more approachable. Regardless of the fact that the luxury fashion segment is characterized by wasteful personal pleasure, ostentation, and superficiality, it currently bestows respect for society and the environment as well (Arrigo, 2015). High-end fashion companies are not characterized by substantial volumes of manufacturing and sales turnover. They do not depend on delocalization and outsourcing as their production in home countries is limited in terms of quantity. In general, luxury companies implement sustainability through the preservation of “natural resources such as leather, pears, and silk that are key components of their offers” (Arrigo, 2015, p. 15). In addition, they focus on their employees’ professional growth and creativity. Luxury brands have fewer barriers for sustainability in comparison with mass-market companies as they are not restraint by cost reduction. They may attract their customers by the promotion of not only beauty and uniqueness but environmental friendliness of luxury items as well.
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Despite the fact that a substantial number of people think that sustainability is not optional for the fashion industry, both mass-market and luxury fashion segments demonstrate the growing interest in environmental protection and appropriate socio-economical development. They perform similar strategies in order to make the life cycle of their products more sustainable and evaluate the impact of their manufacturing on the planet’s ecology. In addition, the fashion industry pays attention to socio-economic sustainability by the improvement of employees’ working conditions, the development of social policies, and prevention of discrimination. However, the implementation of sustainable practice in the future is more probable for high-end brands in comparison with mass-market companies as they do not depend on substantial sales turnover, delocalisation, and cost reduction.
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