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Sustainability of fashion industry

This is the second part of the paper. The first part was with introduction, concept of sustainability and sustainability of the fashion industry.

4 Factors associated with sustainability of fashion industry

 4.1 Social

Social, civil and cultural development of society is inextricably linked to economic growth and sustainable development. The fashion has to have some responsibilities to the society. From marketing view, fashion can’t be sustainable without accumulating the culture and social values of community. It can be a diviner for the society based on reliability, transparency, accountability, and responsibility.

Apparel business is closely related to the fashion. Without sustainability of this industry fashion can’t be sustainable. The supply chain of global fashion industry has two sides – producing in developing countries and retailing in developed countries. But matter of sad, the living standard and working conditions of producing countries are not good at all. They are not getting fair price of their product. International campaigns continue to force for improvement in working conditions and proper royalty for employees in developing countries. Many international organisations like Fairtrade Foundation are coming in front to make a fair practice in fashion business. Awareness of western community regarding working and living conditions of fashion workers created pressure on multinational fashion companies to ensure the social, labor, and environmental standards in the manufacturing processes of their products. Thus the western community developed the CSR concept. Gardiner, Rubbens and Bonfoglioli (2003) state that corporations’ view on sustainable development has changed due to external pressure from consumers and other stakeholder groups.

4.2 Economical

Economical factor is very important for sustainability of fashion industry. Financial condition of producers and workers is very important for smooth flow of goods over the whole supply chain. But unfortunately there is a big discrimination between the producers of developed country and developing country. For example, the cotton farmers of USA get huge subsidy from government and they can use high technology for harvesting. The USA farmers can easily sell their cotton with low price by getting financial benefits from government. On the other hand the farmers of developing country especially Africa and South Asia; they don’t get any financial support from government. And thus they can’t defeat their counterpart developed country’s farmer in international trading. This is a big obstacle for developing countries producers to sustain in global market.

In western fashion market, Bangladesh is an important supplying country. Most of world’s famous retail companies are buying their product from Bangladesh because of low labor cost. Bangladeshi suppliers bound to deprive the workers for keeping low product cost. A Bangladeshi supplier get just 15 – 20 % money of retail price of a garment as raw material cost, making cost, packaging cost, label cost and C&F cost. After managing all these expenditure a factory owners make a little profit. This discrimination should be minimized for sustainability of fashion industry.

4.3 Environmental

Fashion creates immense environmental complication in every stage of supply chain. The law of entropy teaches us that if we create order in some system, disorder is generated in some other one [5]. Fashion industry is discovering human hidden needs and is meeting their needs and desires. In the same time it is creating some environmental impact from use of energy and toxic dyes-chemicals. Disposal of used old clothing is also another big threat for environment; most of those go to landfill. Landfill is a major environmental hazard; every time it rains all the chemicals and dyes used in our discarded clothing are washed into the ground and polluting waterways, not to mention the large quantities of greenhouse gases released as fabric and other human waste degrades [6]. Fashion industry has close relation to climate change – burning fossil fuel for power generation for machineries used in agriculture of fibre production and fabric processing. Water consumption and discharge of wastewater are very big issue, associated with fashion industry.

5 Alternative business models for sustainability of fashion industry

Many multinational companies are socially and environmentally destructive in the developing countries in terms of extracting raw materials from developing nations, paying inferior product prices that lead to substandard wages to the workers. So called social and human rights issues, such as child labor, working conditions, workers rights, health, safety and freedom of association are highlighted to attract media coverage and final benefits. The garment retail price in Europe or US is $100 while the producers earn only about $15 to $20 for covering all necessary costs including direct costs (such as labor cost, raw material and accessories cost, transport and commission), indirect costs (overhead costs, sample design and development, and administration), and macro costs (taxes, tariffs, bank interest, infrastructure, training and education). It is clear that in order to survive, the producer’s tendency is to cut or keep the labor cost low because other costs are mostly fixed.


Fair trade is characterized of an approach to the buyer-supplier transaction that should intend to generate equality in exchange, and an awareness of power discrepancy between developed and developing worlds [14]. “Fair Trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers – especially in the south [15]. It’s not a charity – it’s a business model which ensures the worker’s living rights within justifiable level. The principle of Fairtrade is to encourages fair treatment of workers ensuring good working conditions for all involved in the supply chain, promoting women empowerment, and discourages the use of child labour [16].

Several organizations are working to support producers, increase peoples awareness and encouraging changes in the rules and practices of traditional global trade [17]. Among these four organizations Fair Trade Labeling Oranisation, International Federation for Alternative Trade, Network of European World Shops, and European Fair Trade Association (FINE) are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and campaigning for changes in the rules and practices of conventional trade [18]. The vision of Fairtrade Foundation is of: “A world in which every person, through their work, can sustain their families and communities with dignity”.

Fair Trade Labelling Organisations (FLO) started 1997 and is a part of a world wide network of Fair trade organizations [19]. FLO represents 20 different labelling initiatives in 21 countries which promote Fair trade and certificate products in their country. According to the FLO, Fair trade consist of a number of fundamentals in both production and consumer levels. These elements are following:

In production level –

  • Better prices for producers
  • Elimination of ‘middlemen’
  • Pre-financing of production
  • Organization of producers in co-operatives with democratic rules
  • Integration of women in decision-making
  • Accountable management
  • Constitution of social and investment funds
  • The fostering of ecological and quality production standards

In consumer level –

  • Enhanced transparency in transformation procedures
  • An awareness of gaps between developing and developed countries
  • Solidarity-raising mechanisms
  • The production of certified quality products
  • An consciousness of labelling and monitoring processes [20]

The International Fair Trade Associations (IFAT) prescribes 10 standards that Fair Trade organizations must follow in their day-to-day work and carries out continuous monitoring to ensure these standards are upheld [18]:

  1. Opportunities for all economically disadvantaged producers in the world are created
  2. There is transparency and accountability of management and commercial relationships between buyers from developed countries and producers from developing countries.
  3. Capacity building in business development, producers’ independence and bargaining capacity.
  4. Promote only honest advertising and marketing techniques and aim for the highest standards in product quality and packaging.
  5. Wages should not only cover the cost of production but also the living cost of workers which is socially just and environmentally sound. There is prompt payment and pre-harvest and pre-production financing whenever possible.
  6. Fair Trade means that women’s work is properly valued and rewarded, no gender discrimination.
  7. Ensure safe Working Conditions for workers.
  8. Fair Trade adheres to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
  9. Fair Trade actively encourages better environmental practices and the application of responsible methods of production.
  10. Fair Trade Organizations trade with concern for the social, economic and environmental well-being of marginalized small producers and do not maximize profit at their expense.

6 Roles of different stakeholders for sustainability of fashion industry

6.1 Designer responsibility

Designer has to know the trend and future of fashion. Designer can influence the needs of consumer. They can diverse the peoples eye towards new something. So they have some responsibility about adverse impact of fashion on society, economy and environment. They can give some message to people through their creative work. They can symbolize human rights, global warming, meaning of life, cruelty of war, love, joy, sad in the canvas of fabric with color. Stella McCartney has turned her vegetarian principles into a mantra for her design, creating only animal friendly, skin-free and fur-free collections [8].

Designer can design durable clothing fashion so that consumer can use it for long time and thus the consumer can reduce the use of non-durable clothing. Increased emphasis on durability as a component of fashion would support a move towards reduce material flow [9].

6.2 Producer responsibility

Used pesticides and chemicals in conventional cotton production system is a big threats not only the farmers but also the community. In 1995, pesticide-contaminated runoff from cotton fields killed at least 240,000 fish in Alabama. In 1994, Australian beef was contaminated with the cotton insecticide Helix (chlorfluazuron), most likely because cattle had been fed contaminated cotton straw [10]. High use of defoliation chemicals are very much correlated with acute respiratory symptoms and other health effects in surrounded communities of cotton farms. Farmers can take responsibilities to avoid use of harmful chemicals and production process.

Technology improvement can reduce the uses of resources and improve the serviceability of products; technology can increase the life-cycle of fashionable product; it can reduce the volume and concentration of waste. New production technology can reduce the labor requirement of garment completion and development of novel ‘smart’ functions [9].

6.3 Retailer responsibility

The tendency of fashion retail company is to catch the consumers and they always try to bring new fashion within short time. Fast fashion creates an extra pressure on supplier and that lead to worse working conditions. Short lead-time forced workers to work long time. Sometimes they have to work 18 hours a day, seven days a week and in times of delivery bottlenecks the workers have to work some hours more without overtime money. They don’t get any break or relieve which sometimes leads to illness.

Retail companies can take more responsibility to improve social and economical condition of worker as well as environmental conditions of supplying countries by giving up some profit and advertisement cost. International fashion retailer HENNES & MAURITZ (H&M) follows a responsible sustainability policy in their long supply chain. They work with their own employees, end-producers, suppliers and other contributors for environment and social sustainability. They are maintaining precautionary principles in using chemicals in their product that contain minimum environmental hazards. In production process they try to follow efficient use of resources with minimum waste generation, new technologies and methods with minimum environmental footprint. The fashion retailer can follow a new business and financial model, which can support the people behind the products, for example:

– giving suppliers shares in the company and in final profits

– providing percentage of profits for community funds/ training/ capacity

– spending percentage of profits to protect local and global environment.

6.4 Consumer responsibility

Consumers are independent to choose or boycott any fashion. Sustainability of fashion industry is mostly depending on consumer behavior. Before buying they can get the information about the product – where and how it produced? They can see about transparency and accountability of fashion supply chain. Pressure from consumers and legislation is likely to drive decreasing demands of environmentally sensitive production. Consumer can buy new products those made with least energy and least toxic emissions, workers behind of the products paid a credible living wage with reasonable employment rights and conditions [9]. They can ensure about fair trade and other sustainability standard before buying. They can also ensure about the sustainability of packaging and accessories materials. Eventually, the companies can benefit from the increase of consumer awareness and higher demand of involvement by generating higher loyalty and positive word-of-mouth communications, which may contribute to competitive advantages and maximization of sustainable profitability [21] in world fashion industry.

7 Conclusion

Climate change, workers rights and pollution effects have been forced into the boardroom, design studio and high street and as a result, from big brands to smaller ones. They are selling organic fashions and emphasizing to increase the organic product range, consumers are spending more for ‘ethical’ clothing as well. Leading fashion designer Katharine Hamnett, says “By insisting on organic cotton and fair pay for garment workers and by paying 1% more for a t-shirt, you can change the world and make it a better and safer place.” The base line of this enhancing interest is continuous awareness for sustainable fashion.  Traditional views of sustainable fashion focus almost exclusively on choice and origin of materials, but this is only part of the picture. A more complete, forward-looking and creative view of sustainable fashion embraces both these materials-based or technical innovations and social aspects. The strength of this fashion are lower impact fibre types, fairer employment, more efficient production and processing techniques, empowering people, preserve community rights, restorative design concepts, new ways to consume and alternative visions of how to clothe us.

Sustainability is the nucleus of fashion’s future and in the last decade, ecological and ethical concerns are adhered into its heart. For social sustainability in the back segment of supply chain the industry must preserve  the workers rights with good working conditions and promoting community improvements activities, and environmental standards. It will only succeed if consumers, producers, retailers, designers, community groups and international corporations connect together and jointly recognize their influence in promoting the concept of ‘fashion habits’ to improve the quality of life.

8 References

 [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainability


[3] http://www.makeyourmarkinfashion.org/sustainable_fashion

[4] http://www.makeyourmarkinfashion.org/sustainable_fashion/key_issues

[5] S. Carbonaro; The law of enthropy

[6] http://www.makeyourmarkinfashion.org/sustainable_fashion/recycled


[8] http://www.makeyourmarkinfashion.org/sustainable_fashion/animal_friendly

[9] http://www.ifm.eng.cam.ac.uk/sustainability/projects/mass/UK_textiles.pdf

[10] http://www.organicconsumers.org/clothes/gotcotton.pdf

[11] Gary Gereffi & Olga Memedovic, The global apparel value chain: What prospects for upgrading by developing countries, UNIDO

[12] Debasis Daspal, Apparel supply chain and its variants

[13] EJF. (2007). The deadly chemicals in cotton. Environmental Justice Foundation in collaboration with Pesticide Action Network UK: London, UK. ISBN No. 1-904523-10-2

[14] Nicholls, p 7

[15] Patrick Develtere & Ignace Pollet (Feb, 2005), Co-operatives and Far-Trade

[16] http://www.fairtradebishopton.org.uk/fairtrade.php

[17] http://www.fairtrade.net/labelling_initiatives.html

[18] http://l-arka.org/?q=node/11

[19] http://www.fairtrade.net/about_us.html

[20] Auroi, p 26

[21] Nicholls, Alexander, pp 1236-1237

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