Tools and materials lie in sewing factory in downtown L.A. (Claire Hannah Collins / Los Angeles Times)
Arcadia High School

Opinion: Fast fashion and sustainability will never be compatible

Inditex, the parent company of many fast fashion giants including Zara and Bershka, was proud to recently unveil its plans to integrate sustainability within its business practices.

At the corporation’s Annual General Meeting, Pablo Isla, CEO and executive chair of Inditex, pledged that, by 2025, all eight of its brands would convert to using strictly organic, sustainable and recycled cotton, linen and polyester, according to an article published on the Inditex website.

Furthermore, Isla promised that the conglomerate’s distribution centers would, thereafter, largely rely on renewable energy sources, and that they were planning to transition to zero landfill waste, according to Isla’s proposition.

These goals are clearly ambitious and hold the potential to change the landscape of fast fashion for the better. However, given the industry’s mercenary nature and its extensive list of environmental offenses, could fast fashion and sustainability ever be truly compatible?

In recent years, the environmental impact of fast fashion has been majorly called into question. Documentaries, such as The True Cost, and contemporary society’s increasing concern for the state of the environment have helped drive the modern environmental movement.

Social media has played an especially significant role in popularizing sustainable lifestyles and practices like thrift shopping, van life and veganism and more pointedly, inspiring avoidance of fast fashion retailers. So, it makes sense that Inditex has determined and publicized their plans to follow a greener business model. 

Pushing for organic materials that consume fewer resources, especially considering the hundreds of designs that fast fashion retailers release weekly, is an important first step for one of the world’s most polluting industries.

The chemicals used to grow inorganic crops at a flying rate cause diseases and birth defects in farmers and children, are harmful for buyers, and pollute our environment, according to an Independent article.

Their promise to embrace a zero landfill waste policy is equally significant. Textile waste is a devastating consequence of the industry. 

The cheap pricing and trendy styles of fast fashion clothing pieces are effective in their ability to lure consumers into purchasing but are wholly ineffective at convincing consumers to keep them.

In fact, since the emergence of fast fashion, the average clothing buyer wears their purchases for half as long, according to an NPR article. Ultimately, these purchases are burned in landfills, releasing toxic chemicals into the atmosphere.

If Inditex can find a way to prevent this cycle, fast fashion’s environmental footprint could decrease considerably.

According to Elizabeth L. Cline, an author and outspoken critic of fast fashion, the company plans could send a bold message down the supply chain and inspire other manufacturers to follow Inditex’s green footsteps. 

Still, many consumers remain apprehensive of whether these environmental advances could justify fast fashion shopping. At fast fashion’s current rate of production, the industry will continue to strip the Earth of valuable resources and emit harmful domino effects in the environment, according to an article published by the University of Queensland.

For example, even the industry’s usage of polyester fosters negative effects.

Washing the material in domestic washing machines sheds half a million tons of non-biodegradable microfibers that eventually make their way into the ocean, presenting a significant threat to smaller aquatic creatures, particularly plankton, according to an article by Vox on the environmental impact of washing clothes made of these microfibers.

Their impact then travels up the food chain, affecting shellfish and fish, which are both consumed by humans.

Furthermore, according to the United Nations Environmental Programme, textile dyeing requires extortionate quantities of water per garment (for reference, it takes 2,000 gallons of water to dye a pair of jeans) and is the second-largest global water polluter. 

Put simply, Inditex failed to address many of the other negative environmental effects that it yields. The company also failed to improve the treatment of its workers, a major human rights issue and yet another factor that repels consumers from the industry.

As long as fast fashion continues to remain loyal to its rapid, high output-high input business model, the industry will continue to exploit the Earth’s resources and rouse threatening chain reactions in our environment.

To avoid being held accountable by NGOs in the long-run, fast fashion retailers will need to completely change their business model. Otherwise, it is unlikely that they could ever operate sustainably.

For the moment, however, Inditex’s bold announcement has made many hopeful that other giants in the industry will be inspired to pursue environmentally-conscious objectives as well.