Is ‘fast fashion’ going off trend?
The business model used by retailers such as Zara (Inditex) and H&M to quickly move catwalk styles to store shelves requires manufacturing hot trends in bulk with cheaper material. However, some startups are rejecting the practice of overproducing garments, and putting more sustainable solutions in their place.
The movement is fueled in part by disaster, including the deadliest one in the history of the global garment industry. Last April, a clothing factory collapsed in Bangladesh, killing 1,133 people and injuring more than 2,500. Well-known retailers like Inditex, Mango, JC Penney and Children’s Place sourced products from this facility, according to the Clean Clothes Campaign.
In a separate incident that November, a fire at another garment factory in Bangladesh killed 120 workers. In recognition of these tragedies, this past April 24 was dubbed Fashion Revolution Day to raise awareness about the perils of unsustainable and unethically sourced fashion.
Of course, fast fashion is big business. From 2006 to 2010, year-over-year revenue growth for top retailers in this space outpaced specialty retailers, according to a report by the New York City Economic Development Corporation.
While retailers rake in sales, much of the apparel we shop for is barely or rarely worn. The Council for Textile Recycling reports that the average American throws away 70 pounds of clothing and other textiles annually.
But those numbers are too high for Manish Chandra, founder of Poshmark, an app that encourages users to shop each others’ closets. “If you break it down, for every three years, nearly a trillion dollars worth of inventory is put into closets across America,” Chandra says. “Meanwhile, the average person wears only 20 percent of his or her wardrobe on a regular basis.”
While non-profit movements build exposure, startups are finding ways to work sustainability into retail with innovative lines, business models and shopping philosophies. We delve deeper into the companies looking to change the way we shop – and the way our clothes are produced – below. Also, check out this Shopping Directory of ethical fashion lines compiled by the author of Overdressed: The High Cost of Cheap Fashion.
Poshmark, Menlo Park, Calif.
Poshmark gives women from across the country the option to buy and sell from each other’s closets, refreshing their wardrobes without creating the demand for the garments that add to American landfills. There are currently more than 350,000 Poshmark closets where women list pre-owned items at about 70 percent off retail. During “Posh Parties,” or virtual flash sales, several million visitors flock to the site whose community that has grown 10 times from 2012 to 2013. Chandra says the service empowers fashionistas to transcend overspending and even become entrepreneurs (top-sellers have raked in around $150,000 a year).
Cuyana, San Francisco.
Startup fashion brand Cuyana, based in San Francisco, launched what it calls a Lean Closet Movement to put shoppers’ focus on buying quality that lasts, rather than chase the latest trend and fuel dangerous manufacturing practices. The movement kicked off with a 4-week series of blog posts featuring editors from Real Simple and InStyle who shared tips on building a versatile, functional wardrobe. The site’s co-founder Shilpa Shah stresses that the Lean Closet Movement isn’t about minimalism. “If someone loves designer jeans and has 20 pairs and wears every single pair, that's wonderful and that can be her version of a Lean Closet,” she says. “Rather, it's a message of intentional buying, and meaningful purchasing of items that you love.”
The collaboration will include new Cuyana apparel collections this summer. But Shilpa says the 4 collections of apparel and accessories are eco-friendly and those who click “lean shipping” during checkout, will receive a reusable bag to fill with items that can be donated to non-profit partners like Dress for Success or the Salvation Army. The movement is still in its early stages – just 10 percent of Cuyana Shoppers currently choose the option – but shoppers receive credits for future Cuyana purchases as an incentive.
Modavanti, New York City
This e-tailer has a strict threshold for determining which designers can be featured on its leading eco-friendly fashion site. Because there is no accepted definition covering all aspects of sustainability within the fashion industry, Modavanti has established a unique badge system that informs customers how and why the site considers the makers’ items to be eco-friendly and ethically sourced. Each brand must have at least one badge from the following categories: 1. Made in America 2. Vintage 3. Organic 4. Fair trade 5. Vegan 6. Zero waste 7. Recycled 8. Eco-friendly 9. Handmade.
“It’s a way for shoppers to shop based on their values,” says David Dietz, the site’s founder.