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What exactly is ‘de-growth’, and how can it make the fashion industry more sustainable?

Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Everything you need to know…

All eyes are on Glasgow, where the UN Climate Conference COP26, is currently in full swing. Could sustainability watchword ‘de-growth’ be the radical method that changes the fashion industry’s current impact on the planet?

As world leaders, CEOs, brands and sustainability experts discuss ever more urgent measures to take, our climate change anxiety levels are heading off the scale. Fashion has played an epic part in our current planetary disaster zone and while there are a whole host of actions we can take as individuals (‘buy less, choose well, make it last’ is the very *least* we can do) de-growth is a growing movement that could really make a difference to everyone’s future on earth.

What is fashion de-growth?

According to @degrowth.info “De-growth is an idea that critiques the global capitalist system which pursues growth at all costs, causing human exploration and environmental destruction.”

At the moment, and for centuries previously, our personal and economic success has been rated on expansion, growth and wealth. The more we have, the ‘better off’ we are perceived. But, the more we consume, the more damage it can do to the planet and other people. De-growth pushes the opposite of society’s current mind-set.

How come fashion has such a negative impact on the planet?

As brands and economies grow, they need planetary and human resources. They want these as cheaply as possible to maximise profits. But this is an ultra damaging way to do business for the world and those that live in it. Most of fashion’s pollution is emitted during textile manufacture (although washing clothes at home also releases micro-plastics into the seas.) Most brands currently follow a pattern of over-production which leading to garments being incinerated, shredded or sent to landfill. In 2018, one high street brand destroyed billions worth of unsold clothing (and still made mega profits.) The de-growth movement believes that making less product is the way forward and honestly? It’s a no brainer.

Image: Pexels

Why do fashion brands overproduce?

Fashion is essentially a guessing game. Designers and brands present ideas each season, but not everything is a sure fire hit with consumers. It’s also cheaper for brands to produce in bigger volumes (yep, even if over $4billion of those volumes get destroyed.)

What do fashion brands need to do to engage in de-growth?

Stop making so much stuff. The British Fashion Council agree and have set out an objective to “reduce the volume of new physical clothing.” Think slower and smaller. Billions of pounds of profits could replace tens of billions and more of those profits should be spread out through the entire supply chain, supporting clean energy, pollution reduction and fair wages.

There are already too many garments in the world. In 2019, 4 billion new pieces of clothing were bought in the UK and globally our shopping went up 400% from two decades ago. Not every brand needs to drop thousands of products through the year. For some, hundreds of pieces are ‘new in’ every. single. day.

On a personal level, too much choice can leave you paralysed with indecision. Hands up if you’ve ever thrown the entire contents of your bulging wardrobe over the floor and wailed, “I have nothing to wear!”? Yep, us too. It’s why the concept of capsule wardrobes are so freeing… in essence they allow you to get dressed with ease so you can get on with more important things.

Image: Pexels

What can consumers do to support de-growth?

Perhaps thinking of ourselves as citizens, rather than consumers, would be a starting point as Maxine Bedat outlines in her sustainability bible, Unraveled. Every item we buy can make a political statement. Look beyond the sustainability pledges, greenwashing and token recycled or organic ranges and question if a brand can be truly sustainable if their main priority is still profit and growth.

If fashion de-growth expands, it could be a potentially tricky period for consumers in the Global North to live through, as its principles are based on economic contraction. Some say that de-growth will harm those at the bottom of the chain too, particularly the garment makers in the Global South who - if they’re not making cheap clothes for us, won’t have a job. But big fashion brands could slow down their production, pay workers fairly and still bring in profit. A balanced de-growth strategy could see garment workers making less clothes yet earning more.

If you want to bring de-growth into your wardrobe, shop second hand. Question yourself before you buy anything. Slow down your consumption rate (US consumers buy something from the high street every.single.week.) Wear them more than 30 times. Then, re-wear and repair your clothes. Loved clothes last.

It’s a big step for businesses to decide to make less profits - and a huge change in mind-set for consumers who have been conditioned to buy, buy, buy - but de-growth could be the quickest and most impactful route to allowing everyone on the planet to live truly sustainable lives.

Original article appeared on GLAMOUR UK | Author Alexandra Fullerton

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