Understanding Fast Food’s Sustainable Evolution Points to Possible Changes in Fast Fashion
Welcome back to my newsletter on Social Innovation, this issue focused on how fast fashion can be more sustainable.
Like the big fast food chains, fast fashion brands that deliver products directly to your door – sometimes in less than a day – have rapidly became a habit for many around the world. Both offer an instant, affordable pick-me-up – a mini-treat for people who, in today’s economic climate, are likely time poor and financially stretched. But there is a cost, of course: the environment, and the conditions in which these products are made.
Roberta Graham, associate director at cultural and creative consultancy Space Doctors talked to me about how she believes that to make real changes in the fashion industry – a sector that’s exceedingly terrible for the environment – brands need to be held to account in the same way that fast food companies have been, with rigorous rules about their impact on climate crisis, their treatment of staff, how they deal with waste, and their production lines. Below are some of the key points from my recent Forbes article on the topic that highlights the work of Space Doctors.:
Graham points out fashion industry is responsible for a huge and rapidly increasing amount of textile waste. The problem is, as she describes it, “Despite clothes being a basic necessity, fashion has managed to maintain a stance as not just a sector, but an art form and our primary form of self-expression as individuals.”
She says that fast fashion and fast food industry share a few desirable quality, including convenience, low prices, reliability, and consistency. “Both fast fashion and fast food provide a big hit of dopamine: even if we know they are bad for us on a broader scale, we still see them as a quick and easy pick me up – something that pretty much everyone needs at the moment.” She adds.
Similarly, when under negative media coverage, fast fashion and fast food industry often try to get away from taking responsibility by blaming the victim. “The first part of call has always been to demonise those consumers; calling them out as irresponsible, making immoral choices and even being selfish for simply believing and chasing the dream they have been effectively sold by both companies and society.” Graham says.
More recently, fast food industry is forced to adopt certain ethical and sustainable practices, for example, to offer nutritional information to help consumers make better decisions. Grahams explains “Consumer demand has changed as people have become increasingly health-conscious and aware of things like plant-based diets; as well as the way mental and physical wellbeing are interlinked and tied into food.” She adds, “…Such companies simply can’t get away with the things they used to be able to, thanks to government legislation and regulations around things like ingredients and production, such as the sugar tax.”
According to Graham, two factors may facilitate the sustainability change in fashion industry. First, “Fashion is the only category which already has a tradition of second hand and hand-me-downs embedded within it.” Second, “Many people have a ‘signature scent’ that they see as part of their identity, meaning they don’t constantly feel the need to update, swap, or buy new.”
Language is one aspect that fashion industry needs to change. Graham says “Desire needs to be addressed through problematic terminology such as ‘seasons’ and ‘trends’, which encourage rapid turnover and drive a feeling of constantly ‘needing’ something new.” She adds “Fashion needs to be regenerative, not sustainable. We have reached a point we cannot sustain, so in order to make an impact brands must not only balance what they take, they must actively give back to the climate and the global community not only with words but tangible actions across design process, production and the way they stimulate desire in consumers.”
Finally, Graham talks about how Space Doctors is making desirable changes through collaboration. “We’re lucky enough to work with huge influential clients around the world and as people who not only really understand culture, but also the power of semiotics to influence it. It’s our responsibility as an industry to be really clear about what we are recommending and how it impacts the future.”
Much like fast food industry, fast fashion brands need to stop blaming the consumers and start changing their practices. As Graham suggests, understanding why fast fashion appeals to consumers may be the first step to finding a solution.