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LONDON – Fast fashion can never be sustainable, and remains the elephant in the room of all conversations about sustainable apparel. This is the view of environmental activist, Livia Firth, interviewed for the forthcoming edition of Apparel Insider.

We spoke to Firth in the wake of the launch of new series of whitepapers on greenwashing by her agency, Eco-Age, as well the screening of her new film, produced in collaboration with Andrew Morgan, called Fashionscapes.

We discussed a range of issues, including fashion greenwashing, fast fashion and metrics and data in sustainability claims.

She told us: “Over the years, I’ve seen an increase in sustainability reporting in the fast fashion industry, especially in areas like transparency and traceability. Sadly, the public and the consumer are misled into thinking that transparency and traceability are synonymous with sustainability – but this is not the case! Whilst important, transparency is really just a brand saying, ‘we use this fibre and this chemical and produce our products in this region.’”

Can fast fashion be sustainable? Firth is unequivocal. “Fast fashion can never be sustainable and it’s the big elephant in the room of any sustainability conversation,” she told us. “You have a business model predicated/based on producing huge volumes, super-fast, and selling them super cheap. This model can only be based on slave labour and will never ever be sustainable – never. We are addicted to a pace of consumption like we are addicted to sugar… And these brands are marketing claims and commitments which are completely greenwashing, it is indeed a ‘great green washing machine’. Also, cheap clothes can only be made of synthetic fibres – which are oil and plastic – so they are not only producing using slave labour but also directly responsible for a huge part of pollution.”

A major bugbear for Firth is the issue of language and sustainability claims. She told us: “For me, one of the most concerning aspects of the paper’s findings is the lack of regulated and unified sustainability language. Although product-level and general marketing communications are useful for empowering consumers to make informed decisions when buying apparel, the wild and unregulated landscape can confuse – or even mislead – consumers, and also has the potential to completely derail consumer and public trust in brands’ sustainability efforts. I also struggle with the idea that a fast fashion giant can essentially lie their way to attracting consumers through false sustainability claims, while other well-meaning brands are missing out because they refuse to greenwash.”

Full interview in our next publication, out late this month.


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