GLOBAL WARMING’S IMPACT ON FASHION

With tensions rising globally concerning climate change, Madisen Crandall explores global warming and its impacts on fashion.

The fashion industry is responsible for more than 8% of total global carbon emissions. Nonbiodegradable fabrics can last up to 200 years in a landfill and it takes more than 2700 litres of water to make a single cotton shirt. We know that fashion contributes to global warming in a big way. And yet, the irreversible effects of global warming have also dictated the future of fashion, idealising norms which may not be beneficial to the industry. The fashion industry is supported by the greedy attitude surrounding trends, fads, and the next big thing. Fashion’s main goal is to keep consumers not only wanting but needing more. This perspective results in a somewhat infinite turnover rate, overfilling stores, wardrobes, and eventually landfills. This vicious cycle feeds on itself, increasing the unwanted ramifications to the fashion industry. Considering global warming in a context of its impacts on our world and livelihoods, the fashion industry is a prime example of the neverending and somewhat impossible battle that is climate change.

Many of the industry’s top designers have modified procedure, design, and recycling attempts too little too late and have, alongside many others, felt the repercussions. Countless brands have opted for overhauls in their business models, choosing circularity over linearity regarding fabric life and material use.
These changes, however, while often met with good publicity and an enthusiastic increase in ecoconscious clientele, have sometimes proven to be financially, even logistically, difficult to facilitate. And with the issues of global warming surrounding the entire industry, it will take more than just a few big names to make the change, speaking to the allencompassing and overwhelming nature of global warming’s impact on fashion. Considering recent events of the global pandemic, to which the fashion industry has not been immune, many companies have taken this “quiet time” to privately further research and fund new developments and processes. In lieu of delayed traditional project launches, the cancellation of Fashion Weeks and shows, and temporary change in regular company functions, several wellknown brands have recently indicated their intent to change their respective business models.

Outerknown, a relatively smaller player in the industry, have recently invested in purchasing thrifted and donated fabrics and materials for their new designs. Using their small corner of the fashion industry, they are making a difference. Substantive efforts from many companies have been recognised recently, proving that, while events and unfortunate circumstances threaten to consume the industry, power can be found in companies and brands banding together to create fashion for a better future.
In line with this belief, the industry has also witnessed a significant increase in second-hand clothing, an attempt perhaps to mitigate the consequences of global warming. Based on projections, the second-hand fashion market is set to hit $64 billion in the next 5 years, a monumental increase from the mere $10 billion reached in 2009. Much of this increase comes from online thrifting, which has changed global markets and exceeded expectations for the typically more successful fast fashion clothing brands.
Over the next twelve months, secondhand/thrifting stores are the among the few revenue sectors in the online fashion industry that are expected to gain new customers. And with traditional thrift and donation levels rising from 34% in 2019 to 414% in 2020, it is no wonder projections for second-hand fashion continue to rise. These increases are literally changing the very fabric of the industry itself.

Much conjecture, however, still surrounds the implications of global warming on the fashion industry. Global weather patterns are changing, and the fashion industry has, of course, evolved to fit consumer demand based on climate. Some of the most notable changes in fashion due to the change in temperature can be recognized in Korea. The four distinctive seasons there have been impacted by global warming resulting in a similar change in trends. Studies have shown sluggish sales to match warmer winters and longer summers, while seasonal items such as parkas, jumpers, and long pants have faltered in popularity due to weather change. Similar trends can be observed globally. Revenue gaps and sales records have been dented internationally for winter garments due to unseasonably warmer temperatures, so much so that any item – ranging from the fluffiest of jumpers to the smallest of bikinis are often available year-round.

There is also much evidence to support the claim that the unpredictability of the weather is only becoming more prevalent as time goes on. This can be reflected in a recent study conducted by Edited which found rises in summer apparel have been observed since 2012. This indicates that retailers are not only stocking summer trends more confidently but that consumers are purchasing more clothing appropriate only for warmer weather. This study also revealed the condensing of discounting periods for winter apparel, highlighting the price flattening trends witnessed year-round globally. And while many within the industry aim to limit the impact of fashion on global warming, not much can be done regarding the impact of global warming on fashion. In fact, many researchers assume the recent changes in trend are only the beginning of a significant pattern. Scientists have recently discovered that the earth has warmed by nearly 0.9 degrees Celsius since the late 19th century, a number which doesn’t seem to evoke much fear until you follow it up with the fact that hidden in these temperature increases are extreme weather events such has heat waves, severe drought, increased precipitation and subsequent humidity, and desertification, all of which are more impactful and damaging than the small shifts in averages. Data released by UKCIP indicates scenarios for the future of London’s climate, theorising that temperatures could skyrocket by 2050, meeting unbearable numbers by 2080. Along with this, winter temperatures will obviously rise, giving way to higher precipitation rates and extreme decreases in snowfall rates. London is also uniquely exposed to a higher chance of drought and greater potential for non-viable water flooding. This means that it could not only be drowning in the future, but also entirely quenched for thirst. The bottom line is that we are experiencing human-induced climate change, and it is not only moving into our lives but renovating them.
The world has watched as temperature have risen, as our emissions have increased, and our conservation efforts plateaued. We have witnessed the rise of the eco-conscious person and even implemented such beliefs into the very fabric of the industry. And we are learning now that such attempts grow futile if not met by a complete and total reimagination of the fashion industry itself. It becomes crucial that we are not only aware of our impacts on global warming but also, global warming’s impact on us. Only then can we venture into a territory of real and sustainable change. Only then will we be able to experience the truest joy of fashion as a friend to the environment. 

You can read more of Madisen’s writing by following her blog at madiethewriter.blogspot.com.

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