The pandemic caused major disruptions to industries and supply chains around the world, seeing a massive shift in the way consumers shop and purchase goods.
Online mobility and the advancement of technology, alongside widespread adoption of social media, have made it easier, and more convenient for consumers to find their favorite brands, and purchase goods previously deemed unattainable. From the rise of online shopping to the growing popularity of social media influencers, the fashion industry is perhaps reaping the most benefits from a highly digital and connected marketplace.
In the United States, like many other developed nations around the world, online and eCommerce purchases skyrocketed during the early months of the pandemic. Data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau’s Annual Retail Trade Survey (ARTS) found that eCommerce sales jumped by 43% in 2020, amounting to more than $815.4 billion in sales.
With the rise of the digital marketplace, online retail traders, more so in the fashion industry are seeing major traction, as a pandemic-induced surge in eCommerce spending has enabled shoppers to purchase more affordable clothing and garment pieces from big brands such as Shein, H&M and Zara, among others.
But while it's become easier, and cheaper to shop for fast fashion, a term used to describe retail outlets that regularly change their offerings, at what cost does this come when considering its environmental and social impact? CBS News reported in 2021 that the amount of clothing purchased by Americans has increased five-fold in the last 30 years. The increasing number of purchases, while stimulating various economies and industries, is now the subject of major controversy, sparking outrage for environmental and juridical advocates representing workers in low-paying jobs in developing nations.
Around 15 million disregarded clothing items arrive from Western countries every week at Ghana’s Kamanto Market, a seven-acre marketplace with more than 5,000 clothing stalls - and America is the biggest contributor.
While it’s looking as if these pieces may be upcycled, or donated, it’s causing major environmental concerns in the area, polluting the area, and ending up on beaches or washed out into the ocean.
Commenting on the state of the fast-fashion industry, co-founder of refashion online marketplace CODOGIRL, Yulia Omelich, shares that, “consumers have become enticed by the mountain of clothing options, leading to growing environmental concerns. Although we see some consumers shifting away from this trend, it’s perhaps more alarming how the clothing and fashion industry have exploded throughout the pandemic as online shopping took hold.”
In 2021, CODOGIRL was assigned as a Signatory of the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action for the United Nations Climate Change (UNCC).
But it’s not looking as if consumers will be putting brakes on their spending and shopping habits any time soon, especially when it comes to fast fashion. Chinese-based online fast-fashion store Shein currently dominates the U.S. fast fashion market, taking up 28% of the total market share, and seeing more app downloads than Amazon.
A combination of technology, online shopping, and globalization has created more problems than anticipated, and it’s soon looking to reach a severe tipping point.
Americans Are Fueling A Dangerous Cycle
More than 76% of Americans shop online, whether it’s for basic goods, services, or more niche items - anything and everything can be found online. And by now, it’s clear how well Americans have equipped themselves with online retailers in the fashion world, shopping for garments from popular and high-end brands.
Yet, the access and convenience haven’t made the end cycle of garments and clothing last longer. On average, Americans throw away roughly 81 pounds of clothes each year, with more than 85% of unsold textiles and garments ending up in landfills or being burned.
Consumer habits in America are contributing to a growing problem that's becoming harder and more costly to resolve as trends constantly change, and online shopping becomes more prevalent.
While the issues surrounding fast fashion have quickly caught the attention of the world, global media is now zooming in on how fast fashion is uprooting communities and environmental habitats. Solution-based practices, still through the use of the digital marketplace are bringing more clarity around how the industry can move forward - more sustainably.
While consumers and retailers might not be on the same page, there are signs that the situation might be starting to change a bit.
Research revealed that four in five consumers are more open to paying extra for products that are aligned with sustainable values. Additionally, 59% of consumers have already booted companies and retailers that conduct business in an unethical manner, with 37% of Americans sharing the same value.
Yet, sustainable purchasing in the fashion industry is not the only route that some consumers are looking to take.
The rise of online shops and the digital marketplace has also given way to refashion outlets, focused on selling luxury garments to shoppers.
Founded back in 2010, CODOGIRL is an established luxury resale marketplace that buys and sells authenticated designer garments and accessories.
As part of the company’s mantra, the founders, Yulia and Andrey Omelich believe that high-end designer and luxury garments can extend their life cycle through ethical and sustainable refashion.
Goods and services directed at consumers who value ethical and environmentally sound practices are becoming more important among younger generations, especially Millennials and Gen Zers.
The swing towards this is to enable a marketplace where regular consumers can have access to luxury garment pieces and accessories more easily and at affordable pricing.
For decades luxury high-end fashion labels seemed unattainable to the masses, but innovation and a shift in consumer trends have now enabled some to purchase quality items that would’ve ended up in landfills.
For many consumers, it may still take a while to catch on to sustainable shopping, yet, through the advancements in technology and social media, it’s looking to become a lot easier each passing year.
Perhaps the notion here is to establish a marketplace where consumers can have better access to high-end garments, textiles, and other goods without it costing the environment, or undergoing unethical business practices.
From this perspective, we see how consumers are slowly, but surely migrating towards more environmentally soundproof habits, and it’s largely being witnessed in the retail industry. Changing habits isn’t easy, but it’s looking to become a lot easier than changing an entire industry, as the push for more sustainable consumerism starts to become reality, rather than a trend.