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Here’s what fast fashion labels are doing to create a sustainable future 

Fashion is guilty of many, many things, but up there on its list of sins is creating more waste than the planet can handle.

The problem is multi-pronged: there are luxury fashion brands, which have been producing more collections every year beyond the Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter seasons. (A handful of designers want to change that.)

Some of these brands also share the dirty secret of burning or shredding their unsold merchandise, leading to even more pollution. And let’s not get started on how the luxury fashion industry has only recently made efforts to ensure that its production processes are eco-friendly.

Then there are the more obvious suspects, which are fast fashion brands. Brands like H&M, Zara and ASOS release collections far more frequently than luxury brands, and at bigger quantities. Their clothes are also appealing in their affordability, something that comes at the cost of cheap labour and low quality materials. Even still, not everything is sold and, like high fashion, fast fashion has a problem with discarding dead stock.

But the most troubling consequence of fast fashion’s accelerated production cycle is that we, as customers, have bought into the idea that we need to shop for more, more, more all the time. We could make mini-landfills of all the forgotten clothing in our wardrobes.

Inside H&M's Drottninggatan store, which now lets customers see the brand's "Looop" recycling process. (Photo credit: H&M)
Inside H&M’s Drottninggatan store, which now lets customers see the brand’s “Looop” recycling process. (Photo credit: H&M)

In 2020, fashion is at its breaking point, and things are changing. Some luxury labels, like Gucci, have boldly reduced its number of collections in a year. Others are now designing with materials made from waste, or making new creations out of pre-loved clothing (see the “Upcycled by Miu Miu” collection, or Margiela’s Recicla line).

Customers still want more, but we’re looking to alternative sources. Vintage fashion and rental services are on the rise, as is the number of younger shoppers who only want clothes that are made sustainably, ethically or locally.

As for fast fashion? The brands that began with a mission to dress everyone in stylish clothing are now on a different one — to do so while minimising their harmful impact on the environment. Below, we highlight some of the initiatives that they have rolled out in the name of sustainability.

Header photo credit: H&M

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Looop by H&M

In October, H&M launched Looop: a garment-to-garment system that turns your old clothing into new ones.

Using a special recycling technology, the Swedish fast fashion giant will clean the used garments provided by customers, shred them into fibres and spin them into yarn. This, along with added virgin materials (sustainably sourced, of course), will be used to create a new design for the owner of the original garment. The Looop system uses no water or chemicals, and it will have a much lower impact on the environment than creating a garment from scratch.

Looop has been introduced in Sweden, but H&M plans to expand its reach to its stores worldwide. The service also comes with a fee, but that will be donated entirely to research on sustainable materials. Environmental activist Jane Goodall, along with R&B singer SZA, have already given their stamps of approval.


(Photo credit: H&M)

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Re.Uniqlo by Uniqlo

In September, Uniqlo introduced its Re.Uniqlo initiative that encourages customers to donate their old Uniqlo clothing for them to be recycled or reused.

For the former, the Japanese label will turn them into new clothing to sell. It has already unveiled a collection of recycled down jackets, which will be available to shop from November 9. For clothing that can’t be salvaged, Uniqlo will recycle them into alternative fuel that reduce carbon dioxide emissions instead.

As for the “reuse” part of Re.Uniqlo, the brand is working with humanitarian, non-profit organisations to distribute the secondhand clothing to those in need, such as refugees and disaster victims.

If you want to help, simply take your used garments to the “Uniqlo Recycling Box” at your nearest Uniqlo store.

(Photo credit: Uniqlo)

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Join Life by Zara

Zara rolled out its Join Life initiative in 2015, which includes two parts.

The first is the Join Life label, which is made from sustainable raw materials such as organic cotton, recycled polyester and Tencel Lyocell. By 2025, Zara intends to only use such materials across all its collections, as well as to power its factories with 80 per cent clean energy. It also aims to produce zero discharge of hazardous chemicals and zero landfill waste by 2023.

Join Life also includes a clothing collection program, similar to the ones from H&M and Uniqlo. The Spanish brand donates the collected clothing to non-profit organisations such as Red Cross, Caritas, Oxfam and the Salvation Army.

This year, Zara is expanding the program to include a collect service, so that customers can donate right from their homes. So far, the service is active in Spain, as well as global cities like Beijing, Shanghai, London, Paris and New York. By the end of the year, you’ll also find a collection container in all Zara stores.

(Photo credit: Zara)

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Resell by COS

Most people don’t consider COS as a fast fashion label, but it very much operates like one with its frequent releases. The high-end, minimalist brand from the H&M Group has made efforts towards sustainability, such as its COS Active line for men and women, which is made with eco-friendly fabrics that produce as little waste as possible.

In September, the brand also launched Resell, an online platform for customers to buy and sell secondhand COS products. (It’s not the only one getting into resale: Levi’s and Selfridges have launched their own platforms, while Gucci recently paired up with TheRealReal to offer its older merchandise.)

For now, Resell is only open to sellers from the UK and Germany, but the service ships to countries around the world. If you’re hoping to give your COS clothing a new life, good news: the brand plans to grow the platform and include more countries in the future.

(Photo credit: COS)

Here’s what fast fashion labels are doing to create a sustainable future 

Pameyla Cambe

Senior Writer

Pameyla Cambe is a fashion and jewellery writer who believes that style and substance shouldn't be mutually exclusive. She makes sense of the world through Gothic novels, horror films and music. Lots of music.

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