global sustainable development

Fast-fashion needs a new look

Consumers shouldn’t wait for the fashion industry to change its ways – they must lead with a greener buying choices, argues Michel Phan of emlyon business school

Climate experts have agreed that 2022 was one of the warmest years on record and that climate change is happening faster than anyone expects. We are no longer talking about 2030 or 2050, we are talking about tomorrow. And we are now seeing the dramatic consequences of climate change everywhere around the planet: frequent drought and heatwaves in one region, while heavy floods and landslides devastate another. Reflecting on this, one can rightly wonder what the fashion industry, the second most polluting after the oil and gas, has done to help our world?

The simple answer is: not much! According to statistics from Fashion United, the global fashion industry is expected to enjoy a 7.5% growth in 2021-2022 to $1.84bn in 2022, and a 6.1% growth in 2022-2023 to $1.95bn dollars in 2023. The main players of the fashion industry continue to produce and sell more and more products around the globe. They not only produce and sell in astronomical volumes, but they also speed up the frequency of consumption by launching new items every week to entice consumers to buy more frequently.

It is worth noting that many brands are changing for the better and creating new, greener trends – but this all too often carries a prohibitive price tag for many, especially younger consumers. Too many companies continue with reward systems that allow consumers to access even lower prices when they buy frequently, and consequently make their products extremely affordable. Others use greenwashing tactics, claiming they are becoming more environmentally sustainable, but still open more stores and push for increased consumption. They claim using recycled materials in their productions but still produce at factories located on the other side of the world and pay their workers the minimum wage to keep their costs low. They continue to pollute the environment with mass production and shipping goods around the world.

Those strategies can raise moral questions, such as what world will these company owners and CEOs leave behind once they are gone? Surely, these decision makers have children, grandchildren, and will have even great-grandchildren one day. What legacy will they pass on to them? What will they say to their grandchildren, who may hold them accountable one day for their impact on our planet.

Consumer behaviour must change
Scientists recommended that the best way to fight climate change is to reduce our CO2 emissions. Consuming more and more fashion products that don’t last and were shipped across the globe is not helping our fight against climate change.

The younger generations should open their eyes and ears and demand the fashion industry be more accountable for their environmental legacy. Reducing our fashion consumption is the first step in the right direction. Resisting the temptation of constant new and revolving trends is a sign of courage and strength and it should be acknowledged.

Younger consumers should not expect the fashion industry to change for them. They should adapt their consumption behaviour to change the industry – the big companies will soon take note.


Michel Phan is a Professor of Luxury Marketing at emlyon business school, France. An expert in the field, he has extensive international academic and professional experiences in the luxury industry across all sectors.