Whether it be a second-hand vintage sweatshirt, or a T-shirt made from recycled plastic bottles, ethical fashion is the next big thing. Of course, increase in consumer awareness of the problems with fast fashion, and a reflection of this on the high-street, is an exciting breakthrough. But where sustainability is used by brands as a marketing ploy to feed into materialistic desire, how much are we really doing to help the environment?

It’s easier than ever before to maintain your shopping habits but in the name of ethical fashion thanks to the likes of Zara’s ‘Join life’ range and ‘H&M Conscious’. You can buy three of the same T-shirt in different colours using the excuse “at least it’s not fast fashion”. But in doing so, we’re still being drawn in by marketing; we’ve bought the three T-shirts becausethey’re “sustainable”, not because we need them. And the problem of excessive consumption continues…

The sustainability trend led by fast fashion brands only perpetuates the belief that we need more new clothes because apparently wearing the same outfit twice is a crime. Their ethical clothing lines, like any other clothing line, are a way of responding to the latest trends – and the current market is sustainability. By buying from these ranges, we’re funding the unethical practice elsewhere in Zara and H&M’s clothing production. 

When we’re bored of our Zara T-shirt, we donate it to a charity shop, someone else wears it for a couple more years, by this point it’s got hole in, they might use it as a rag to polish their shoes (thanks Dad for the life hack) but then when it’s full of holes and stained with shoe polish, what happens? Landfill. 

Resourcefulness, as I’ve just described, is obviously important. But it’s not an excuse for excess. By buying from these ethical fashion ranges, we’re still contributing to a linear economy. While it’s great to donate to charity shops, this does not justify manufacturing more and more new clothes, because by the end, it’s irrelevant that the T-shirt was made from organic cotton – its destination is still landfill where it will remain, polluting the atmosphere. 

Currently, 97% of clothing is made from raw materials. Soon, a circular economy will be necessary because our natural resources will run out. I recently visited a cotton farm in Gujarat in India where the farmers expressed fear of complete soil exhaustion beyond repair because of over-cultivation. Cotton production also contributes to the water scarcity across India because of the high volumes of water it requires to grow. We need a circular economy where textiles are reused to produce new clothes. 

The easiest, cheapest and most important thing we can do to reduce the landfill problem is to simply buy less. We’re at risk of the word “sustainability” being reduced to a marketing technique to manipulate the conscious consumer into buying more. In amongst the marketing, we lose sight of what a truly sustainable fashion industry looks like. We cannot leave the transformation of the fashion industry in the hands of Zara and H&M because ultimately their aim is to make profit, not save the planet.