“We believe there is light at the end of the tunnel,” said LDP co-founder Gabriela Luna. She identified eco-conscious consumers as part of the solution to fashion waste, although at present, it is mostly high-end consumers who are prepared to pay more to know their clothes are sustainably and ethically produced, she said.

Nonetheless, these market opportunities motivated LDP to be transparent in its supply chain, Luna said. The brand works with artisanal weaving associations in Guatemala, enabling consumers to know who made their clothes.  

Sustainability is not a passing trend… It is excess that is a passing trend, and this is the trend that we have to face right now.

Orsola De Castro, co-founder, Fashion Revolution

Luna said the challenge for slow fashion brands lies in changing the mindsets of consumers who still prioritise accessibility over sustainability.

In China, more than 20 million tonnes of textiles are wasted each year, despite a 100 billion yuan (US$13 billion) market for recycled clothing. Though there is a burgeoning zero-waste movement, changing attitudes towards reused or upcycled clothing could prove difficult. 

“In order to create a movement, you need to first change the mentality of consumers, and until then you can’t change the immensity of the clothing industry,” a user who identified as Zhang Weidong posted in an online Chinese Q&A forum on slow fashion.

Chinese New Year also encourages the cycle of purchasing because new clothes are considered to bring good luck. The perception that second-hand clothing is unhygienic is also commonplace, as is public scepticism about the traceability of reused materials, illustrated by a recent case of rogue clothing banks.  

Luna said it is easier for new fashion brands to incorporate sustainability from the outset than for established global brands such as H&M, which recently signed a pledge along with over 30 other retailers to become carbon neutral by 2050, to switch to greener models.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which advocates the circular economy, is petitioning larger brands and the garment industry as a whole to transition to a fully regenerative business model based on four pillars:

  • Phasing out harmful substances and microfibre release
  • Increasing clothing utilisation
  • Radically improving recycling
  • Effectively using resources and moving to renewable inputs

According to Orsola De Castro, co-founder of Fashion Revolution, a global sustainable fashion movement established in the wake of the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh, some of these changes are already underway.

“Sustainability is not a passing trend… It is excess that is a passing trend, and this is the trend that we have to face right now,” she said.