This article is part of a series examining Responsible Fashion, and innovative efforts to address issues facing the fashion industry.
Who gets to decide what is green or greenwashing? Is it a good thing that more celebrities and reality stars are embracing pre-loved clothing? How much should governments step in when it comes to sustainability? What protections do garment workers have?
These are just some of the questions that dominated the debate in 2022 about how the fashion industry can reduce its impact on the planet and safeguard its hundreds of thousands of workers in poor countries.
Going into 2023, there are soaring energy prices in Europe, global supply chain disruptions and spikes in the cost of living in many parts of the world. These factors are all expected to pose challenges for an industry under pressure from regulators and consumers to find meaningful solutions — fast.
Here are some of the most memorable moments when it came to responsible fashion in 2022.
Shein Continued Its Fast-Fashion Dominance
A lot of people don’t know how to pronounce Shein (it’s “she-in”), the Chinese fast-fashion behemoth, but chances are they’ve probably heard of it, shopped for its clothes or perhaps even boycotted it.
Shein grabbed plenty of headlines in 2022: There were labor violation investigations and allegations of elevated levels of lead in some products. At the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in June, Shein pledged $15 million over three years to the Or Foundation, a charity working at Kantamanto, the world’s largest secondhand clothing market, in Accra, Ghana. The pledge prompted suggestions of greenwashing as the company continued to make a fortune from sales of supercheap clothes.
It’s hard to tell whether these negative reports have affected the company. According to research compiled by Money.co.uk and published in December, Shein was the world’s most popular fashion brand this year. After analyzing a year’s worth of search data on Google, Shein topped the list of most-searched-for brands in 113 countries in the world, beating Zara to the top spot.
The Founder of Patagonia Gave Away His Company to Fight Climate Change
Patagonia has long positioned itself as a brand at the forefront of the war against climate change, giving away 1 percent of its sales to environmental causes since 1985. But this year, the outdoor clothing retailer’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, took a bold step: He gave his company away.
He, his wife and children handed Patagonia to a nonprofit group, designed to ensure that all of the company’s profits — some $100 million a year — are used to fund conservation efforts around the globe. While it is a move that, according to Bloomberg, will allow the Chouinard family to avoid a substantial tax hit, it also may set a precedent for fashion’s numerous other mega-rich dynasties.
Stars Did a Different Kind of Turn on the Red Carpet
In 2022, the message spread that for the fashion industry to reduce its environmental footprint, more brands will need to incorporate repair, resale and rental services into their business models. Spurred by the rise in popularity of rental clothing, which has already been embraced by influencers, a handful of megawatt stars also began renting high fashion for red-carpet appearances. The most notable outing this year? A turn earlier this month by the Princess of Wales, who wore a Kermit green off-the-shoulder frock by Emilia Wickstead to the Earthshot Prize Awards ceremony in Boston, that she rented for £74, about $90, from the British website Hurr.
Big Questions About How Fashion Measures Progress
The Sustainable Apparel Coalition has been one of fashion’s most powerful sustainability-focused trade groups. Its tools, known as the Higg Index, are used by companies including Walmart, Nike and H&M Group, and were seen as a de facto industry standard to measure environmental and social impact. Until it wasn’t.
Regulators in Norway said this spring that Higg data was not sufficient for environmental marketing claims. A Quartz investigation found H&M’s environmental scores were “misleading” and “outright deceptive.” And a New York Times article said the index strongly favored synthetic materials made from fossil fuels over natural ones like cotton or leather.
Fueled by other controversies such as the fraudulent auditing of organic cotton in India, the debate over how fashion can create a standardized way to measure and substantiate sustainability claims by companies is only getting more heated, with no clear solution in sight.
New Laws Aimed at Fixing the Fashion Industry
This year many governments seemed to wake up to the fact that companies are not reforming themselves at a pace and scale that will meaningfully combat climate change. In January, organizers of the Fashion Act introduced a bill that, if passed, would make New York the first state in the country to pass legislation that would set broad sustainability regulations.
In May, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand introduced the federal FABRIC Act, aiming to introduce better labor protections for U.S. garment workers as well as manufacturing incentives. In November, the European Commission proposed new rules to reduce packaging waste that would affect things like perfume bottles and e-commerce packaging.
Beefing up government oversight may be a messy and slow process, but its start has climate advocates encouraged.
A Changing Relationship Between Fast Fashion and Reality TV
The symbiotic relationship between reality television shows and fast fashion brands like Fashion Nova, Shein and Boohoo is well established. But in May, “Love Island,” the hit British reality dating show that has turned scores of contestants into influencers, embraced a new sponsor, eBay UK.
For several years, “Love Island” contestants wore the fast-fashion brand I Saw It First, which sells clothes for as little as $3. But this season, contestants wore pre-loved clothes and accessories to promote responsible shopping.
In September, the internet went into a sharp-tongued uproar when Kourtney Kardashian Barker was unveiled by Boohoo as its latest collaborator and sustainability ambassador. But, overall, there seems to be more scrutiny about how reality TV and fast fashion are both peddling a false egalitarianism, or a way for everyday people to embody aspirational lifestyles.
Stella McCartney, who invested in Mylo, a mycelium material produced by Bolt Threads, as part of a 2020 consortium including Kering, Adidas and Lululemon, introduced a new venture with Protein Evolution that will process leftover mixed nylon and polyesters into new material for use in new clothing. And innovative textiles like seaweed fabric, mushroom leather and pea silk have also been gaining momentum, as well as Spinnova, a natural fiber that is compostable and recyclable and made without water or any harmful chemicals.
Garment Workers Stood Up for Their Rights
Fashion brands rarely own the factories that make their clothes. The vast majority of garment and footwear orders are outsourced to suppliers in emerging markets, where overhead is cheap and the cost of human labor is even cheaper. In 2022, hundreds of thousands of garment workers, who power the global clothing trade, took to the streets to protest wages and working conditions as inflation and canceled orders took a toll. In Haiti, Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Pakistan, many used social media to alert the world to their cause.
The news in December that factory workers in Pakistan would now be protected under the International Accord, a legally enforceable health and safety agreement, was a significant step. But the furor at the start of the World Cup over the mistreatment of thousands of workers making soccer uniforms for the likes of Adidas and Nike was another stark reminder that there remains a long way to go.