Style / Fashion

Green is the New Black: Fashion’s Unsustainable Practices in Chasing Profits

While being desirable and sustainable are not always mutually exclusive, a slowing in fashion’s production does not equate to a brand’s diminished value.

Apr 16, 2024 | By Sanjeeva Suresh
AVAVAV’s autumn/winter ’24 collection at Milan Fashion Week

Luxury brands can afford to make less without jeopardising profitability. The fashion industry needs to take an active step towards its issue of being environmentally-conscious, by simply making less. By lowering their rate of production — to provide for a demand that is not necessarily there — brands could instead focus on quality and enforcing sustainability practices and transparency along their supply chain. Monitoring supply does not equate to being less desirable but rather upholds value and novelty, ultimately increasing the brand’s desirability.

The Novelty Factor

The Blancpain Villeret Quantième Perpétuel

Fashion could take a note out of the watchmaking industry’s notebook. Blancpain makes a limited release of their models, approximately 10,000 watches per year delivering 30 pieces of their most exclusive watch, the Blancpain 1735. Similarly, Rolex has leveraged the art of rarity and desirability with a concept of sustainability that has underpinned the brand’s development. Each watch is assembled by hand, ensuring a standard level of quality throughout, offering durable watches that are built to last. Rolex also maintains control over its distribution channels. Rolex watches are typically sold through authorised dealers and boutiques, which may have limited stock and long waiting lists, maintaining the brand’s luxury status and preventing market saturation. Ultimately this is reflected in market forces; many more people want Rolexes than Rolex can make and if individuals cannot get the Rolex they want, they won’t settle for the next best thing. While Rolex makes approximately 1 million watches a year, there might be a demand of 10 million that won’t falter.

Fast fashion — and to a certain extent luxury fashion — has evolved to include cheaper and faster manufacturing and shipping methods. Aside from the churning of the annual Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter collections, brands also deliver their intermediate Pre-Spring and Pre-Fall lines alongside Haute Couture collections for some. The sheer volume of designing at a fast pace has proven to put pressure on designers. In 2015, Raf Simons left Christian Dior shortly before Alber Elbaz left Lanvin — both showcasing the burn-out of creative geniuses in the increasingly fast-paced fashion industry. Furthermore, Lanvin continued to face a decline in sales, months after Elbaz’s departure. Then, most notoriously, one might recall the untimely death of the late Alexander McQueen, whose suicide after fighting depression highlighted the pressures of the fashion industry.

Then you have diffusion lines. Giorgio Armani has Emporio Armani and then Armani Exchange; while other less successful variants include Dolce&Gabanna’s D&G line that was closed in 2011 and Marc by Marc Jacobs that was discontinued in 2013. This does not include collaborative collections like 2023’s H&M X Mugler or 2024’s JW Anderson and Uniqlo. Brands deliver these diffusion and collaborative lines to provide for consumers across a range of purchasing powers — while some are more profitable than others — they do come at the cost of exclusivity unfortunately.

Diffusion lines or brand extensions could be consolidated under one umbrella. Case in point: Burberry. In 2015, former chief executive officer Christopher Bailey merged Burberry Prorsum, Burberry London and Burberry Brit under one label: Burberry, marking the end of the company’s diffusion lines. The move provided a consistent experience of Burberry’s collections and was ultimately profitable as around the same time Donna Karan sold off DKNY, and Kate Spade Saturday became Kate Spade. Burberry highlighted that brands can afford to make less without jeopardising profitability.

Greenwash, Gaslight, Gatekeep

Botter’s Autumn/Winter ’24 Dark Waters collection was a walking contradiction. The collection was in collaboration with Reebok and saw a dark post-apocalyptic style hoodie with the “Shell” logo, underneath that read “HELL”. One could argue this was Botter and Reebok’s way of critiquing large oil companies and their environmental impact. However, Reebok’s usage of polyester, spandex, nylon, and other synthetic materials are, in fact, made from oil. Instagram user sustainablefashionfriend noted that Reebok has a weak commitment to phasing out synthetic fibres which is a direct contradiction to what the piece was effectively trying to highlight.

The Fearful Future of Fast Fashion

Then there is the hellish landscape of greenwashing in fast fashion. Shein — one of the largest online-only fashion retailers — is notorious for its ultra-unsustainable fast fashion business model that has now morphed into an extreme “ultra-fast fashion” model. According to The Fashion Law, Shein is relying on AI-powered design algorithms. Instead of hiring trend forecasting companies like most fast fashion models, Shein effectively uses the aforementioned AI-powered algorithm to scout for items with the highest views on social media regardless of brand or price to recreate those items at the lowest prices. As the Business of Fashion reported, fast fashion brands are struggling to cope with Shein’s production pace and exceedingly low prices. Inditex (who owns Zara) has been forced to increase its prices to protect profit margins from inflation as part of a “shift towards upmarket customers”.

Fast fashion has gone from copying high fashion designs to their own high-street competitors resulting in a faster rate of production, higher quantity of production, lower quality of products, lower rate of usage from the consumer and ultimately a higher production of waste. According to, cheap clothes produced by (ultra) fast fashion brands end up on huge dump sites, burnt on open fires, along riverbeds and washed out into the sea once their short lives are over, resulting in severe consequences for people and the planet. Fast fashion has created a consumer trend of individuals buying more while wearing fewer of the items they already own.

However, the tide seems to be turning for fast fashion as at the end of March 2024, various British retailers including ASOS, Boohoo and Asda underwent a greenwashing clampdown by The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which is the principal competition regulator in the United Kingdom, tasked in part to prevent and reduce anti-competitive activities. CMA also prevents high-street brands from misrepresenting their sustainable claims that vincludes specific criteria for a range to be deemed a “green range”, and the prevention of using green imagery to represent a brand as greener than it actually is. Plus if users looked up “recycled” products in the brand’s search, only items made from predominantly recycled material can be included.

Shein is also on the receiving end of numerous legal battles with H&M and Uniqlo who are suing the retailer for copyright infringement. These pending litigations and lawsuits could be an existential threat to the retailers like Shein and Temu, ultimately affecting their profit margins should they settle on a payout.

The New Dawn

Zegna and Loro Piana are two brands that have made pledges towards sustainability and upholding an ethical ethos. The Ermenegildo Zegna Group’s sustainability page leads users to “Oasi Zegna”, a page pledging to preserve the forest with reforestation work, planting over 500,000 trees. According to the site, Ermenegildo Zegna began planting trees “with the goal of enriching the territory and nearby community, where relationships between man, mountain, culture, and nature could be preserved for the benefit of generations to come”. Zegna also made commitments to further enhance the brand’s traceability of its raw materials and manufacturing processes.

In 1994, Loro Piana, head of a consortium, signed an agreement with the Peruvian government and the Andean communities, granting the exclusive rights to purchase, process and distribute the fiber obtained only from vicuñas sheared while alive according to CITES regulations along the whole supply chain. Loro Piana’s commitment was renewed in 2008, with the creation of the first private nature reserve in Peru, named after Franco Loro Piana. By honing in on the ethics of their production, Zegna and Loro Piana do not sacrifice profits over production as a reasonable output can be easily forecasted.

What Is The Eco-Conscious Conclusion?

Moschino’s Fall 2017 collection

As consumers, greenwashing makes it increasingly harder to make educated choices in our sartorial purchases. Companies with poor sustainability practices may face increased operational costs and could struggle to attract customers and skilled workers. This ultimately jeopardises the profitability of companies in the long run. Additionally, shifting consumer preferences and evolving regulations could devalue investments in unsustainable industries.

That being said, changing consumer behaviour is an easy fix — education, transparency, ethical practices and holding brands accountable are but a few steps toward a sustainable future. Shein products are made to be thrown away and we, as educated consumers are living in an age where we can do better. The age-old adage of investing in pieces that last rings true. Spend less in the short term to invest more in the long term. Perhaps a change in consumer behaviour starts with building a sentimental connection to your clothing, cutting back on throwaway pieces, which ultimately goes back to brands honing in on quality to prioritise long-term profits over short-term margins.

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