People get into the fashion industry for all kinds of reasons. Some are drawn in because they love clothing – keeping up on the latest styles and having a small part in making the world more fashionable. Others enjoy the business aspects of it, making connections with other people in different parts of the world, or the excitement of making a big sale. Fashion is dynamic and multi-faceted, a multi-billion dollar industry with a global scope that exists to provide people with some of the most intimate and personal items they own: their clothes.
There so much involved in designing, producing, distributing, and retailing apparel (and so much money to be made) that often overshadows the industry’s environmental and social impacts. This dimension of fashion is less talked-about than others, but there are many opportunities for the those working in the fashion industry to use their influence for positive social good.
Environmental Impact of Fashion
Famous womenswear designer and socially-conscious fashion pioneer Eileen Fisher once described the fashion industry as “the second-largest polluter in the world, second only to oil.”
There are over 7 billion people Earth and (almost) all of them wear clothes. Most people have many different items of clothes, in fact most estimates have Americans purchasing more than 60 items of clothing per year (which is more than one a week.) This represents billions and billions of articles of clothing need to be produced every year to keep up with demand.
The amount of resources required to produce clothing on this scale is also astonishing. In her book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, Elizabeth Cline notes that world fiber production requires almost 2 trillion gallons of water every year, and about 145 million tons of coal (that’s nearly 300 billion pounds). By some estimates the process of dying textiles accounts for about 20% of the world’s water pollution.
Polyester, the world’s most common textile, is not represented in the above figures which refer only to materials produced from plant fiber. That is because polyester is made from petroleum in a chemically intensive process that produces the non-biodegradable material and emits nitrous oxide (a greenhouse gas “300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.”) International production of polyester is up to 50 billion pounds per year, over half of which comes from China.
Polyester and cotton are the most commonly used materials in the global garment industry, but there are others, all of which have their own environmental impacts. Furthermore, the environmental impact of the fashion industry does not end with production. Writing for Environmental Health Perspectives, Luz Claudio notes “Globalization has made it possible to produce clothing at increasingly lower prices, prices so low that many consumers consider this clothing to be disposable.”
The rise of “fast fashion” – clothing items produced to be worn only a few times before falling apart – has inculcated a wasteful mindset amongst consumers. According to Cline, the US alone consumes almost 20 billion clothing garments every year, during which time it also generates 13 million tons of textile waste.
Only about one fifth of discarded clothing can be sold in thrift shops – there is simply too much of it for the American second-hand clothing market. The rest ends up exported in bulk, shredded for rags or raw material, burned, or simply shipped to a landfill.
How Wholesale Closeout Can Help
The problems that beset the fashion industry are large and complex; there is no single solution that will alleviate all of them at once. The scale can be overwhelming, but there are smaller measures that fashion professionals can take to improve outcomes globally. One subset of the industry that has an exceptional potential for helping in this way is wholesale closeouts.
Wholesale closeout is the remarketing of goods that would otherwise be headed straight to a landfill, or in some cases even burned. This is especially harmful when you consider that many of the most common materials used in clothing production are synthetic fibers that release toxic fumes when burned.
Not only is this a huge waste of resources, it is also a disservice to consumers all around the world. It is not the case that overstock results from insufficient demand in the market overall – it is simply that the clothing supply is misaligned with the demand in one particular market. By re-channeling excess stock, wholesale closeout is able to find new homes for these products, saving them from their fate of sitting in warehouses or being shredded.
Wholesale closeouts also brings an excess of supply to communities that may have been unable to afford the products at full-price. For example in developing countries it can be much more difficult for people to purchase high quality clothing. There are some brands that don’t even have any formal distribution channels at all in many developing countries.
Retailers in smaller markets also have less bargaining power than their counterparts in larger American and European markets. In an ironic perversion of free market forces, consumers in these markets have to pay higher prices for the same products, despite the fact that consumer wages are lower in these countries than they are where the products are sold for cheaper.
By reallocating excess supply, wholesale closeouts increase the efficiency of global clothing markets. Without wholesale closeouts, not only would it be difficult for many consumers around the world to obtain high-quality merchandise, but the value that it represents would be locked up in product that couldn’t otherwise move. Selling overstock is a way of liquidating capital that would otherwise be wasted, and allowing it to circulate through local markets.