Let’s get fashionably serious – for a change. Fashion is one dirty gal and, no guys, not in a good way. She is thirsty, making her a clear target in heavily polluted China’s cleanup mission du decade, entitled “Beautiful China”. The fashion industry stands at a China crossroads: Get on the merry-go-round or get out of the polluted amusement park. So when we discuss that new “Made in China”… How does this sexy label affect the nation’s fast fashion industry?
The term “fast fashion” refers to a phenomenon in the fashion industry whereby production processes are expedited in order to get new trends to the market as quickly and cheaply as possible. It’s dirty, indeed.
China’s 20-year-long history environmental delinquency eased the rise of that much-beloved cheap fast fashion mistress. Nevertheless, the country’s regulatory landscape has been changing ever since the State Council approved new “Made in China 2025” (#中国制造2025#) label, my cool confidants. Officially announced by China’s Premier Li Keqiang in May of 2015, the tag outlines a 10-year strategy for China to become known as a leader in manufacturing innovative technologies. Beijing HQ want to move away from the bad “Made in China” rap and maneuver towards the beneficial “Created in China” tag (“从中国制造到中国创造”). How does one get sartorial with it, then?
The top 10 goals listed in China’s 13th Five-Year Plan (2015-2020), China has a lot of ambitious plans indeed, show five front-page targets that stand out: “Beautiful China”, “Health China”, “Intelligent China”, “Happy China” and “Agricultural Modernization”. “Beautiful China” — the only one that matters here — aims at improving China’s natural habitat. The environmental protection industry can expect an annual growth of more than 20 percent over the next years to come, with total social investment possibly reaching the heights of some 17 trillion RMB (everybody’s lost count of the 0’s at this point). Experts believe that as input in the cultivation of an ecologically responsible culture gradually goes up, the policy support for environmental protection will eventually catch up as well. “Beautiful China”, in a nutshell.
中华人民共和国国民经济和社会发展第十三个五年计划中有 5头版目标. 5头只一个名为“美丽中国”。中国专家认为，作为生态文明建设投入逐渐上升，环保政策的支持最终也会赶上为好。
China’s current mission to build a Kingdom where the highest mountain skies are blue, the rolling grasslands are green and all Three Gorges plus Bohai Sea waters et alli run fairytale clear, forces the nation is to rethink resource allocation — if it truly wants to counterbalance economics and environment. It’s all about that water-food-energy security nexus. Nevertheless, China’s attempted kind-to-the-environment playbook evokes a variety of risks in the field of fast fashion. Given the need to protect the country’s limited water resources, the textile sector stands vulnerable, yet strategically speaking less important than food or energy security which both remain in drastic need of a safety net. In the end, the textile industry was omitted from that elusively transformative “Beautiful China” mission. Fast food for thought.
China must now put on its sustainably produced thinking cap and ponder the pros and cons of fast fashion for its future (inter)national benefit.
Although many apparel brands have gradually been moving their operations away from China, “up to 75 percent of key fashion materials such as cotton, chemical fibers, wool and raw silk remain vital within the nation’s production and import activities” according to the Sourcing Journal. With China’s transition towards higher-value products that stand in line with the whole “Made in China 2025” deal, both manufacturers as well as brands in the long run will run into challenges in terms of raw material production. The relationship between fashion and China is complicated, to say the least. With the progress of the nation’s sourcing-transparency and the prowess of its emerging green ‘n clean consumers, China’s crusade to become a full-fledged financially and environmentally stable global power may not involve the production of a Marks&Spencer shirt, let alone that of a Trump tie. China must now put on its sustainably produced thinking cap and ponder the pros and cons of fast fashion for its future (inter)national benefit.
Premier Li Keqiang in 2014 stated the nation was to declare “a war on pollution” and the 2015 Ministry of Environmental Protection’s State of Environment Report demonstrated that China’s overall environmental quality had once again decreased. The country’s seven major rivers to this day remain pure venom, hence water resources are extremely limited. And truth be told, the textile industry is a major culprit as she still contributes large amounts of hazardous chemicals to these waters. In addition, four times (!) more water is used to produce cotton clothing material than to produce the likes of crops such as rice. Think again when you’re getting seduced by the saliva-inducing bargain price tag on a chain-produced piece.
总理李克强两年前规定中国要开展斗争：“污染战争”。2015年的环境部报告表明中国的环境质量下降了。该国因为七主要河流仍有毒废水，水资源而高度受限的。纺织行业这里的方面上肯定有罪。此外，纺织工厂 必须使用的水来生产棉服装材料比生产作物，比如水稻，多四倍 。这种“毒药毒性”非常大吧！
In the semi-decade that now lies ahead, China will have to decide… Does it stay on the cheap clothing merry-go-round or does it ditch the global fast fashion supply chain?
With China’s spotlight shining brightly on the key issue that is pollution, comes then a high brand-reputational risk. Paired with the new Chinese clientele’s attitude towards clothes that do not contaminate human living conditions, the largest consumer market in the world may now develop a rather different design for the future of fashion. The all-absorbing powers of fast fashion are partially to blame for the nation’s slow sustainable progress. To make matters worse, the sector hasn’t contributed greatly to the country’s GDP as of late, either. In the semi-decade that now lies ahead, China will have to decide… Does it stay on the cheap clothing merry-go-round or does it ditch the global fast fashion supply chain?
随着中国不断增加绿色意识的消费者，买主目前可能对马克斯 – 斯宾塞生产的（快时尚）衬衫不满意了－－对环境不利的影响太大了。如果该国想在经济和环境方面上成为一位全球的功率， 中国在可预见的未来必须权衡快时尚的利弊来确定这个行业对国家将来的繁荣的重要性。
There’s no easy solution for the matter, let alone a quick fix. Released in April 2015, China’s Water Ten Plan is “a temporary set-up for textile factories to engage in national compliance standards”. Should the plan hold up, some 90 percent of textile factories would run the risk of getting shut down, for example due to an increase in operational costs. Main textile hubs would also witness a negative thump, including the Yangtze River Delta area where, according to China Water Risk, “more than half of global chemical fibers are manufactured for apparel”. The environmental benefits of the Water Ten Plan may be fast (yet fleeting!), but the social effects could be draining. It’s a Catch-22 à la mode.
The time has come for the textile industry to think outside the tanned box and figure out a fresh business model for the fashion industry-at-large.
The global fast fashion industry now stands at a China crossroads and an increasingly difficult Chinese operating environment, with a subsequent uncertain future to over-the-knee boot. At this point, there are two sides to the branded coin. First one is for brands to carry on their business as usual and move away from China only to buy from other countries (India, Vietnam and Cambodia are hot right now) where they can continue to pollute. The other option for them is to simply stand side-by-side and work with their Chinese producers towards sprucing up the industry. The time has come for the textile industry to think outside the tanned box and figure out a fresh business model for the fashion industry-at-large, with a different approach to or even full elimination of fast fashion. A new model that leads to “Beautiful Fashion” on all accounts.
国际品牌目前没有太多选择：继续在属于高污染的中国服装厂生产衣服或者离开中国。品牌可以继续与业务照常，并且可以把它们的生产般到别的国家（比如到印度或越南），就可以继续污染。另外的一个解决方案是与中国制造商合作，以重整行业。 是时候减少时尚的污染性，浪费性；是时候调查行业新的一种商业模式 ——内外 美丽的一个！
The new “Made In China” likes to take it slow and keep things personal. The label stands on the opposite end of your fast ‘n cheap guilty pleasure H&M buy on the overall fashion spectrum. Is there really room for fast fashion in a ‘Beautiful China’? 2020 will tell. Nevertheless, with her shabby reputation, it might not be such a bad trend for the lady to take a step back. Besides, and not throwing shade at the occasional quickie here, fast fashion is more for the Frugalista, not the Fashionista.