CLEANUP – TACKLING CONSUMERISM PROBLEM IN FASHION
Consumerism is the belief that acquiring consumer goods and material belongings is essential to one’s happiness and that expanding one’s consumption of products and services from the market is always a positive objective.
Generally, consumerism refers to a lifestyle of excessive materialism centered on reflexive, wasteful, or conspicuous overconsumption that occurs among people who live in a capitalist economy. In this regard, it is commonly acknowledged that consumerism has a severe psychological impact in addition to destroying traditional values and ways of life, allowing big business to abuse consumers.
Consumerism in Fashion: The fashion industry is an assembly point for millions of people all over the world, and it is one of the major industries that exemplifies the new globalized world of the twenty-first century (Hilary 2015). Fashion is a phenomena that affects many elements of our life, and understanding the fashion system allows us to better comprehend modern culture, society, and consumers (Atik and Firat 2013; Ozdamar-Ertekin 2016). Consumer markets and production systems in the fashion industry are extremely globalized, in tandem with the globalization of society, culture, and capital (Dholakia and Atik 2016). As a result, now more than ever, ethics is seen as one of the most pressing issues. Fashion corporations are frequently associated with numerous ethical difficulties, and such organizations are frequently entangled in ethical quandaries and debacles with major consequences on a variety of concrete and intangible performance metrics (Paulins and Hillery 2009).
The dizzying speed of fashion consumption and manufacturing has a severe impact on the environment and natural resources, and may involve labor exploitation, fostering materialism, and pushing excessive spending, among other issues (Ozdamar-Ertekin 2016). Philanthropists, environmentalists, human and animal rights campaigners, and concerned customers all over the world have been more vocal in their opposition to the seeming immoral activities of the fashion industry.
CleanUp Activities: With the model of cleaning and repairing services for shoes, bags and wallets in the high-end segment, CleanUp has been making positive contributions to repelling the bad effects of consumerism on society and environment. Not only helping customers reduce the volume of furniture consumption, especially in the fashion field, the value of CleanUp’s services also contributes significantly to the propaganda of sustainable lifestyles as well as the adverse impact of consumerism in fashion.
By using quantitative approach study was conducted to study the positive impacts of CleanUp on society and the environment in dealing with Consumerism in Fashion in Vietnam. After researching, our objectives are to find answers to following questions:
What is the state of consumerism in fashion?
What are the causes of consumerism in fashion?
What are current solutions to deal with the ill effects of consumerism in fashion?
How are CleanUp’s activities having positive impacts on addressing the ill effects of consumerism?
History of consumerism:
The consumer society arose in the late 17th century and grew in strength throughout the 18th. While some argue that the growing middle-class embraced new ideas about luxury consumption and the growing importance of fashion as a purchasing arbiter rather than necessity, many critics argue that consumerism was a political and economic necessity for the reproduction of capitalist competition for markets and profits, while others point to the increasing political strength of international working-class or youth movements. According to the “middle-class” perspective, this revolution included the increased construction of enormous country estates particularly designed to accommodate for comfort, as well as the greater availability of luxury items aimed at a growing market. Sugar, tobacco, tea, and coffee were among the luxury items that were gradually farmed on enormous estates (historically by slave labor) in the Caribbean as demand steadily increased. Sugar consumption in Britain increased by a factor of 20 throughout the course of the 18th century.
ASEAN’s growing economy is contributing to bringing ASEAN’s consumer culture closer to countries in Europe or emerging markets such as China, India, Brazil and Korea, capital has had a vibrant consumer culture for decades. However, ASEAN has been trading a huge amount of natural resources to produce goods and services. Increased demand for goods and services leads to an increase in production, which in turn leads to increased environmental pollution, plastic waste, deforestation and climate change. potential cause of potential health problems in the area. Currently, according to the United Nations, there are about two billion people in the world who are overweight or obese.
Looking at the current events of consumerism in general and consumerism in the fashion industry in particular, we will first focus on consumerism on a global scale and then dig deeper into that of VietNam.
Today, we are living in a world where consumptions skyrocket every day, every hour, every minute and even second. According to World Bank Data, expenditures on consumption have reached 69.47 trillion dollars in 2021 globally, with the US contributing over 19 trillion dollars to this figure.
Figure 1: Final consumption expenditure ( current US$) ( Source: World Bank national accounts data, and OECD National Accounts data files)
Consumptions closely align with income and we can divide the world into 4 income groups: the extreme poor, the vulnerable, the middle class, and the rich. The extreme poor are those that struggle to meet the basic needs in life such as food and education. The vulnerable are people who have escaped extreme poverty, however, they have little access to extra resources and are vulnerable to falling back into poverty should unemployment, natural disasters, epidemics or some other external and internal shock affect them. The middle-class, which accounts for most of the world’s population, are those who can expect more decent lives and have escaped the fears of extreme poverty. Lastly, the rich are people who live the life of relative abundance and can afford any standard consumer goods. As middle-class are abundant in number, they are considered the “consumer class” whose demand powers most economies. (Wolfgang Fengler and Homi Kharas Thursday). As people make more money, the middle class is growing at an unprecedented rate and more than half of the world population is projected to be in the middle class by 2030. In 2020, the middle class was already the largest spending group with 44 trillion dollars and is projected to spend 62 trillion dollars, which is a 50 percent increase when compared to 2020’s expenditure (Omri Wallach). The significant increase in expenditure exhibits huge consumption numbers, which further amplifies consumerism in today’s world.
In today’s fashion industry, fast fashion, which is new, trendy clothing sold at a low cost and designed to be worn just a few times, has been dominating the fashion industry for several decades and is still a thriving industry with big names like SHEIN, H&M, Zara, etc. The fact that it is sold at a reasonable, in fact, cheap price makes it easily accessible to people of different income groups, and buy them on a daily basis. Moreover, its diverse design and trendy traits attract many customers and fulfill their need to look trendy and sleek. According to Statista, the fast fashion market is expected to generate 106.86 billion dollars in 2023 and 133.43 billion dollars by 2026. The production of fast fashion has an unsustainable impact on our natural resources and our environment. As well as societal impacts in the countries that are tasked to produce the goods. Fast fashion is designed to be worn for a short time and constantly evolving trends result in repetitive consumption, which in turn produces waste from throwing away old, worn-out clothes or even barely worn items. These are thrown into landfills creating land pollution and as textiles decompose, they release methane which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. What’s worse, the production process of these items emits carbon into the atmosphere. According to Levi Strauss, a manufacturer for Levi Jeans, a pair of the 501’s will produce 33.4kg of carbon dioxide which is equivalent to driving 69 miles in an average car. This is estimated throughout the process of producing the jeans, packaging, transportation and then consumer use. The influence of fast fashion or in other words, consumerism in fashion, is extremely disastrous to the environment. There have been different approaches to tackle this issue but to notice significant changes takes time and efforts of different sides.
According to recent McKinsey Global Institute research, Asia is the world’s consumption engine, building up half of the global consumption picture with 10 trillion dollars of consumption growth opportunity over the next decade. As a part of Asia, “VietNam is well-positioned to be a significant driver of the next chapter of Asia’s consumption story”, says Bruce Delteil. In the past, the consumer class of VietNam only accounted for less than 10% of VietNam’s population while that of 2020 has risen by 4 times, and is expected to reach 75 percent by 2030.
Figure 2: Population by income group (daily spending) (Source: Marketpro by WorldDatalabs; McKinsey Global Institute analysis)
In the fashion field, the country has long been deemed a producer rather than a consumer as it places one of the top textile industry and clothing exporting industries globally due to low labor costs and resource abundance. In the past decade, VietNam has been a consistent outperformer of Asia with records of significant economic growth (Bruce Delteil). VietNam’s GDP was recorded to be 366.2 billion U.S. dollars in 2021 despite the hit of Covid 19 and is projected to reach a high of 685 billion dollars by 2027 (Aaron O’Neil).
Figure 3: Vietnam: Gross domestic product (GDP) in current prices from 1987 to 2027 (Source: Statista)
Along with the huge youth population, which is the target customer of most fast fashion brands, VietNam has become an irresistible attraction for investments from global fast fashion brands. The youth, ages from 18 to 24 years old, are very interested in their appearance, well aware of the latest trends in the world through social media, and have the desire to buy foreign apparel brands. In recent years, global fast fashion brands like Zara, H&M, and Uniqlo have been launching stores in big malls and venues across VietNam. With the penetration strategies of the fast fashion industry and the intensified consumerism lifestyle, VietNam is witnessing skyrocketing numbers of fashion consumption generally and fast fashion particularly. As a result, the environmental condition of VietNam is quickly deteriorating, with air, land and water resources being the most susceptible. Dr. Rajkishore Nayak, an author and senior lecturer in Fashion Enterprise at RMIT university VietNam has identified discarded clothing as “a major concern for landfill” and the major consequences include “the release of GHG, chemical leaching into soil, health issues and high air pollution”.
In response to the disastrous impact of fashion consumerism has in store for our environment, many sustainable fashion brands have emerged with hopes to promote clothes that are long-lasting and change the fashion industry’s heavy reliance on fast fashion. However, the results have not been very bright so far, as there are still many factors hindering consumers from switching to sustainable fashion. Sustainable clothes have limited design choices while the price is much higher in comparison with fast fashion. A survey among Southeast Asian consumers in 2022 conducted by Statista obtained a result of only 29 percent of the respondents in Singapore were willing to pay more for sustainable fashion lines. Nevertheless, we can still look on the bright side and make use of other strategies to cut back on fashion consumption to save the earth. Whether it’s composting or recycling and reusing fashion apparel, there are many things that we can do to live in a more earth-friendly way. CleanUp joint stock company’s approach can be one leading case. The activities CleanUp has been doing and will aim to, in addition to the core goal of creating stable jobs for the disadvantaged, significantly support the implementation of SDG 12 and SDG 13 according to the direction of the United Nations. The company provides a variety of services from simple cleaning to restoring worn-out shoes, bags and wallets. This can help prolong the lifetime of these fashion gadgets so that consumers do not have to save a considerable amount of money that they would otherwise have to pay if they were to buy new fashion gadgets. Meanwhile, consumers are also cutting back on their fashion consumption, which can noticeably contribute to environmental protection as they are not adding extra piles of waste to the landfill, thereby also decreasing the toxins that can penetrate into the land soil and also decreasing greenhouse emissions.
In more than 02 years since the establishment of the business (including 06 months of idle operation due to the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic), with 15 technicians who are all hearing impaired, CleanUp has provided repair and customize shoes and bags for more than 1500 customers, saving nearly 5000 fashion products. In terms of 2025’s vision, CleanUp hopes to spread the spirit of sustainable consumption, help consumers prolong the life of fashion items, thereby both saving costs and protecting natural resources as well as minimizing negative impacts on the environment, further through the franchise model, expanding the operation area to neighboring provinces such as Tay Ninh, Binh Phuoc and some Southern provinces. To achieve the most optimal and powerful capacity to meet the needs of today’s market, CleanUp intends to create jobs for more than 80 people with disabilities in 2023, 122 people with disabilities in 2024 and more 300 people with disabilities in the coming 2025.
Not only implementing SDG 12 and 13 through business and service activities, CleanUp also wants to help reduce the negative impact of fashion consumerism on the environment through charitable volunteer activities. Specifically, in 2023, CleanUp intends to organize the “Happy Shoes” campaign, a campaign to collect and recycle old shoes to give to upland people. Collecting and donating clothes is common these days, but very few shoe donations are organized for technical reasons – the complexity of handling and recycling old shoes. With skills and competences of the team, CleanUp is confident to carry out the campaign successfully, with the goal of collecting, recycling and giving away more than 1000 pairs of shoes to people in the highlands in 2023. More than that, CleanUp hopes to maintain this meaningful project every year, calling for the help and support of organizations, businesses and brands to spread the spirit of sustainable consumption to the whole society.
Consumerism has been around for a few centuries and mankind gradually got used to this style of living as time flies. With the unprecedented growth of the materialistic world, people are consuming to the point that the environment is put at its toll and it’s increasingly difficult to retrieve the earth back to its eco-friendly state. Whenever the earth’s deteriorating health is mentioned, people are always to blame, humans are the direct contributor and the ones who chose to take disastrous actions to the environment whether they know the consequences of their actions or not. Thus, people must be accountable for their actions and act upon the desired suitable solutions to help relieve stressful environmental conditions. Fashion consumerism is one type of consumerism that takes up the largest share, and the trend of fast fashion is the driving force behind it. We, therefore, need to seek solutions that can drive people to ditch fast fashion and choose sustainability in clothing instead. However, this approach has recorded tremendous difficulties in terms of price and design. On that account, it is obliged that people opt for alternative solutions like recycling or reusing. CleanUp has successfully grasped this opportunity and designed a business model that can effectively reduce the waste generated by protracting fashion gadgets through restoring and cleaning services. On top of that, the company has also initiated and is currently working on a social project which includes collecting and restoring old, donated shoes and other fashion gadgets and then donating them to volunteering organizations. This project not only aims at protecting the environment through the hefty reduction in waste produced from discarding those gadgets but also provides the deprived with like-new quality products that traditional voluntary activities won’t. Despite the bright vision, like many other solutions, the contribution of only one person or organization cannot guarantee change. Causing changes requires the joint hands of many people and organizations of any age, social and economic background. Each personnel can begin with small actions like changing their consuming behavior, particularly by gradually decreasing the frequency of going shopping, or when dealing with stress, try finding alternatives other than going shopping, like going on a walk or cycling is also a great choice. Depending on each person’s financial condition, they can either choose to buy more sustainable clothes at a higher price or reuse their current items by restoring them. There are solutions to every situation and whether it is performed or not depends on each person’s willingness to save the environment.
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