Updated: Mar 29, 2021
Is POD the eco-conscious alternative of tomorrow? Learn more about fast-fashion and its environmental issues.
Fast fashion: Into the wastelands
It is no secret that fast fashion never did much good to our planet. Between the energy and the crazy amounts of water needed to produce any textile, to the chemicals used in the process and all the wastes coming along with it… A piece of fast fashion comes with a much higher price than what’s on the tag. The cheaper it is for your wallet, the more taxing it is usually for our planet.
If only we’d keep these pieces for decades at least; alas most clothes last us for only few years, whether it’s because they’re not trending anymore, because our body changes, or simply because it’s too low quality to last.
While some major brands are starting to address these issues, it is often hard to sort the real eco-consciousness from the greenwashing - process of conveying misleading information to trick people into thinking they are more eco-friendly than they actually are. No matter their production process, a big environmental problem that remains is the amount of brand new clothes that end up going straight to landfills. Yup.
It’s simple marketing: When items don’t sell, there is a point where lowering their price wouldn’t generate profit anymore anyway and, worse, could impact the brand image. As for sending it to other markets, it can get quite expensive in shipping and handling, once again annihilating any potential profit. Besides, all items cost money on a daily basis, in stocking fees at least. So items that don’t sell are not just a loss of potential income, they’re actually an ongoing waste of money. Therefore putting these items straight to waste is the cheapest way out for these companies.
Less is more
Ever heard of Just-In-Time production? It’s a pretty self-explanatory methodology aiming at producing only what is needed, right when it is needed. First implemented in the mid 20th century it has since given birth to great new processes made possible by our modern technology, among which Print-On-Demand.
With online Print-On-Demand services, customers trigger the production of an item when buying it. No more is produced than what is actually ordered. No mass production, no minimum order, no stocks, no unsold items ending up straight to trash.
Its functionning is pretty simple: POD companies are basically warehouses full of blank products that double as printing factories. Designers create art tailored to fit these blank products and can then put them up for sale online. When a customer buys one of these products the order is transferred to the POD company, who triggers the printing, then send the finished product directly to the customer. As most POD companies have fulfillment locations in different countries they will even have the product printed in the closest location to the customer, thus reducing both shipping fees and carbon print.
As an additional benefit POD system enables designers to experiment as much as they want with little to no fee to put new products up for sale. No need to go big or go home; It is a fantastic opportunity for small brands and independent designers to give a shot at selling their own creations free of any financial pressure. It also offers the possibility of customizing products on demand for the customers, as well as globally offering more unique products.
And, who knows, it might encourage customers to think twice before buying then genuinely cherish for a long long time these one-in-a-few-tens items that they won’t see anywhere else.
The actual cost of fasion-on-demand
With the ongoing rise of environmental awareness POD companies started offering eco-friendly collections to follow up with their general eco-conscious position. It comes in the form of organic cotton fashion, recycled plastic and even biodegradable items. Designers are still a bit shy when it comes to selling these new products since there is not a whole lot of customer feedback to judge their quality on but it is definitely worth some thought.
Are Print-On-Demand services such a great eco-friendly manufacturing solution? Yes and no. It definitely has room to grow.
Most of their products are still made of regular cotton and plastic. As organic as cotton can be, it doesn’t guarantee its production process is eco-friendly - only that no pesticide of a certain category haven’t been used. Cotton still requires an incredible amount of water to grow and be processed. Plastics long outlive us. And while items are shipped to customers from the closest factory possible, some of these items are only printed in certain countries and will fly for hours before reaching their buyer.
It is still way less eco-friendly than going shopping at your local thrift store or buying 100% locally sourced and manufactured items. But definitely better for our planet than ordering from major online retailing brands who make everything in China - then dump at least a fifth of it in landfills.
It all comes with a cost but hopefully it’s going in the right direction and soon enough more eco-friendly materials, processes and businesses will be available.