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Can “Made in China” Become a Beacon of Sustainability?

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In contrast to haul videos, this social media strategy encourages introspection and a reevaluation of the production and promotion of fashion. “As we engage in the entire process from fabric selection, tailoring, and sewing to creating a piece of clothing, we also engage with consumers,” says Lilli, a designer based in Shanghai. “We not only promote our product but also raise awareness about sustainability. Ultimately, when someone makes a purchase, it marks a small achievement for our society. Moreover, that, for us, is a small success.”

SLOW CHANGES IN FAST FASHION

China’s younger generation has become more interested in adopting a sustainable lifestyle. And backlash against fast fashion, both within China and internationally, has pressured corporations and governments to decrease their footprints. SHEIN has pledged to curb greenhouse gases by 25 percent by 2030. In 2022, the Chinese government declared its intention to recycle 25 percent of its textile waste, aiming to annually generate 2 million metric tons of recycled fabric by 2025. It remains to be seen how feasible and sincere these goals are, given the lack of transparency surrounding China’s recycling infrastructure and enforcement mechanisms.

Meanwhile, eco-conscious designers are still grappling with the formidable challenge of competing against fast-fashion corporations that have expanded across China and the globe. The appeal of the enduring, sustainable garments they design has yet to find a significant toehold within the escalating dominance of cheap, throwaway items.

In addition, pressure to follow new trends and buy high-fashion brands, mainly driven by Western countries, further marginalizes the market for recycled fabrics. Without a significant shift in consumer behavior and concerted efforts to address these powerful forces, the economic viability of textile recycling initiatives and shifts to more sustainable materials will continue to be undermined.

“I do not know if we can see improvement in China’s fashion industry in the next few years,” Lisa said. But she and other eco-friendly designers are determined to keep raising awareness and offering slow fashion alternatives. “We act now to secure our future,” Lisa added. “Remaining silent while witnessing environmental pollution, for example, from something as beautiful as dresses, is devastating for us.”

The environmental consequences of rapid urbanization, industrialization, and overconsumption underscore the urgent need for a shift toward sustainable practices. These designers’ efforts, though small, represent a transformative force within China’s fashion landscape. They contribute to a broader narrative of positive change toward a more conscious future.

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