The Rise of Sustainable Fashion in China

by Hannah on October 23, 2017 - 6:15pm

Despite the modern view of China as an industrialized mass polluter, historically, this Far Eastern country has always focused on sustainability. Recently, a return to the Confucian value of sustainability has been making its mark on the Chinese fashion industry, as Clay Hales reports in Business of Fashion on October 11th, 2017.

This initiative is coming firstly from the Chinese government. Aiming to produce 4.5 million tonnes of recycled textiles by 2020, they are hoping to counteract the daily production of around 70,000 tonnes of textile production waste, which represents 53% of what is produced globally, according to the environmental non-profit Green Initiatives.

This isn’t to say that the private sector isn’t taking initiative too. For example, Shaway Yeh, uses her editorial column in Modern Weekly magazine to report on the issue of sustainability in fashion. Another forward thinker is Candy Li, who uses her showroom, Green Code, to display different brands who focus on sustainability.

However, the real push will have to come from consumers, but, from the statistics, this push is already happening. This is mainly due to the rise of China’s upper middle class, which currently represents 8% of China’s massive population, but which is expected to rise to 31% by 2030, at which point the China’s apparel retail market should be double 2015’s $275.2 billion. The Cotton Council International and Cotton Incorporated found in 2016 that 62% upper middle class Chinese consumers wanted sustainable apparel to be available to them.

Luckily, this rising interest in sustainability among consumers isn’t just among the upper middle class, but across the board. China Chain Store and Franchise Association found that 70% of consumers believed that “personal consumption has a direct impact on the environment.” However, this interest may have different motivations than in the West, as the main reason cited for choosing sustainable products was safety and health, followed by environmental friendliness and quality.

For more information on this topic, I can suggest the following academic journals. Firstly, there is the Carlton Cultural Studies Review, which frequently publishes articles such as “Practicing Sustainability: Illuminating 'Use' in Wearing Clothes”, which can be read here. Secondly, there is the Oxford Design Journal, which specifically takes a scholarly look at fashion and its implications in various spheres. Finally, there’s the Abingdon and Oxfordshire Journal of Contemporary Asia, which is relevant because Asian countries such as China and Thailand are where much of the fast fashion industry’s production is based, so that’s where the environmental and social impacts of this issue are felt the strongest.


About the author

Hi, my name is Hannah. First off, I'm very interested in the arts, music and filmmaking, and my skills include speaking 3 languages (English, French and intermediary Spanish), playing the cello and painting.