Ten Problems for Fashion in the 2020s

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Literature review: Fashion problems for the 2020s

For the fashion industry, 2020 was the year in which everything changed. As the coronavirus pandemic sent shockwaves around the world, the industry suffered its worst year on record with almost three quarters of listed companies losing money. We believe 2021 will bring continuing opportunities in both the value and luxury segments, where the former benefits from consumers trading down in uncertain times, and the latter benefits from a strong recovery in markets like China. Whatever their positioning, stronger players will have an opportunity to seize market share from their peers and, in some cases, acquire their rivals at a bargain price [1].

For several years the fashion industry has been under fire for the problems it creates. Workers are exploited, factories are falling apart killing many people due to bad regulations, overproduction to avoid empty inventories, a massive carbon footprint, water pollution and much more. The list goes on. How is this still happening in 2021? Why haven’t these issues been fixed after all these years? Well, as it turns out the fashion industry is very complex. This means that there is little incentive to change the status quo from the top. Searching for solutions there might leave you with a bitter taste [2].

As an effect of the growth of Instagram during the past few years, more brands have started to use this platform to communicate with their consumers, and a generation that has been shown to be particularly interesting for fast fashion brands, is Generation Y. During the past few years, a term called body-positivity has increased in popularity among social media platforms like Instagram, which purpose is to encourage exposure to different body types. There are several studies that have highlighted the issues regarding the use of exclusively thin models among fast fashion companies, and that this increase body dissatisfaction among women, especially in the Western culture where the ideal is unrealistically thin [3].

There are approximately 40 to 60 million garment workers in the world today and millions more in other parts of the supply chain, in cotton fields and stores. The majority of those workers are women, thus representing the backbone of an industry worth almost $3 (€2.5) trillion per year today. In the majority of cases, garment workers are paid too low wages to have a decent living, they are subject to countless human rights violations and forced to work overtime in unsafe working conditions. The women behind our clothes face gender-based violence in order to survive and feed their families. Factories often deny their right to maternity leave or child care, and sexual abuse and harassment in their workplace as well as on their way to work, is commonplace [4].

Philanthropic foundations mostly influence fundamental norms for sustainability in the fashion industry through sharing knowledge, and through creating knowledge and collaboration. Moreover, although foundations share many similarities both in the norms supported and diffusion methods used, especially differences between private and public foundations are significant. While all foundations use a variety of norm diffusion methods, patronage is done primarily by private foundations while mobilizing people by public [5].

Starting from such general references, this booklet identifies ten relevant areas from very recent contributions put forward at academic level in the form journal articles, conference proceedings and students’ theses. Ten freely accessible internet references have been selected for each area and direct links are provided at the end of each chapter for own consultation. Our selected references do not intend to mirror ranking indexes nor establish novel classifications. On the contrary, they are meant to represent peer-reviewed, diverse and scientifically-sound case studies for vertical dissemination aimed at non-specialist readers. They will also be able to scoop even more references through the bibliography that is reported at the end of each selected reference.

Without further ado, these are the “Ten Problems for Fashion in the 2020s” that we are going to introduce in this booklet:

  1. sustainability,
  2. retail,
  3. quality,
  4. materials,
  5. pollution,
  6. recycling,
  7. human rights,
  8. responsibility,
  9. social media,
  10. funding.

Each problem has its own dedicated chapter made of an introductory section, a short presentation of the ten selected references and a conclusions section.

The final chapter of this booklet will report the conclusions from each chapter again in order to provide a complete executive summary.


[1] I. Amed et al., “The State of Fashion 2021”, 2021, McKinsey & Company, online at

[2] Dave Hakkens, “The problem withfashion in 2021”, 26 Mar 2021, One Army, online at (accessed on 15 Sep 2021)

[3] E. Thoren et al., “Is It the Model’s Size That Sells?”, 2021, Master’s Thesis, Jönköping International Business School, Sweden, online at

[4] T. Iglesias et al., “The fashion industry needs to break with its gender and women’s rights problems”, 4 Mar 2021, Fashion Revolution Foundation, online at  (accessed on 15 Sep 2021)

[5] E. Leferink, “Influence of philanthropic foundations on the norms for sustainability in the fashion industry”, 2021, Master’s Thesis, Utrecht University, The Netherlands, online at

Fashion Problems
“Ten Problems for Fashion in the 2020s” booklet for Amazon Kindle, 2021; click on the cover to go to the dedicated Amazon listing page

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