Fashion for the Earth

Exposing a Fast Fashion Wolf in Shapewear’s Clothing

SKIMS is a shapewear juggernaut. The brand was co-founded by Kim Kardashian in 2019 and like other celebrity led clothing brands has been incredibly successful, especially in the influencer age where creators are dedicated to buying the newest fashion and promoting them for their audience. 

As of 2023, the company is valued at $4 billion and projected to reach $750 million in annual sales. SKIMS has been praised for their body positive and inclusive products which come in a wide range of sizes. But her brand has also drawn the ire of those opposed to fast fashion for its lackluster commitment to sustainability. 

In recent years, as the average consumer becomes increasingly aware of the harms associated with poorly made and unethically sourced products, SKIMS, like many others in the fashion industry, has come under heightened scrutiny. And, in particular, the fashion industry is a significant contributor to plastic waste.

Most clothing items are made from petrochemical-based synthetic fabrics — in 2021 alone, 54% of fiber was made from polyester, and only 14.8% was recycled. The popularity of polyester and other petroleum-based fibers is a result of their inexpensive production costs, which ensures clothing companies can turn a considerable profit.

But these crude oil derivatives are a nonrenewable resource, and the production of plastics contributes to 4.5% of annual greenhouse gas emissions. These materials are also responsible for microplastics, which are stripped from the clothing in the washing machine and end up in water sources.

Textiles are responsible for 35% of microplastic pollution in the ocean. California has taken steps to limit microplastic pollution by introducing a bill that would require microfiber filtration systems in new washing machines. Consumption of synthetic fabrics does not exist without environmental consequences, even if the clothes claim to be sustainable or recyclable. 

SKIMS currently has 9 fabrics available in their line. Four of these are made mainly from cotton, but the remaining fabrics contain materials like spandex and nylon. For example, products made from the Cozy fabric are 21% nylon, and the Essential Bodysuit fabric contains 95% nylon. These synthetic materials are cheap and useful for their elasticity in shapewear garments. But they are also responsible for releasing tons of microfibers — which are known to have adverse environmental and human health impacts — throughout their lifecycle. 

Upon reaching out to the company, SKIMS stated that their products were sourced in Thailand, China, and Turkey, and produced in Thailand and China. Fast fashion companies have been accused of abusing garment workers in these countries by overworking and underpaying them. SKIMS’ website states that their workers are “ensured fair wages, safe environments and healthy working conditions.” 

Many garment factories are located in less developed countries where underpaid workers feel the most direct effects of fashion pollution. Chemical dyes contaminate groundwater, unsold clothes are piled up in landfills, and the industry as a whole threatens biodiversity

SKIMS uses misleading marketing to present the company as sustainable. Their claims in regards to packaging is an example of greenwashing. On the official SKIMS website, the company claims that they’ve “removed all plastic and non-recyclable materials” from the packaging and replaced them with biodegradable bags. The packaging itself reads “I am not plastic” and touts itself as “compostable,” promising that it will biodegrade at an industrial compost facility. 

However, closer inspection of these bags reveals a number 4 icon, which indicates that it is made from low-density polyethylene (LDPE). LDPE is a synthetic plastic that is very difficult to recycle. The company’s claim that the bags are not made of any plastic is misleading. 

SKIMS made $500 million in 2022 alone, so the company is more than able to invest in eco-friendly practices. The founders of SKIMS are incredibly wealthy — Kim Kardashian’s net worth is $1.7 billion, and co-founding couple Jens and Emma Grede are estimated to be worth at least $360 million — and have the resources to commit to sustainability. 

With their prominent presence and considerable influence in the fashion industry, SKIMS is uniquely positioned to spearhead the transition towards sustainable fashion practices. While this body-positive brand has already empowered individuals, its potential to inspire consumers towards a more sustainable future is immense.

Kim Kardashian has a hugely influential platform that she can use to call for the protection of our planet. Prioritizing sustainability is not just a financial consideration, but a moral necessity in an increasingly environmentally-conscious world. At EARTHDAY.ORG we are fighting for a more sustainable fashion industry. We believe that success in today’s fashion industry should focus on both creating beautiful clothing and fostering a beautiful world for future generations.