The rise of the fast fashion retail model that keeps consumer interest by feeding through fresh merchandise more frequently is out of kilter with the industry's increasing focus on sustainability issues, according to speakers at this year's IAF World Apparel Convention.

Indeed, Kurt Cavano, founder, chairman and chief strategy officer at supply chain trade platform provider TradeCard, goes so far as to describe the disconnect as "the elephant in the room."

"Unfortunately fast fashion and environmental sustainability are in complete conflict with each other," he said at the annual International Apparel Federation (IAF) event in Portugal today (26 September).

"When you have fashion that's designed to be washed eight times and thrown away and then have somebody come into the store and buy something a little bit different, it's not a model that speaks to sustainability, it's a model that speaks to consumption.

"The real paradox about the fashion industry is that we have this model that says that we want you to buy new stuff, because if you don't we can't make money. But that's in complete contradiction to sustainability.

"As much as we want to talk about sustainability, if everybody stopped buying clothes we'd all be out of business. We've got to figure out how to do something a little different."

Jan Hilger, director of operations at luxury brand Escada, agrees that "not only is fast fashion by itself a total contradiction to carbon footprint and other things, but it's pulling the whole fashion system behind it and making things worse.

"We have educated the consumer they can have everything within 24 hours, so nobody wants to wait for fashion for three months. People want everything now and in huge choice."

Bob McKee, fashion industry strategy director at business management software supplier Infor, believes: "It's our responsibility to deliver what the consumer wants, so it's also our responsibility to figure out how to do it in an ecologically responsible way. We have to find better ways to actually be sustainable through the entire chain."

One way to make fast fashion more sustainable is to come up with a model where recycling is at the core.

At TAL Apparel, one of the world's leading garment suppliers, chairman Harry Lee explains that "one obvious way is to recycle the used cuttings.

"On the cutting side we use approximately 85% of the fabric. We collect the other 15% of cutting room losses and send it to a mill who bring it down to fibre again and we sew it back to garments."