How Can We Make The Fashion Industry More Sustainable?

Is it in our power?

The fashion industry is a place of extreme creativity and innovation however we have a dirty little problem that is not so secret any more. The impact the fashion industry is having on the planet has put it up to the 2nd highest polluter in the world, the only one worse is the oil industry - not a great bed fellow. With 1.2bn tonnes of carbon emissions released by the global fashion industry in 2015 alone, the creativity that it has become renowned for should now be turned to finding solutions to this crisis.


“Every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned” - Ellen Macarthur Foundation


shopping clothing rail sustainable

The fast fashion part of the industry is constructed to take trends from the catwalks and recreate them as fast as possible for mass consumption. This model for the fashion industry is completely unsustainable. There used to be two seasons a year - spring/summer and autumn/winter - that has been replaced with a new model of almost weekly drops in stores and online of the newest clothing trends. For consumers they can shop any day of the week and find new pieces to buy.  


Three in five pieces of clothing end up in incinerators or landfill within a year. While incredibly depressing, there is  the first shoots of real movement among consumers to have more sustainable wardrobes. The search term ‘sustainable fashion brand’ on Google has increased between 2017-2018 by 25% and 61% since 2016. This is a good indication that customers are ready to put their money into brands that are addressing the industries environmental issues and spending the time to search them out themselves.

“In the UK, women buy half of their weight in clothes each year” - Sustain Your Style


Business of Fashion, a leading digital authority on the global fashion industry, and McKinsey and Company collaborated to create a State of Fashion Report 2019 and one of the top ten trends to shape the industry this year will be radical transparency by brands. Supply chain traceability - how raw materials are sourced to how textiles are manufactured, shipped and reused - is a great way that brands are changing. This ability for the consumer to know the business that they are buying into on a much deeper level and whether their ethical standards are in line with their own. This gives consumers more control over the brands by using their money where they believe is best.

As with all industries, money speaks, and with the worst Christmas period for retail since the 2008 financial crisis having just gone this is a testing time for all businesses. Re-inventing retail will be the key for many brands in the coming year. One of the main areas that they can improve, and become a destination for shoppers, is their approach to sustainability. While 90% of CEOs are saying that sustainability is fundamental to their success, and implementing strategies with positions such as Chief Sustainability Officer, it is more important to have them continue this work despite the initial lack of return that a lot of businesses have experienced. There is hope though, according to the Global Corporate Sustainability Report from Nielsen, a global data analytics company, indicated that 66% of consumers globally are willing to spend more on a product if it comes from a sustainable brand while more importantly 73% of Millennials indicated the same preference.


For the brands that continue on this path to sustainability and transparency they are building a profile that will be widely supported by a generation that is young enough to reward companies with long term loyalty. Millennials are much more frugal with their money than older generations however when they do spend they specifically search out pro-social messaging, sustainable practices and ethical business standards. If businesses can tap into this call for more socially aware branding and publicly state their social citizenry standards, they will have loyal customers for years beyond this financially difficult period we are in. While it feels wrong to entwine financial incentives with environmental change, there are plenty of people that simply do not think or do not want to think the current environmental crisis we are in is as serious as global environmental scientists are telling us it is. Therefore by making sustainability a viable, and worthwhile, business plan this takes it away from belief and simply into what will make the most money - and businesses love that.    


The truth for the fashion industry is that sustainability is not a fad that is going to fade into non-existence. With protesting school kids and reports by many governments across the planet expressing the need to change, this is a multi-generational issue that must be addressed now. If not for simply valuing the planet’s natural eco system and stopping global warming, it is a financially smart decision for brands to make as consumers look for the best design and the most environmentally friendly pieces for their wardrobes.

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