Sustainability is certainly one of the big buzz words at the moment and it is certainly a word and theme that is beginning to create change within the fashion industry.
The preservation of our natural environment and how we can protect our natural resources has never had such prominence on both the political and of course environmental agendas as it does today.
But for the fashion industry, sometimes the thought of being sustainable and actually working to a sustainable product lifecycle often goes against the traditional designs and history of fashion. Quite often the fashion industry is perceived as controversial and, in some cases, often at odds with the good of the environment.
Of course, the facts also speak for themselves, as currently, after oil, the clothing industry is the second most harmful industry to the environment on the planet!
This is a frightening fact and quite a sharp reality check when we see it in black and white.
However, when we think about it, we can see how such a statement can be true. For example, think about the global industry in which we operate and just how much we actually produce, just how much fashion there is, even just to match the seasons throughout the year.
It’s reported that there are millions of garments discarded every year, yet to alleviate this waste; it’s not simply a case of asking fashion professionals to stop making so much stuff!
According to an interview with fashion designer Stella McCartney, it can almost be seen as “medieval”, in that, whilst other industries have adapted around and for the environment, for some reason fashion has continued along the same path, but not for much longer.
Sustainability within the industry has most certainly been ‘taken by the horns’ (so to speak) and it has sparked a new level of creativity when it comes to design, and also promoted and encouraged innovation.
Achieving a sustainable fashion industry is going to be difficult, and we can’t stress this enough. Unfortunately we can’t wave a magic wand and have the lifecycle of the fashion industry change overnight, however, sustainability in fashion is most certainly possible and it can be just as successful.
The ever growing popular perception that all industries need to be much more sustainable offers new and exciting opportunities for those innovative enough to recognise the change in the consumer attitude towards the importance of the environment. For example, look at the fashion brand Patagonia who has built up a large and loyal customer base through its relentless focus on sustainability which they have implemented throughout their entire product lifecycle.
Millennials are now compelling companies to become more sustainable – with 66% of global millennials willing to spend more on brands that can show they are more sustainable, than those who aren’t.
People want to do business with those brands that don’t just say they are sustainable but those that can also prove it!
And if the demand from the actual consumer wasn’t enough to make fashion professionals all over the world sit up, then maybe reports on the reduction in raw materials and a stop to labour intensive production processes will.
A report produced by McKinsey & Company has predicted that water consumption needs will outstrip supply by 40% by 2030, hence the need calling out for regulation now.
The impact of this statistic on the fashion industry is quite severe, think about our current dyeing and treatment processes and just how much fresh water is needed in order to do this – and this is only one element for the manufacturing of one product.
A conservative estimate has 2,700 litres of water being required to manufacture ONE cotton t-shirt, the equivalent of the fresh drinking water for one person for THREE years!!
As well as raw materials there is also the issue of labour disruption. According to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), “four out of the five countries most affected by rising sea levels are fashion’s biggest manufacturing hubs” – and because of these predictions, it has also been highlighted that the cost of labour within the unaffected areas will rise quite significantly.
No need to panic!
Yes, the facts present a quite bleak outlook for the fashion industry, IF we continue down the course we’re on.
However, it’s not about panicking and using as much of our natural resources that we can asap – it’s about using the advances in technology to help us look at different and better ways of working, more sustainable ways.
Looking at fashion brand H&M; who have been leading the way in reducing the carbon footprint of its store network, as well as pledging to double its energy productivity by 2030, the brand also aims to use only recycled or other sustainability sourced materials in its products by the same date.
Nike also hit the news back in 2012 when they released their FlyKnit trainers, with uppers made from micro-engineered polyester that is lightweight and form-fitting. This exact design reduces waste by a staggering 60%.
Following on from this, Adidas then went on to release three new trainer styles made from recycled ocean plastic.
As we’ve previously mentioned, Stella McCartney is a vocal advocate of sustainability in fashion and is looking to technology to help support this, just like other industries have too! Marrying art with science and looking at solutions such as “growing silk in a lab” or exploring water-efficient methods for dyeing particular products.
What these big brands are demonstrating is, it is possible, it just requires a different way of thinking and a different product lifecycle to what companies are traditionally used to.
When it comes to the fashion industry however, collaborating and working together is essential as the systems and processes required for the technology to change is vast. It’s about working together to achieve the sustainability goals, how they can be sourced, manufactured and sold, whilst ensuring that sustainability continues to add value to your business.
At Fashion Rider we’re keen to know more about sustainability within the fashion industry and just what our members have planned for the future. We know there are a number of our members who are already using recycled materials and building sustainability into their lifecycle and it would be great to hear from you and any advice that you could pass on to others.
At Fashion Rider our aim is to be a positive force within the world of fashion and we will continue to support our members and the industry in the best way in which we can.
To find out more about our mission and our members visit us at www.fashionrider.com