Fashion brands are betting big on sustainability because it is the only way to survive on this planet and as a company. But, while some brands had the foresight to see the writing on the wall and our responsibility towards future generations, some have changed their course of action as they became aware that it will be mandated by law in the near future. And, those who are looking at greenwashing their way out of this will find this gamble very risky as the cards unfold.
The apparel industry accounts for almost 10 percent of the total global carbon impact and is a significant contributor to industrial pollution. By some estimates, it is second only to the oil industry. In addition, one-fifth of freshwater pollution comes from textile treatment and dyeing, and nearly 25 percent of all chemicals are used in textiles. However, the reasons contributing to the fashion industry's interest in sustainable practices aren't driven primarily by the alarming statistics. Instead, the mounting interest in sustainable investments reflects the broader economic and political landscape.
The surge of high-profile natural disasters like Australia's wildfires had intensified consumer pressure to act and raised alarm bells about climate change. Consumer behavior is not only transforming but also demanding change from the producers. Consumers are becoming more mindful about what they wear, where it came from, how it was produced, and by whom. This demand for transparency and the adverse effects of climate change on profitability have forced companies to embrace and bet on sustainability.
Shoppers, especially millennials and gen Z, are increasingly drawn to brands committed to ethical causes. As per the 2018 Millennials Pulse Report by Shelton Group, 90 percent of millennials favor brands respecting social and environmental causes.
A McKinsey report titled 'The State of Fashion 2019' states that "Transparency has become an important issue further upstream in the supply chain, with consumers increasingly concerned about issues including fair labor, sustainable resourcing, and the environment. Consumers want to support brands that are doing good globally, with 66 percent willing to pay more for sustainable goods."
Further, as per the 2017 Global Fashion Agenda Pulse Report, embracing sustainable fashion can generate a 1-2 percent EBITDA margin growth by 2030 and, therefore, a worthwhile investment for the long term.
Consequently, sustainability, which once was a niche segment, has now been embraced by the fashion industry. Even if everyone is not doing their bit, at least they know its importance to economic performance and its link to an image improvement vector. It makes sense.
And, eager to prove that fashion can be green, brands are implementing sustainable actions with communication strategies. Brands are adopting visibly eco-friendly measures to demonstrate their proactive commitment. Inspired by the success of fairly transparent brands like Everlane or Patagonia, a growing number of fashion brands are removing the veils of their supply chain, thereby open to scrutiny and hopefully improvement. In addition, several fashion companies have hired consultants and advisors to explore alternative and earth-friendly production methods and materials.
In 2018, adidas, in collaboration with Parley for the Oceans, released a new sneaker line made from recycled plastic waste. Kering is championing the cause in the luxury world. It was initially driven by Stella McCartney, who was one of the pioneers in the field. But now, Kering as a group has taken giant strides in this direction. It is committed to cleaning its supply chain. It is currently working with 119 start-ups focused on sustainability, such as its investment in textile blend recycler Worn Again and Mylo. Similarly, Chanel took a minority stake in silk-based performance textile maker Evolved by Nature in June 2019.
Sustainable ranges from high street brands, such as Zara's #JoinLife and H&M's Conscious, carry a slightly higher price point and take little longer to produce, but are traceable and use environmentally friendly fabrics and processes. While it may take decades to reverse the damage done by fast-fashion giants, these efforts represent a step in the right direction.
For now, SME brands are the best bet for eco-conscious consumers concerned about their environmental impact. For example, Reformation and Everlane in the US are entirely vertically integrated and made onshore, minimizing waste. Others are agile enough to provide closed-circle services, such as For Days which replaces stained or damaged T-shirts with recycled new ones.
The fashion industry is changing, but consumers also need to take responsibility for their choices. They should be mindful that their wardrobes are part of the supply chain and make purchasing decisions after assessing the lifetime usage of the product.