Sustainability in the Fashion Industry
With 2020 around the corner, 2019 is a year of global awareness and environmental consciousness.
Gen Z is coming of age in the following years, and customer values are changing. Through the power of social media, trends come and go like a strike of lightning, and the desire for variety has customers cycling through their clothes after only a few wears. Speed to market and responsiveness to customer desires must be improved in order to compete successfully. However, it is imperative that faster production does not equate to unsustainable practices. Increasing globalization has fueled a new generation of activists, and consumers are concerned more than ever with supporting brands that hold their same values, while turning away from those who don’t, with sustainability and ethics being two of the hottest topics.
With climate change on the rise, people are being more conscious about their consumption patterns, scrutinizing their choices on the market. This has led to companies seeking green certification to demonstrate they have considered the impacts of their production. Some have gone even further by including tracking of their garments through every step of production, from geographic location to materials sourcing to cost analysis.
But this isn’t enough. Views on ownership are changing as well, and the resale and rental market is quickly on the rise. With instant gratification becoming more the norm, certainly heightened by social media use, there is a craving for newness, and shopping second-hand clothing fulfills this desire, while also fueling sustainability. Furthermore, luxury brand prices are rising, so the search for discounts and alternative mode of acquisition continues. In response, brands have started partnering with rental companies to appeal to a wider audience. This allows increased access to otherwise unaffordable brands for many and helps brands gain loyalty from new customers who are just discovering them. The rental model not only helps to satisfy new consumer wants, it also helps brands reduce overstock because they can produce smaller batches and lessen their environmental impact. Successful partnerships in these new business models show that collaboration is key for the future. With increasing uncertainty and volatility in the global economy, companies must change their mindset from protectionism to cooperation.
Fashion is a traditionally secretive and opaque industry, with designers highly concerned about image, exclusivity, and protecting copyright infringement of their works. While it’s understandable, social media and the internet is making it nearly impossible to remain behind closed walls. In the wake of horror stories such as the factory collapse in Bangladesh, customers are demanding complete transparency and are concerned with the ethical treatment of workers. While brands have started to include extensive details about their production processes and are self-auditing their business practices, the issue is more complex to resolve than it seems. With the volume of consumer demands, factories are often unable to complete an order on time, so the manager may delegate some work to other factories without the brand’s knowledge. It’s difficult to monitor the condition of every factory, especially when it’s unknown which factories are doing the work, and furthermore, it’s impossible for every factory to be 100% up to code. There needs to be an industry-wide standard created to help consumers and brands alike to understand the statistics they’re seeing and signify if it’s good enough. With Stela McCartney’s EU sustainable fashion charter underway, we very well may see changes actualize in 2019.
Focus on Sustainability in the Textile Industry
Beyond the ethical treatment of workers, brands need to consider their raw materials sourcing as well. We’re seeing a rise of recycling old fabrics into new garments, biodegradable textiles and converting trash into usable materials. This combined with a new trend of limited, made-to-order, short-cycle production is helping to reduce waste and overstock, also satisfying consumer desires to support causes they believe in. More brands should have places where old garments can be dropped off to be made into new clothes, as the lifespan of an item is far longer than how long it stays in one’s closet. In doing so, brands can generate more loyalty because their products will be more meaningful to customers. Although it may be costlier to source better quality, more sustainable materials, the fast fashion crisis is getting out of hand, and it will be more detrimental in the long term to the environment if our landfills are piled full of unwanted clothing. Additionally, consumers are willing to pay more for pieces when brands align with their views.
But this doesn’t mean simply placing a green label on a brand will be enough. Brand culture needs to change as well, because genuineness matters. With the amount of company scrutiny that exists, customers can easily distinguish false purposes from authentic ones. To aid this distinction, we need to find a solution for better traceability, and the only way to do that is to remove the secretive walls in the industry. Suppliers must be held accountable as well as brands through operations disclosures. A way to improve upon this is bringing production nearshore or onshore. This way, factories can be monitored more easily, and transportation costs to market will be reduced as well. Currently, the main barrier is raw materials sourcing, especially in the west. Companies must make decisions where to cut down in production to maintain growth, while also keeping in mind the environmental impacts.
More than ever, customer behavior and preferences are driving industry patterns. A new wave of activism following a period of relative passiveness has forced companies to rethink their branding and image, and this is the year to cut down on waste.
©BSAMPLY – March 2019