The world of commerce has been kind to fashion brands, especially to producers of fast fashion apparel. Year after year, as businesses cut costs and streamline supply chains, clothing prices drop, and apparel sales rise. Shoppers are buying more year after year -- according to Mckinsey & Company, consumers are buying 60% more clothing items every year… and they’re only keeping them for half the time they used to.
This boon in clothing sales has a dark side that’s now impossible to ignore. The fashion industry’s unsustainable practices have an extremely negative effect on our earth’s resources, and as consumer spending increases, it looks like it’s only going to get worse.
A couple of years ago we talked about how retailers could mitigate the challenges that climate change brought to their seasonal fashion lines -- now, we’ll address how companies can resolve the environmental challenges that come with fast fashion.
How Fast Fashion Affects the Environment
- 20% of freshwater pollution comes from textile treatment and dyeing
- The fashion industry’s CO2 emissions are projected to increase by more than 60% by 2030, for a total of 2.8 billion tons per year (roughly equivalent to 230 million vehicles driven for one year).
- The fashion industry consumes more than 79 million cubic meters of freshwater each year and is expected to increase by 50% in 2030.
- Cotton cultivation covers 3% of the Earth’s agricultural land, yet its production uses 16% of all insecticides and 7% of all herbicides.
- The fashion industry creates an estimated 92 million tons of textile waste each year and is predicted to increase to 148 million tons by 2030.
Clearly, the industry is on a destructive path, and consumers are starting to stand up and notice. Shoppers -- particularly, environmentally conscious millennials -- are actively seeking out and choosing to buy from companies who produce sustainable fashion and take care of the environment.
It’s risky for brands to continue on without addressing the environmental costs of their unsustainable l production processes; however, ignoring it completely could prove deadly to their company. The initial costs of changing the way they do business may turn companies away, but more sustainable practices can have a lasting impact on brand reputation and processes which can result in higher profitability overall.
After all, the demand is there -- A study by Nielsen has reported that 66% of consumers are willing to pay for more sustainable goods. And as millennials gain more purchasing power, we’ll see that the number of consumers concerned about sustainability will only continue to rise. According to Barkley, Millennials consumers are more likely than non-millennials to buy products from brands who support causes that they care about.
How Brands Can Embrace Sustainable Style
It will take an industry-wise movement to truly mitigate the impact of the fast-fashion industry on the environment; luckily, innovative brands have already started taking steps.
Here are the top 3 ways fashion companies can become more sustainable:
Join a Coalition
Some fashion brands have formed or joined coalitions that specifically deal with environmental and social challenges. These coalitions work together to accelerate change and drive sustainability while minimizing the risks of tackling these challenges alone. One such coalition, The Better Cotton Initiative, consists of more than 50 brands and 700 suppliers (including H&M, Gap, Adidas, and Ted Baker) who collectively support better environmental processes in cotton production.
Improve the Supply Chain
Switching up the supply chain and choosing fair-trade, low-impact, or organic fabrics is one big way brands can make the shift to sustainability. The yoga apparel brand, Prana, have grown in popularity since announcing they would only source organic cotton and recycled wool for their products. They don’t hide their ethical commitment either -- their website and social media pages are full of resources of about their materials and practices.
Reformation -- an LA-based sustainable brand that has exploded into a global powerhouse -- is another company that has worked to establish a clean supply chain. They started by only using vintage and deadstock fabric, but know include recycled wools, cottons, and nylons, as well as low-impact materials like Tencel, hemp, and flax fabric.
It can be difficult for fashion brands and retailers to nail down the environmental and social impacts of their suppliers. Luckily, organizations like the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Higg Index and the Textile Exchange Organization can help companies find that information.
Start a Clothing Recycling Program
Retailers and fashion brands can also inspire change at the ground level. Apparel companies like Patagonia and Levi’s have partnered with I:CO (a global solutions provider) to help minimize waste by collecting and recycling clothing and footwear.
I:CO provides collection bins to retailers, and consumers can bring (or mail) in their used clothing and shoes to be recycled and reused. The apparel is sorted according to the needs of the specific brand or retailer -- for example, Patagonia participates in the clothing collection, and they also offer a clothing repair service, so consumers can prevent needless waste and actively extend the lives of their clothing.
The Role of the Fashion Industry is Changing
Finite resources, growing populations, careless consumption, and climate change are brewing for a perfect storm in the fashion industry. Brands will have to be creative and learn to adapt -- they’ll have to listen just as much as they talk. Consumers have spoken (and are still speaking) and they’re asking for ethical options -- innovative fashion brands would be wise to act before the inevitable happens.
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