How fashion is going green
There’s been a shift in the public mood in recent times. No longer a fringe position, most people are now taking environmental issues seriously. There’s a growing consensus that we need to change our ways, and consumers expect brands and companies to take these issues seriously, incorporating sustainable products and practices wherever possible. It’s especially pronounced in young people, with 63% of young consumers in the UK, according to this report, saying that they would stop using a brand if they knew it was damaging the environment.
This has serious implications for fashion. According to the UN, the fashion industry produces 10% of the world’s carbon. So with consumers becoming increasingly alert to brands’ impact on the environment, and with the impacts on the environment becoming increasingly clear, there is a financial as well as an ethical imperative for sustainable fashion to become the norm.
With consumers and producers alike are waking up to the reality that their fashion choices have a serious impact on the environment, there are a number of businesses working on making sustainable products, and adopting sustainable practices. There is still a long way to go before the whole industry is carbon neutral, but these trends are pointing the way to a more sustainable future.
Here are some of the trends on the rise across eco-conscious fashion.
One of the best ways to reduce the waste associated with processing new fabric (it takes 2,700 litres of water to produce cotton for just one t-shirt) is by not using new materials at all. A number of fast fashion producers are trying to take accountability for the waste they produce by facilitating recycling programmes. For example, H&M collects old clothes in-store and sells items made from these recycled materials, as do Levi’s, Patagonia, Marks & Spencer, and many more.
Reuse and resale
No longer just the domain of eBay and charity shops, the second hand clothing market is experiencing a kind of renaissance. Thanks to apps like Depop it is easier than ever to buy and sell pre-owned clothing, meaning consumers can opt-out of the fashion production cycle and make a sustainable choice without any hassle.
Environmental concerns have also reached the luxury market, where consumers were historically more averse to second-hand goods: luxury resale platforms like Vestiaire Collective or the Real Real have helped the luxury real market grow 214% in less than a year.
Manufacturers and designers are only just beginning to explore the sustainable fashion possibilities of 3D printing, but it could play a key role in transforming the industry. One innovation could be in printing fabric to exactly the size and shape needed, eliminating the waste created when rolls of fabric are cut up for patterns. 3D printing could also play a huge role in making custom-fit clothing more affordable, which would in turn eliminate the waste created by shipping and returns.
Alongside the growth of the luxury resale market has been the birth of the luxury rental market. Since their 2009 launch Rent the Runway, which rents luxury fashion items to subscribers at a fraction of their retail prices, has racked up nine million members, and paved the way for a new way to enjoy fashion. Other brands and retailers have followed suit, including fellow high-end names like Bloomingdale’s as well as high street chains like Urban Outfitters.
The changes needed to make an entire manufacturing and supply chain process sustainable are by no means simple or speedy, so brands and retailers are looking at what more immediate solutions are available.
One option is to offset their carbon output: Luxury conglomerate Kering has announced their intention to carbon offset on behalf of all of their brands; shoe brand Allbirds have implemented a carbon tax on themselves and Gucci recently announced that they are carbon neutral across the whole business thanks to offsetting. While carbon offsetting doesn’t address the route cause of fashion’s pollution problem, it is one way to acknowledge the industry’s responsibility for the impact is has.
Intidex, the group which owns fast fashion retailer Zara, has pledged to lower energy and water consumption across all of its stores and suppliers. By prioritising factories that, for example, recycle waste-water, the group have managed to convert a number of their suppliers to sustainable practices. This has a positive knock-on effect, because these factories are also suppliers to other brands too. Zara, like other high street retailers, is signed up to the Better Cotton Initiative aims to significantly reduce the amount of water used by cotton production.
Footwear seems to be leading the way when it comes to recycling ‘waste’ products for their manufacturing process. Given that plastic and rubber are widely available and easily recyclable, it makes sense for an industry that uses so much of them to take the lead here. This trend is popping up all over: there are three recycled bottles in each pair of Veja trainers; Adidas made 11 million shoes from plastic waste in 2019; cult trainer brand Allbirds use recycled bottles to make their laces and London’s own Good News Sneakers make their sole from recycled rubber from tyres and old shoes.
Where brands are using virgin fabric in their manufacturing process, they are looking at what options are out there with a lower environmental impact than the materials we’re used to. Organic hemp is an extremely popular choice because it is highly durable, requires very little water to grow, no pesticides, and acts as a natural fertiliser for the soil it grows in. A newer innovation is Tencel, a cellulose fibre made by dissolving wood pulp that is manufactured in a closed-loop system, and is fully bio-degradable. Tencel is 50% more absorbent than cotton, and is particularly popular in sportswear manufacturing.
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