Eco Fashion – A Buzzword That Has Become a Way Forward For Both Consumers and Manufacturers
For many years, both people working along the supply chain as well as shoppers, were uninformed about how seriously the fashion industry could damage the environment. Things have changed now. Consumers are more environmentally aware today, even though many still are price sensitive.
Sustainability has turned into a popular topic in the fashion industry. Companies have been taking actions to make this industry “greener”, building a sustainable brand, embracing sustainable production and operational processes. However, there is still a long way to go…
Fashion industry: The second most polluted industry after oil
The fashion industry is the largest industry polluter worldwide, only after oil. In fact, this industry is to blame for 20% of all water pollution. 92 million tons of textile wastes are dumped in landfills yearly. In addition, fashion production currently accounts for 10% of the world’s carbon emissions. This is more than international flights and maritime shipping combined, and anticipated to increase to 26% by 2050.
Washing and wearing of polyester clothes that are usually affordable and wrinkle-free hurt Mother Earth. An average person releases around 300 million polyester microfibers yearly by washing polyester clothes and 900 million polyester microfibers to the air by merely wearing them. Such microplastics end up in the ocean and take up to 200 years to decompose. Are you aware of these facts? More and more consumers are.
Sustainable fashion: From trend to paradigm
Sustainable fashion campaigns such as Green is the New Black by Forbes were introduced already at the beginning of 2010. Unfortunately, practices within this industry hadn’t adapted as quickly as fashion and style.
Recently, regulators have been raising standards and calling for decisive policy measures to enforce and encourage sustainable practices in the fashion industry. Lately, the EU laid out “Action Plan: Financing Sustainable Growth” to support a low-carbon economy. Work of campaigners like Greta Thunberg or the Extinction Rebellion movement in the UK has hastened the environment agenda. Celebrities, like Emma Watson, are also backing the ethical and sustainable fashion.
Online searches for “sustainable fashion” tripled between 2016 and 2019. In May 2019, around 2.5 million posts on Instagram were tagged #zerowaste. The posts have almost doubled to over 4.8 million now. Influencers like @notbuyingnew share photos of recycled/ upcycled and charity shop-sourced dresses under #progressnotperfection, #slowstyle and #capsulewardrobe. The Covid-19 crisis makes consumers even more engaged in sustainable fashion topics. More and more consumers consciously support brands that act on (not just tell) sustainable practices.
Sustainability: a business strategy today, not just a catchy slogan
Nowadays, sustainable or eco-fashion considers not only the environment but also the working conditions of people in the industry and the health of consumers. Fashion, designers and retail companies are ambitiously reducing their carbon footprint.
“Circular” as a term, started in 2014, has now become one of the most embraced sustainability concepts in the fashion industry. 90 fashion brands and retailers, including Nike, Ganni and Lacoste have joined the Global Fashion Agenda’s 2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment. Brands are encouraged to eliminate waste and pollution and keep products and materials in use for as long as possible. Many new technologies are available for fashion brands to enhance their production efficiency and easily track sources of raw materials, as well as the entire supply chain activities.
Shift to renewable sources of energy
Over 200 influential fashion brands, such as H&M, Burberry, Nike, have joined the RE100 initiative, committing themselves to using 100% renewable energy. This new power is one of the fundamental ways to improve the fashion supply chain process of the global initiative, Fashion for Good. Some companies even determinedly take it up a notch. H&M, for example, has supported Tågeröd wind farm through ECOHZ GO², a renewable energy product that combines the purchase of documented renewable power with the financing and building of new renewable power capacity.
Less water, chemical usage and pollution
Brands, especially big denim brands, are increasingly cutting down excessive use of water and chemicals across the fashion supply chain. Levi’s announced a new water action strategy in August 2019, aiming to reduce its cumulative water use for manufacturing by 50 percent in water-stressed areas by 2025. Many international fashion brands have joined Greenpeace to eliminate hazardous chemicals in their supply chain. Furthermore, many fashion brands support climate-positive projects by signing up for ZDHC Roadmap to Zero Programme or New Plastics Economy Global Commitment. Key players like H&M Group, Hugo Boss, and Adidas work with UN Climate Change to decrease greenhouse emissions.
Use of more sustainable fibers
Companies have started sourcing new fibers that are completely biodegradable and can be sourced sustainably. Many fashion startups have invested in natural textiles. Algalife, calling itself “the textile of tomorrow”, has launched new materials which are created from renewable and healthy micro-organism algae. This fabric uses less water, solar power, is completely chemicals and pesticide free and creates zero waste. Other sustainable materials include econyl (made of nylon waste from landfills and oceans, used by many luxury brands like Stella McCartney and Prada), pinatex (a plant-based leather, used by many designers such as Ally Capellino), TENCEL™ Modal fibers (manufactured from the renewable source of raw material beech wood, used by Chicks – an iconic innerwear brand).
Recycling, reselling, and upcycling
Adidas, German sportswear giant, has acted on the recycling initiative, creating 11 million pairs of sneakers that were made from recycled ocean plastic in 2019 and committing to only using recycling plastic in their shoes by 2024. Sustainable fashion brands like Filippa K sell their used clothes in their regular shops. Major retailers join the path, too. For instance, Madewell launched the denim recycling program in 2014, allowing shoppers to exchange any of their old jeans for a US$20 credit for a new pair. Online marketplaces like ThredUp, Poshmark, The RealReal, and even eBay enable the sale of second hand or vintage clothes. Also, upcycling has become more popular nowadays. Many brands like Converse use old shoes for scrap material to make new shoes. The upcycling label From Somewhere, for example, used fabric offcuts to create completely new outfits.
Fashion as a service
The global online clothing rental market is anticipated to arrive at US$ 2.08 billion by 2025, from US$ 1.26 billion in 2019, mainly thanks to the rising fashion consciousness of population. H&M and Ganni were among the first retailers to test a rental model back in 2019. Many startups also make use of opportunity for clothes rental and leasing. YCloset – a Chinese-based women clothing rental platform or Rent the Runway, for example, lets consumers rent unlimited garments and accessories with a monthly fee. As a side note, the demand side for rental clothes, has unfortunately badly impacted as the Covid-19 pandemic leads to lower number of events and increased hygiene concerns. However, there have already been positive signs that the sector is recovering…
Some brands employ sustainable practices slowly and partially, while others are “born” to be authentically sustainable.
A final note
As a consumer and shopper, I must admit that I had not been aware of how “polluted” the fashion industry is until very recently. I was a big fan of fast fashion. I still love the touch and feel of having a piece of new cloth, very much! Nevertheless, I choose to make more conscious decisions now, asking myself twice before buying new clothes and paying more attention to material of apparel. From my observation, my friends are doing the same!
Money talks… I am, however, willing to pay only a moderate uptick for sustainable clothing. I am also not very certain if I would stay away from fast fashion forever.
Meanwhile, it is not easy for such a giant and well-established fashion industry which, as a whole, was valued at over US$2.5 trillion in 2020, employing more than 300 million people worldwide, to make disruptive changes. Sustainable fashion brands must clearly understand what sustainable initiatives consumers value, what their current and new competitors offer and how to remain relevant to customers at all time. A constant watch on the market is required…