Fast-Track To Fashion Credibility Through Sustainability

Ana Alves

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There’s a new way to achieve fashion credibility, faster than ever: sustainability.

As fashion’s focus shifts to a circular economy, sustainability has evolved from being a menu of fragmented initiatives to being an integral and defining part of the entire fashion industry.

Sustainability is at the centre of innovation in the fashion industry right now.

Front-runners are harnessing the circular economy to unlock technical innovations, efficiencies, and mission orientation.

Fashion companies have started to embrace the importance of sustainability, with more brands than ever disclosing supplier information.

Fashion Credibility – A New Generation

Fashion credibility through sustainability

Leading fashion brands will go even further, moving to close the loop of the entire product lifecycle by means of recycling and regeneration.

An important force behind the growing sustainability movement is the realisation that sustainability can serve as a real source of:

  1. Brand differentiation.
  2. Fashion credibility.

The best example is Patagonia, a company that has earned a large and loyal customer base through its relentless focus on sustainability.

From product development to innovative campaigns and involvement in sustainability initiatives, Patagonia has built a tremendous amount of fashion credibility.

The gained credibility works great with the Millennial generation.

Research shows that this generation is interested in sustainable solutions, regardless of the industry they target.

Millennials Demand Sustainable Fashion

Millennials Demand Sustainable Fashion

In fashion, in 2019, 85 per cent of millennials were willing to spend more on sustainable brands.

“Sustainability is really important with the young generation,” says Levi Strauss’s Chip Bergh.

In China, the value they place on how brands do business and what the brands stand for is ‘off-the-charts’ compared to any prior generation.

As consumers’ attention to sustainability issues increases, sustainability leaders can use it to their advantage, to promote revenue growth.

Sustainability will also be accelerated by advancements in technology across materials, products, and processes.

Deep focus on sustainability has the potential to drive technical and process innovation.

It could also strengthen the bottom line by means of radical process re-engineering, improve transparency, and risk management.

But, the industry’s growing focus on sustainability is not driven just by the Millenial generation.

It is also fostered by passionate industry pioneers, equally looking for fashion credibility.

Sustainable Fashion Initiatives

Ellen MacArthur Foundation on sustainable fashion credibility

For example, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has created the ‘Circular Fibres Initiative’, designed to bringing together industry stakeholders to move from the ‘take-make-dispose’ approach to a circular economy for textiles.

The way we produce, use, and reprocess clothing today is inherently wasteful, and current rising demand increases the negative impacts. The Circular Fibres Initiative aims to catalyse change across the industry by creating an ambitious, fact-based vision for a new global textiles system, underpinned by circular economy principles, that has economic, environmental, and social benefits, and can operate successfully in the long term,” Dame Ellen MacArthur, Founder, Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Building on the success of the New Plastics Economy initiative, the Circular Fibres Initiative’s vision is to develop a new system for textile building on circular economy principles of restoration and regeneration.

Another player in this movement is the Danish Fashion Institute, whose Global Fashion Agenda raises awareness on sustainability in the fashion industry.

It’s with great excitement and great expectations that Global Fashion Agenda is now established as a company. It is a move that represents the end of an epoch-making chapter in the Danish fashion industry after 13 years as the Danish Fashion Institute,

Danish fashion stands stronger than ever before and has substantial support from the trade organisations Dansk Fashion & Textile and WEAR, but also Copenhagen Fashion Week, said Eva Kruse, CEO of Global Fashion Agenda.

Upcycle, Recycle, Reuse

LVMH winner upcycled luxury fashion

But beyond gaining fashion credibility companies will find potential opportunities across the entire value chain.

Some large fashion players such as LVMH are already experimenting with innovation in materials and sustainable fibres.

Moreover, radically innovative and sustainable products already exist.

After years of development, C&A introduced a ‘Cradle-to-cradle certified’ T-shirt at a mass-market price.

The initiative demonstrates a possible future model of circular fashion production.

We expect the commercialisation of sustainable prototypes to ramp up in 2020, as is the case with recycled polyester, eco-friendly leathers, and bio-based materials.

We also expect to see alternative business models emerging right now, after COVID-19 pandemic, and more powerful concepts centred around sustainability.

A great example is Arket, H&M’s latest brand of clothing.

Waste Management Is Key

Fashion waste

In addition to incorporating sustainability into the end-to-end processes and product lifecycle, H&M has defined the brand concept around longevity.

Moreover, it puts a lot of emphasis on enduring, sustainable design and quality.

Another important topic to strengthen a brand’s fashion credibility is the issue of waste and its management.

Zara, for example, has been installing collection bins for discarded garments across all stores in China.

H&M invested in Re:Newcell, a company that has designed a new recycling technology able to transform high cellulosic waste into pure, natural dissolving pulp, called ‘circulose pulp’.

The system is an efficient process that reuses chemicals, already up and running in the company’s first plant in Kristinehamn, Sweden.

And, Eileen Fisher’s ‘Renew Program’ mends or resews clothes for reuse.

Sustainable Fashion Innovation Creates Value

Adidas 3D printed shoes

Then, there are areas like on-demand manufacturing and supply chain process re-engineering being explored right now.

Adidas’ 3D printed sneakers are a case in point.

More fashion startups and initiatives will be built around the idea of sustainable fashion, especially after the COVID-19 lockdown, following trails set by others before:

  • Ambercycle, which uses microbes to break down polyester, to be used in new textiles.
  • Modern Meadow, a company that grows leather in their labs.
  • The Indian Fashion initiative, designed to brings together creators who make upcycled apparel from post-consumer products.

In addition, we may see more progressive incumbents take advantage of startups’ innovations to drive their own sustainability efforts.

Take, for example, North Face and their collab with Spiber, to develop a parka made of lab-made spider silk.

Non-Profits Take Charge

Fashion For Good sustainable fashion innovation

Or, Fashion for Good, another non-profit promoting startups in this area.

Fashion for Good is collaborating with incubators and other apparel companies to provide funding and operational expertise, for developing innovations that promote sustainable practices.

In sum, 2020 will bring to fruition the ‘next level of sustainability’ and offer the potential of competitive advantage for fashion companies who embrace it fully.

As the commercial advantages become apparent, a dedicated group of sustainability champions will lead the way.

These champions will be showing the fashion industry how to drive innovation and value by integrating sustainability across the entire business chain.

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