The latest McKinsey, State of Fashion Report written in partnership with the Business of Fashion (BoF), reveals that 66 percent of consumers globally were willing to spend more on sustainable brands, yet sadly sustainable fashion represents only just 1 percent of the entire fashion industry!
The fashion industry is now the second largest generator of pollution on the planet after oil, with 300,000 tons of used clothing going to landfill in 2016 in the UK alone. When clothing made of natural fibres ends up in landfill, it behaves like food waste, producing the greenhouse gas methane. Whereas synthetic fibres like polyester and nylon are essentially made of plastic – and don’t biodegrade at all. Both types of clothing will have been bleached, dyed and printed with chemicals during the production process and once in landfill, these chemicals leach into the soil and groundwater. The cast-offs of our hunger for cheap fashion are poisoning the planet.
Shockingly, in the UK, we buy more garments per person than any other European country! The average life of a garment today is only 2.2 years and strangely in many cases, recycling is the least favourable solution. We desperately need fashion brands to think how they can make it easier for consumers to repair damaged garments and how they can become part of the resale economy.
It costs more to repair a garment than to purchase an entirely new item. Solutions that encourage consumers to keep their clothes in a cycle of use such as repairing services, rental business models, sharing among peers or even simply re-styling and wearing again, are more sustainable and transformative approaches to addressing throwaway attitudes, and diverting waste from landfill.
Thankfully, consumers are concerned about sustainability and State of Fashion Report, says “woke” consumers are pushing for greater transparency from supply chains—and rewarding their favourite brands for taking controversial political stands. In fashion, the shift to new ownership models is driven by growing consumer desire for variety, sustainability and affordability. Consumers are choosing to rent rather than own goods outright and is partly driven by the young generation’s hunger for newness, while embracing sustainability. Sources suggest that the resale market, could be bigger than fast fashion within ten years.
Research shows that the average person today buys 60 percent more items of clothing than they did 15 years ago, yet consumers keep their clothing for only half as long as they used to. A survey in Britain found that one in three young women consider clothes “old” after wearing them once or twice. One in seven consider it a fashion faux-pas to be photographed in an outfit twice. Young people today crave newness, yet at the same time younger generations are more interested in sustainable clothing than older consumers.
These demands are pushing forward the successes of rental and pre-owned models such as the RealReal, which sells luxury brands, in gently used form, via a consignment model. It offers top fashion brands with up to 90 percent off. While China’s YCloset takes a different approach, using a subscription rental model to grant customers access to an array of clothing and accessories free of additional charges. If the customer likes a particular piece, they have the option to buy it outright.
Established brands have traditionally turned a blind towards second-hand retail, but are now wading into the pre-owned and rental markets. Stella McCartney launched a partnership with The RealReal in 2017, offering a $100 credit to consumers consigning her products on the platform. This creates a circular flow that encourages footfall in Stella McCartney stores, while building confidence in the quality and longevity of Stella McCartney products. Other brands have ventured into refurbishment, such as Eileen Fisher, through its “Renew,” initiative, which takes back gently-worn products, to either refurbish them or use the materials to create new products all together.
So, what does all this mean for the developing world? As while the fashion world has helped spur growth in these economies, at the same time, it has created a number of social challenges. In India, which is set to move from being an increasingly important sourcing hub to being one of the most attractive consumer markets outside the Western world. Where its apparel market will be worth $59.3 billion in 2022, making it the sixth-largest in the world, according to data from McKinsey’s Fashion Scope.
India is also one of the leading producer of textile fibers and yarns, and has a 60 percent of the global market share in looming. The textile and apparel industry is one of the oldest sectors in the Indian economy, contributing about five percent to the country’s GDP, employing over 100 million workers and professionals.
This sector plays a prominent role in the Indian socioeconomic structure. In the past few years, fast fashion has driven this industry into mass production of raw materials, mostly through conventional treatment processes and less efficient equipment. Therefore, to meet demand, the industry here has increased use of synthetic fibers and chemical dyes, which has led to a high pollution footprint. In the ever-growing need to produce more, faster and cheaper, the fashion trade in India has neglected the environmental values and sustainability factors.
Therefore, overall the sustainability challenges facing global fashion are broad and complex, and because of this, brands need to think holistically about the entire value chain. Unfortunately, right now there’s a silo approach to sustainability internally, as most fashion brands do have an in-house team dedicated to sustainability, and if they do exist
they don’t have enough influence within organisations to make change happen. It’s obvious to see that joined-up thinking is required across the whole business, from supply chain to sales.
One industry doing this well, is beauty and a brand doing interesting things of tying-up sustainability with sales targets is L’Oréal, who now offers a innovative performance related bonus for managers according to the sustainability performance of the brands they are working on. They have created an assessment tool called ‘The Spot’ beauty tool. The expectation is that every brand is assessed using the same sustainability metrics.
Fashion brands need to step up like the beauty world, taking real action. It needs to be as innovative and committed to sustainability, as it is with the designs the industry creates each season.