In our previous blog, we’ve discussed how the paradigm in fashion is shifting. Consumers are demanding a more sustainable way of doing business. They are concerned about the environment and about how their clothes are being manufactured.
It is no longer a secret how fast fashion has an impact on our world. But what are different stakeholders doing to make a difference?
The government, consumers, brands, and manufacturers all have a role to play if we want to create a more sustainable world of fashion. Let's look at each of these stakeholders in turn.
Government and Media
Overall, now, it looks as if governments are not yet taking an active role in fashion sustainability.
Fairtrade policies and eco-friendly practices can make a massive difference in sustainability, but its impact remains relatively small. Ethical supply chains are challenging to put in place and to audit.
High-income countries can promote sustainability under the umbrellas of 'occupational safety' and 'health regulations'. For example, they can increase taxes for clothing from low-to-middle income countries, or place caps on annual quantities imported. They can offer incentives to local manufacturers.
A practical example – the UK in 2019
Earlier this year, MP’s from the UK Environmental Audit Committee asked the UK Government to support initiatives to force fast fashion manufacturers to start watching their environmental impact and overall working conditions.
In a formal response, the Government refused to accept any of the MP’s 18 recommendations.
It was not because of the recommendations in itself, but rather because they said that there are already global plans in place.
SCAP (the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan) sets industry standards for reducing the carbon footprint, to save water, and handle waste.
(The problem with SCAP, however, is that membership is at this stage, still voluntary. Brands, retailers, and manufacturers in the UK feel that the government is not doing enough in the sustainability process.)
The '2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment' wants industry players to look at the fashion industry as a cycle. Its mission is to collect, recycle, and resold.
It remains to be seen how sustainability campaigns will mobilize companies throughout the fashion industry, without the specific input of government regulations.
Social media has taken the front seat to more traditional ways of receiving information nowadays. Companies wanting to send sustainable messages should do so through the audience's preferred channels – which is social media, in the most meaningful sense.
Social media (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook) drives engagement on critical issues with core audiences. If sustainability is not discussed here, it might be interpreted that the message is not important enough.
Furthermore, one study found that consumers see more 'luxury' fashion brands as leaders in the industry. They are more likely to interact on social media with sustainability messages from luxury brands.
Sustainability practitioners can only win if they find the creativity to mobilize their cause in relevant media channels.
ConsumersWe’ve discussed the role of the consumer in sustainability in various blogs on this site already. What can you do to make a difference?
To summarize quickly here, consumers must do the obvious thing and support companies and practices that try and minimize damaging impacts on humans and the environment in the fashion industry.
With the legal landscape changing and more regulations imported, consumers must be aware of 'greenwashing'. Some companies would say that they are sustainable, while, in fact, they are not.
While fast fashion is shouting 'more for less,' consumers must change their mindset to 'less is more.' There are various ways of doing this that we've discussed before: recycle, repair, shop in second-hand shops, the buying of better-quality clothing, etc.
Slow fashion is a lifestyle that needs to be adopted for fashion sustainability to success in the long run.
Manufacturers, brands, and retailers
How did companies, brands and manufacturers respond to strategic initiatives already taken towards sustainability?
The front-end approach
Some role-players choose to integrate sustainable initiatives at the beginning of the textile product life cycle. This is, for example, during the raw material sourcing, or the design- and development processes.
- This can be the decision to use low environmental textile fibers as raw material (such as Lyocell) or,
- By utilizing digital design tools rather than wasting paper.
- Design in itself can also influence consumer behavior and reduce impact from use. For example, activewear is increasingly designed to absorb odor and to require less washing.
The problem with the front-end approach is that the end-products still have to go through the fashion pipeline. At the end of the textile-life, there always be waste that must be managed, even if it is biodegradable.
The back-end approach
Here, we are talking about sustainable initiatives at the end of the textile product lifecycle – therefore, at the disposal end. This will usually include recycling initiatives.
Repreve is an example of this. Repreve is a brand of polyester fibers made from plastic bottles. This is quite resourceful, as this plastic waste-turned-into-textiles has a 30% smaller carbon footprint on the planet than virgin polyester.
There are some problems with recycling, too. The strength of recycled cotton, for example, is less than that of virgin cotton, and recycled yarns of mixed fibers may not have the same color vibrancy as natural fibers.
What can change in manufacturing during the next decade?
- It is expected as sustainability gains momentum, that toxic chemicals and dyes will be increasingly ditched. Plant stains, sugar syrup, and micro-organisms will be used instead of conservative dyeing processes.
- Fine-mesh laundry bags in households can become mandatory to help contain plastic microfibres shed by clothes during the washing process.
- Brands can also be forced by law to label clothing with more than 50% polyester to carry a warning of microfibre shedding.
- In the next decade, you can expect to start printing your own 3-D clothes. This will take unused stock and extra production out of the fashion industry's loop. Instead of the actual clothing item, you'll buy a file with your design, 3D scan your body to get a precise fit, and 3-D weave your clothes at home.
- It will be possible to return your previously worn clothes to the shop where you bought it. You'll get some credit towards your next purchase. The clothes will be cleaned meticulously with industrial processes and sold online at a lower cost than new.
- You’ll be able to hire top-notch brands from upmarket designers for an exclusive event and return the item afterward.
- Self-mending clothes are on the horizon. Squid teeth proteins (yes, it’s true) have been turned into fluid and can now coat materials. When ripped or torn, the material can be threadless repaired by just adding warm water.
There are lots of initiatives towards sustainability among different role players in the fashion industry.
The exciting trend is that sustainability is gaining momentum. It might not be as obvious yet, but the wheels are turning towards a new era. Our generation is going to live it!