Fashion and sustainability: a complex relationship

Fashion must take big steps towards sustainability: find out what the problems are, and the possible solutions. Be part of the change!

DANIELE VITALE
Contributor

The Fashion industry

At current rates, by 2030 the fashion industry will be worth $3.3 trillion and will produce about 100 million tons of clothes and shoes each year. Just for comparison, the weight is equivalent to about half a million blue whales. The scenario is dramatic: our planet is headed for a major climate catastrophe. Many coastal regions will be waterlogged, food and drinking water will become scarce, coral reefs will be destroyed.

Fortunately, these issues are starting to be an everyday topic, but it's time for action. But how is an issue like pollution connected to the fashion industry?

The fashion industry, according to several reliable scientific reports, is the second most polluting industry in the world: in 2020 the fashion industry generated 1.8 billion tons of greenhouse gases: more than all international flights and maritime travel combined. In addition, fashion is responsible for 1/5 of global water pollution and 1/3 of microplastics in the oceans. In short, the textile industry contributes drastically to global pollution: it is therefore a devastating factor for our earth. In recent years, something has moved.

There are more and more companies that recycle waste materials to create new products and there is greater attention to waste and emissions, but we are still far from a net decrease of negative impact on the planet. 

Sustainable fashion

The negative impact of the fashion industry

One of the primary meters for analyzing and tracking the progress of the fashion industry is the Pulse Index. This annual report is compiled by Global Fashion Agenda and Sustainable Apparel Coalition, along with consulting firm Boston Consulting Group.

The Pulse index monitors the use of sustainable solutions in place that are fast enough to offset the negative environmental and social impacts, caused by the fashion industry. An improvement in the score means a greater focus on sustainable practices.

Based on the report's scoring system, the Pulse Index, the fashion industry improved by 6 points in 2018, but only scored 4 points in 2019, a negative slowdown that few expected. Essentially, the fashion industry is improving in terms of sustainability, but the pace is slowing as the industry continues to grow by about 5% each year.

Thus, the fashion industry is not changing its production methods fast enough to offset the negative environmental impacts of its growth. There are two possible scenarios: either dramatically increase sustainable practices, or cut the industry's growth.

Since we are unlikely to want to penalize economic growth by cutting opportunities and jobs, we need the public and governments to push for real momentum for new zero-impact practices. The scope to do so is there. The fashion industry is still a long way from being sustainable. Forty percent of fashion companies haven't even begun to take sustainability seriously, setting new goals and KPIs or rethinking their supply and production chains. In this 40% lies about 70% of fashion sales, hence the big behemoths.

The remaining 60% of companies, those that are more or less adhering to change are mostly start-ups, small companies, and mid-sized companies. While the major players in the fashion market, those that generate billions in revenue each year, have virtually halted their commitment to more sustainable production.

Sustainable brands


Fashion industry must work together

We believe that real change can only occur if large companies start working together to share innovative and sustainable solutions. In fact, this growth process involves major infrastructure challenges, such as building recycling facilities, developing new, more sustainable materials (eco-friendly materials and textiles) and applying modern technology to make the supply chain less wasteful and more efficient.

Textile innovation needs to be shared; the big brands can no longer go it alone, at least when it comes to such sensitive topics. Sharing ideas allows for faster and more efficient progress: innovation must be open source. Fashion companies have reached the limit of what they can achieve on their own, in terms of innovation. Brands must work together to share solutions, otherwise, things won't improve fast enough to contribute to fashion's growth. So broader, faster solutions can emerge.

We consumers can change the Fashion Industry

To make this change happen, pressure must come from many fronts. For example, government and politicians can create laws that force the fashion industry to meet higher standards, investors must support only ethical fashion brands, and the media must continue to call attention to the industry's problems. All of this must necessarily be supported by a strong public stance.

Consumers dictate the law in terms of strategic choices and preferences: if fashion does not change, it is also because there is no real change on the part of consumers. According to several university reports, more than 70% of brands that have undertaken sustainable practices have done so to meet new consumer tastes. In fact, more than 40% of consumers say they are now sustainability-conscious. These numbers are even more pronounced among Millennials, with nearly 50% saying they only want to buy from sustainable brands.

To speed up the process, we need to keep pressing the fashion industry.We can reward brands that work to make things better, while punishing brands that don't care enough about the future of the planet by stopping buying from them. Therefore, if you want to bring active change worry about knowing the brands you buy from.

Choose brands that fully espouse your values and try not to compromise. Think carefully about what you are buying and who you are buying it from. This is one way to get the fashion industry to think beyond just collections. We actively promote on our platform only companies that are 100% transparent about their supply chain, and that produce with minimal environmental emissions and reducing waste of energy and materials. If you want to know who they are, how they work and what they produce, click here.

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