Fast Fashion Finding a Fix
I come from a different industry, where the change in season meant not changes in weather but the setting of style and tempo for the creation and promotion of selling new designs. Yes, the apparel industry is fashionable and fabulous and, in recent years, very fast.
The “need for speed” has seemingly increased the occurrence of fashion seasons from twice a year to once a week. Sure, it is exciting, even exhilarating (and some may call it therapeutic) to shop for new clothes and accessories, but it is also very hard on the environment.
H&M, Zara and Forever21 are a few of the fast fashion giants who are setting a newer, faster speed limit. And the rest of the industry? They are trying to keep up with this trend. Along with other industries, though, the fashion industry is also feeling the heat from the growing consumer demand for sustainable production. This is evident when you read their sustainability reports.
Fashion companies are now taking steps to source responsibly, work toward a sustainable supply chain and address end of life. But this isn’t enough to tackle the many problems that come with clothing production, such as water pollution, use of harmful chemicals and dyes, and the insurmountable waste produced both pre- and post-production. Even with all the efforts toward sustainability, it’s estimated that 12.8 million tons of textiles are disposed annually in the U.S. That’s roughly 80 pounds per person.
Waste solutions are in the spotlight
To tackle the waste issue, recycling is becoming the new trend in the apparel industry, with H&M leading the way and many others following. Brands like Levi-Strauss & Co., Patagonia, Zara, American Eagle Outfitters, North Face and others have started collecting old clothing in their stores. H&M and industry leaders Nike, Burberry Group plc, Gap Inc, HSBC and Stella McCartney have partnered with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to Make Fashion Circular. Their aim: to “deliver the solutions needed to meet the changing demands and expectations of society and address the issues that have seen the fashion industry become one of the most polluting and wasteful operating today.”
Partnerships build opportunities
In addition to recycling, the industry is also broadening their horizons and looking for solutions outside their peripheral. One of these solution comes in the form of strategic partnerships. Successful partnership is seen between another fast fashion giant Zara and the Austrian company Lenzing, which manufactures TENCEL® Lyocell, a fiber produced from wood pulp in a closed loop process with almost zero waste. We see another successful partnership between Adidas and Parley, which have upcycled plastic waste into high-performance sportswear. Many new and small startups are now built around the model of upcycling and offer sustainable designs to their customers.
What consumers want
In our Pulse studies, we are seeing a growing trend of consumers looking for sustainable options. The nature of fashion itself makes it harder for ethical consumption. Although they are not ready to pay the premium for a sustainable product, consumers are more than willing to choose a greener option when available. Our data shows that more than three-fourths of Americans feel some sense of personal responsibility to change daily purchase habits and practices to positively impact the environment. So, here’s an opportunity for clever, leading fashion brands to appeal to consumers’ increasing desire to buy brands that do good for people and the planet. Fashion brands that figure out how to do good and keep costs reasonable will win.
Most of the steps involved in fashion production have a large environmental footprint. And to make the fast fashion industry truly sustainable will require a lot of time and effort. But the steps taken by these industry leaders make me excited – even hopeful for a better future – and eager to see what the next season will unveil.