How can the fashion industry become more sustainable?
It’s no secret that the fashion industry is highly unsustainable. With fast fashion creating a wasteful society and the use of toxic chemicals in cotton farming, the industry has been widely criticised for not doing enough for the environment and, with global warming being described as now ‘irreversible’, brands are going to have to make big changes…quickly.
In a recent report, it was disclosed that the sustainability progress in the fashion industry has slowed down by a third in the past year. The ‘Pulse of the Fashion Industry’ report, created by three organisations with expertise in the fashion sector, revealed the industry’s ‘pulse score’ (which measures the space of environmental and social sustainability in fashion) had risen by four points to 42 out of 100, compared to a rise of six points in 2018.
To put this in simple terms, the industry is not doing anywhere near enough to counterbalance the devastating impact that it has on the environment.
Although companies like Adidas, Nike and H&M have all hit the headlines for their sustainability, the reality looks disturbingly different. In 2015, the sector produced around 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gases – which is more than both international flights and maritime shipping combined. It is also responsible for a fifth of the global water pollution and a third of the microplastics in the ocean.
So, what can companies do to turn this around? According to Morten Lehmann, Global Fashion Agenda’s chief sustainability officer, companies will have to work together to come up with more environmentally friendly solutions. There are major infrastructure challenges that need addressing, like building more recycling facilities and utilising new technology to make the supply chain less wasteful.
The sector will also need to focus on developing new materials that are less harmful for the environment and look at making garments out of recycled fabrics. A number of smaller companies are creating products from alternative materials; the Spanish brand Pinatex has created a leather-like fabric using discarded pineapple and US-based company Bolt Threads has developed a silk-like fabric out of yeast cells.
Consumers can also play a huge role in changing the carbon footprint of the sector. There is evidence that brands want to make their business more sustainable due to consumer pressure. According to the report, 38% of the 3000 respondents said that they have changed where they buy their clothes from, based on the brand’s attitude to the environment. Customers are also being urged to shop more wisely. Instead of buying fast-fashion in bulk, consumers are being urged to recycle their clothes.
Companies like Depop and Vinted are great platforms for people to buy and sell their old clothes. Depop has been a particular champion in this sector, with more 13 million users registering with the app since its conception in 2012. The ‘social marketplace’ is particularly popular with Gen Z, who shop the latest trends on the app with very little cost in lieu of turning to fast-fashion brands. It’s very encouraging that younger generations are choosing to shop this way, unlike the generations before them, who want to consume as much as possible at the lowest price.
Changing the fashion industry’s attitude to the environment needs to be a joint effort. Companies need to make more sustainable choices and consumers need to act with their wallets until they see change from the brands that they shop from.