As we look back on the last couple of years, we have seen some great trends and movements emerge in fashion. People got crafty, got political, started putting more thought into what we buy and who we buy from. An increasing amount of people now prioritise sustainability when buying fashion items.
However, the fashion industry still has a lot to work on. The industry is responsible for around 40 million tonnes of textile waste a year, most of which are either sent to landfills or incinerated. Emissions are still rising, circularity remains elusive, and sustainable textiles have yet to scale. The fashion industry must shift its focus from doing less harm to doing more good.
The good news is, small brands are offering more solutions and leading fashion towards a fundamental change. People who run small brands do seem to think differently and are able to do better flexibly. Measured strictly by total environmental impact, many small brands automatically perform better than large ones; their size means they are likely to use fewer resources and produce less waste.
What’s needed is a systemic change that would allow people and companies to work toward a common goal rooted in what sustainability means; the ability for society to meet people’s basic needs and express their greatest potential and talent. The future of sustainability in fashion lies in regenerative agriculture, durable and long-lasting designs, closed-loop and biodegradable packaging, and cross-industry collaborations are also lighting the way to a more sustainable future.
Regenerative agriculture is set to be “the solution” for sustainable and responsible sourcing for many industries. Regenerative farming practices actively IMPROVE ecosystem including the soil quality, biodiversity, reinvigorating soil so that it can sequester carbon.
In terms of business strategy, the long-term goal should be to encourage local fibre farms or communities to grow more soil-friendly fibres such as flax or hemp and work towards the Regenerative Organic Alliance’s ROC certification for fibres such as cotton, wool and cashmere.
It is important to note that, in order for a business to move toward regenerative sourcing, all employees in the business need to understand the agricultural practices and share the same value. The education not only makes it easier for the business to successfully implement the strategy but also empower the employees with knowledge and the ability to prioritise regenerative natural materials.
Track and Trace
Not only that track and trace technology will help rebuild trust and transparency in the supply chain, being able to trace fibre usage allows brands to measure business’ progress on carbon-based targets.
Perhaps in the future, transparency and level of carbon-neutrality determine a business’s tax rate or access to loans and investors.
Decarbonising the supply chain is a complicated challenge and it’s overwhelming for brand owners. A good place to start would be to analyse the biggest fibre usage, track its impact via third-party certifications all the way from the raw material to post-consumer end of life. If the whole industry devotes itself to actually achieving it, the process will need to be so sweeping that it will inherently tackle some of fashion’s other problems along the way such as waste and overuse of hazardous chemicals.
Fashion brands are starting to realise that growth in terms of volume of items and speed has often come at the expense of design and relationships with customers while leaving unwanted or unsold products. Designers must consider design practice as a tool to tackle issues, ensure suitability and relevance to the consumers, and products’ end of life including reuse recycling or reselling.
Practical items that offer multiple uses will appeal to cost-conscious, post-pandemic consumers. Focus on cost-per-wear metrics would drive versatile items such as reversible and trans-seasonal clothing. Paying attention to the smallest details can drastically reduce the overall carbon footprint such as reducing unnecessary components or switching to biodegradable thread.
Collaborations are now embedded into the fashion industry’s culture. They can be truly progressive and signal how to design a better future when they spark innovation and transmit knowledge, whether keeping traditional skills alive or bringing cutting-edge innovations to the market. New developments in AI technology may make it possible in the future for consumers to be measured by web camera when shopping online and for the garment to be made to their measurements. This is an important step towards a fashion industry that saves resources and produces less waste.
The growth of e-commerce is already problematic from a sustainability standpoint, high environmental-impact packaging needs to be tackled. It means looking at everything from carriers, garment poly bags and boxes.
Organisations such as The Sustainable Packaging Coalition, whose members encompass the entire supply chain, and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s initiative, New Plastic Economy, which aims to support companies in making the plastics sector more circular may deliver new solutions in this field/area. Moreover, tackling these issues now means that companies stay ahead of evolving packaging policy. Governments are adopting legislation targeted at companies to tackle their waste.
“Climate change is not only about emissions. It’s about a system that has been benefiting some at the expense of the vast majority of people on the planet and the planet itself“- Muhammad Malas, senior climate campaigner for advocacy group Stand.earth.
A lot of brands are growing while maintaining responsible practices and collaborating with others that share the same value, especially in the Scandinavian region. One of the Scandinavian “it” brands Ganni has been working with (Di)vision, which started out upcycling vintage clothes into one-of-a-kind pieces. to develop a business system that embraces scarcity through frequent drops limited in volume, to accommodate the use of deadstock while still growing the business. As the business grew, (Di)vision realised that upcycled pieces don’t work for a big e-commerce business. The brand now uses deadstock luxury fabric for 90% of production, creating seasonal collections with fabrics from factories in Italy, including leftover fabrics from Rick Owens, Gucci and Jil Sander,
Scandinavian young designers emphasise the lack of competition between each other since they are all working towards the same goal together. How wonderful would it be if the global fashion industry works that way?