What is sustainable fashion?
Liz Minshall discusses the concept of sustainable fashion and outlines some of the steps fashion brands are taking to create a more sustainable industry.
Sustainable fashion, eco fashion and responsible retail circular fashion are all terms used to describe the industry’s efforts to combat, challenge and respond to the issues created by consumer demand for fast fashion, the resulting throw away culture and single use of fashion items.
The concept of sustainable fashion is that all businesses involved in the production and sale of fashion products are considering and addressing the social and environmental impacts throughout the entire process, from the field, to production, to end of life.
Sustainable and efficient use of natural resources, chemical use reduction, good labour practises, sustainable sources and sustainable end of life routes are all factors which need to be implemented for fashion products to be deemed sustainable.
Consumer awareness and demand
Fashion is a large and ever-growing industry, which means the way in which fashion items are made and disposed of has a huge impact on both the environment and society.
“It is also a fast-growing industry. Work by industry consortium, Global Fashion Agenda, and Boston Consulting Group predicts a rise of 63% in overall fashion consumption between 2017 and 2030, with increasing demand from developing countries leading us swiftly towards a point where over 100 million tonnes of apparel and footwear will be purchased each year.”
Due to the growth of the Internet and the prevalence of mobile devices, consumers now have immediate access to a wealth of information. As a result, there is greater awareness of how clothing is made and how fashion at end of life can be polluting and wasteful, such as shoes ending up as ocean plastics and microfibres making their way into the ecosystem.
This growth in awareness is influencing consumers’ choices based on how products are made and from which materials.
As a result, the fashion industry is instigating swift and positive change, particularly regarding the prevalence of single-use items.
What are companies doing?
A greater consumer awareness is driving the fashion industry to recognise the importance of environmentally friendly and ethically conscious products. We are seeing brands begin to align with this agenda as the hot topic of sustainability gains momentum; several campaigns have emerged, such as “Make Fashion Circular” by the Circular Fibres Initiative.
Many fashion brands are already taking steps to create a more sustainable industry, such as:
Some companies are starting to upcycle, such as Adidas who are using ocean plastics to make footwear to try and tackle end of life issues and remove plastics from our oceans.
Take back schemes
Several other major brand names such as H&M, Primark and M&S are offering take back schemes for clothing recycling, which aim to tackle our throwaway culture.
Some are looking at the materials within their fashion items and are moving towards those with a lower impact on the environment, such as hemp, bamboo or eucalyptus, which uses a fifth of the land that would be needed for a cotton plantation.
Others are committing to recycled content and organic wool / cotton ranges.
Sustainability extends to the delivery of products and its associated packaging. The optimisation of transporting products between sites and to consumers, as well as the packaging around products, also needs to be considered.
Because of press surrounding plastic bags and ocean plastics, we are seeing an increase in eco-friendly, environmental packaging. Fashion retailers now realise that they have a part to play to reduce the amount of plastic packaging around their products. For example, fast fashion giant Zara now delivers online orders in 100% recycled cardboard boxes made from boxes previously used in stores. The outer bag that protects the boxes is made from 55% recycled plastic.
Also ASOS, which sources more than 40 million plastic mailing bags and 5 million cardboard boxes each year for its orders, has introduced a range of packaging initiatives – such as using bags made from 25% recycled content and fitting more parcels on delivery vehicles at a time.
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