Over the last five years, the fashion industry has faced a heightened level of scrutiny from concerned consumers, charitable organizations, workers' rights groups, governments, and fashion industry professionals.
Fueled by growing awareness of the climate crisis and the ongoing repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, fashion’s role in creating textile waste through overproduction, being complicit in the use of forced labor, and investing in environmentally damaging farming and manufacturing processes has laid bare the broken system that the industry is built on.
The next five years will be a crucial period for the industry to pivot towards genuinely sustainable business practices. We’ve identified the key trends that have informed fashion in the last decade, as well as the trends that will inform fashion’s sustainability strategies in the coming years.
For years, environmental and social impact reporting has been done on a voluntary basis, but as the industry becomes increasingly regulated, compliance is now business-critical. “We know that reputation-sensitive brands are following policy developments closely and preparing themselves for compliance,” says Maeve Galvin, Global policy & campaigns director at Fashion Revolution.
“Certainly, the recommendations from multi-stakeholder initiatives, policymakers and civil society is for them to start preparing now.” Failure to adhere to laws could result in financial penalties as well as goods stuck at borders. It pays to not only comply but to go above and beyond the current and incoming regulatory requirements to avoid playing catch up as these evolve in the next few years.
Buy Less, Buy Better
Dame Vivienne Westwood famously said: “Buy less, choose well, make it last.” A movement away from cheap, disposable fashion and a constant trend cycle is known as Forever Fashion. In the coming years, experts predict that consumers will invest in higher value, higher quality staple wardrobe pieces that can be repaired and altered to extend their life.
Currently, consumer values and behavior don’t line up. This is known as the attitude-behavior gap — an issue that Zalando, and others, have surveyed consumers about. Zalando found that, while 60% of respondents said that transparency was important to them, only 20% actively search for information about brands while purchasing products. Closing this gap will be a challenge for the industry in the coming years. There is a growing interest in the economic model of Degrowth, which is centred around lowering consumption and production and pivoting away from GDP growth as the primary indicator of a nation’s wellbeing and prosperity. In fashion, all sustainability initiatives should be implemented in conjunction with an overall decrease in production, in order to make a significant reduction in GHG emissions.
According to WRAP, 4% of global waste comes from the fashion industry. In the US, textile waste is outpacing the growth of every other type of waste, growing 78% by weight between 2000 and 2017 — that’s an increase of 54% per person. Circularity is a huge challenge for the fashion industry to build into the design of clothing. It requires a total reimagining of the manufacturing process so that clothing can easily be recycled and reused.
Zero-waste design is on the rise, aiming to mitigate waste that occurs in the design and manufacturing process through sampling and pattern cutting. Brands are increasingly using deadstock and end-of-roll fabrics, repurposing scraps and swatches, swapping to recycled fibers, and designing patterns that can be cut with minimal fabric wastage. In Europe, the New Cotton Project is a collaboration between 12 fashion businesses like H&M, Fashion For Good, adidas, and others, to turn textile waste into a new man-made cellulosic fiber that mimics the look and feel of cotton.
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