Sustainability Is No More An Option For The Fashion Industry
Let’s Go Green!
This mantra is being heard these days in almost every industry and almost every part of the world, including developed and developing economies.
But what does this mean for the fashion industry?
Is sustainability, an option or a necessity?
These questions seem simple but are very complicated when we get into the depth of the subject.
Let’s look into some facts here:
• The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world, closely following the oil and gas industry.
• As per the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 2014 statistics, 13.1 million tons of textile/clothing is trashed every year in the US only. Out of this only, 2.62 million tons, i.e. around 15%, goes to recycling or reuse, and around 3.14 million reaches incinerators for energy recovery. So, around 10.46 million tons end up in landfills.
• Nearly half of the average American population also dumps perfectly re-usable clothing.
• It costs around $45 per ton to cities to dispose of, fashion waste.
• An average t-shirt uses 700 gallons of water during its manufacturing. Just a single pound of textile results in around 7 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.
• Only 15% of used fashion is recycled/donated/reused by the consumer, globally.
• Greenpeace data shows that the global apparel production has doubled from 2000 to 2014. In these 14 years, an average person has stated to purchase 60% more apparel annually and apparel is being used for only about half of as long as a decade ago.
• The average lifetime of an apparel is around 3 years, and if it can be extended just by 3 months, the result will be 5 to 10% reduction in carbon footprints and water consumption.
• When natural or semi-synthetic fiber made clothing goes to landfill, it acts like a food waste, producing methane as they degrade, which is a highly potent greenhouse gas.
Jason Kibbey, CEO of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition has said, “Natural fibers go through a lot of unnatural processes on their way to becoming clothing.
They’ve been bleached, dyed, printed on, and scoured in chemical baths.” So, in landfills, these chemicals leach to the groundwater. And if we burn them, we release toxins into the air.
Synthetic fibers, on the other hand, will take centuries to biodegrade. Globally, only 1% of the annual cotton crop used in fashion is organic.
• Fast fashion chains like H&M, Zara, Forever21, etc. have shortened the lifecycle of their fashion produce by focusing on changing affordable fashion. Recycling, donating and re-selling of secondhand clothing became a myth, due to the low-quality level of fast fashion items.
According to an H&M study, only 0.1% of the entire clothing collected by take-back and charity programs actually gets recycled into a new textile fiber.
• Within the past 20 years, the volume of clothing being tossed in America itself has doubled from 7 million to 14 million tons annually, which is 80 pounds per person. It is not just about the environment, fashion waste also is a huge cost. New York alone spends around $20.6 million annually to ship their textile waste to landfills and incinerators. Approximately, 200,000 tons of fashion waste is being dumped alone from this city every year.
These facts above show how the fashion industry is in a dire need of incorporating sustainability into their supply chains.
Is corporate responsibility the only argument in favor of sustainability?
Studies have shown that 4 out of 7 customers are more likely to shop for businesses that host textile recycling bins or programs.
Moreover, there is an exponentially growing consumer segment that fashion world needs to tap, the millennials.
Millennial customers in the US, spend approximately $600 billion each year. And this generation not only includes dependent teens; but also includes the young working adults who have a disposable income in their hand.
By 2020, their total spending in the US is predicted to grow up to $1.4 trillion per year, representing around 30% of the country’s total retail sales.
Now, when we have established how important this demographic segment is to fashion, let us look at the variables they base their buying decisions at.
- As per the State of Fashion 2018 report (by BoF & McKinsey), 66% of the global millennial population is willing to spend more the brands that are sustainable.
- 905 of them believe they have in them to create more sustainable products by pushing governments and businesses to refine the existing business practices, as per a research of LIM College.
- The same study also highlighted that 90% of them are willing to boycott a brand for not being sustainable.
- This demographic is so socially connected that they are much more aware of the fashion industry’s environmental and social shortcomings, see it as a major polluter and are much more concerned to change things that the previous generations.So the message here is pretty clear that the millennial generation cares about sustainability in fashion!
This opens a huge opportunity for the major fashion brands to take sustainability as a selling point rather than a cost factor and corporate responsibility to work towards.
How can fashion industry become more sustainable?
There are many examples that show fashion brands are taking up sustainability as a challenge, and building their strategies around it.
- Gucci has recently announced that for their spring 2018 collection, they will refrain from the use of mink, fox, Karakul lamb, rabbit, and raccoon dog. This will be a step towards their 10-year “Culture of Purpose” sustainability plan.
- Designer Stella McCartney is reflecting veganism through her collections. Similarly, Patagonia, Inc has launched a take-back program to repair old clothing, to showcase the brand’s ethical conscience. Michael Kors and Jimmy Choo also intend to go fur-free in their coming collections.
- Amit Kalra at TED@Tommy in his TED Talk on “3 creative ways to fix fashion’s waste problem” has highlighted that in the fashion industry, clothing is designed to comfortable, trendy, and expressive and not really designed to be recyclable or sustainable.He has emphasized that the fashion recycling attitude and costs can be changed, if clothes are designed in a modular way, that can easily ‘be disassembled (trims can be easily removed) when they reach recycling point.
Use of sustainable practices, limited use of harmful chemicals, increasing recycling and reuse percentage, use of organic fibers, etc. are some examples of how fashion industry can work towards achieving sustainability.
Does sustainability at additional cost is viable for the fashion industry?
Basic outlook and commitment towards minimizing wastes during and after production, across the supply chain is also a step towards sustainable fashion. 70% of a garment’s cost comes from its fabric, and if companies vow to save their fabric and minimize its wastage, it will not only take a step towards sustainable fashion and reducing fashion waste, but also invest towards improving its profitability.
Inditex, the parent company of global brand Zara, is a prime example of this approach. By adopting a demand-driven operating model Zara has increased their profits by 28% and their market capitalization by 43%. Jesús Echevarría, Inditex’s chief communications officer said, “I cannot afford waste. I need to secure that my production must be demanded.
In the first moment, it’s more expensive. But the margins are lower at the end of the cycle.” Inditex’s ‘data center,’ is 24×7 manned with a team that does real-time tracking on every operation across every Inditex factory in the world.
This tracking is deep to the extent that if a light is left switched-on at any Zara store across the globe, it can be tracked at the data center.
Apart from this, Inditex has also invested in bringing more sustainability in its supply chain. Some examples of the same are that 52% renewable power is used to run its corporate buildings, textile scraps are recycled, RFID tags are collected for re-use, garment steaming is done rechanneled waste energy from the other parts of the building, textile wastes are minimized using various tools, etc.
Hence, sustainability is the need of the hour, not just because the environment needs it, but more importantly because now the customer is asking for it.
It is now, a must to keep abreast in this competitive industry. Strategic sustainability is the approach to go for.
Big investments and fancy sustainability marketing gimmicks are not going to cut the mark here. The answer lies in real-time tracking, minimizing fashion waste at the source of origin, and encouraging the customer to bring the waste back into the supply chain.
Author:- Mausmi Ambastha, COO at Threadsol. ThreadSol is a leading apparel tech company helping garment manufacturers reduce fabric expense and produce more garments.
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