Is the Future of Fashion really sustainable? Can we expect any more from businesses? Will there always be a demand for Fast Fashion?
These are just a few of the questions we hope to explore in this article. By interviewing experts within the industry this article follows the style of a panel discussion. We’d like to extend a special thanks to our panelists for putting in the time to answer these questions during these hectic, unprecedented times.
Queennie, considering your experience working with Business of Fashion and Vogue you must be well aware of all the major trends within the fashion industry. Could you describe how you have seen the general growth of sustainability in the industry?
“I’ve seen significant changes in the fashion industry and consumer behaviours, especially in recent years. Many players have already got great plans to fully embrace the circular business model, for example, H&M set their goals to use 100% sustainable materials by 2030. We see more and more innovations on new eco-friendly materials which is a key driver for this change.” – Queennie Yang
Mayamiko has embedded sustainability throughout its business model: you have a zero waste policy, use renewable energy, ensure ethical treatment of your workers etc. We’d like to know what you have learnt from integrating sustainability throughout your business with its implications to price. Furthermore, how do you think a brand should promote their sustainable practices in the most effective way?
“It’s a difficult one. For a long time there has been this conception that sustainable fashion is more expensive and I think this is a massive generalisation- larger companies with economies of scale can achieve a more decent price point than many people expect. However, as a concept there is definitely a premium for small brands …We’ve considered using Klarna but at the same time we don’t want to contribute to people ending up in debt. We’re still not sure what the answer is and we’re trying to figure it out because we want to be inclusive .
From our experience with marketing, transparency is the no.1 thing you should focus on as a sustainable brand to avoid green- washing. It’s also important to lead with your products and their quality especially since in the past there has been the misconception that sustainable fashion is what your tree-hugging aunty would wear.” – Paola Masperi
Eshita, you have founded a company which many would consider unconventional. How easily do you believe it is to convince today’s consumers to alter their conventional shopping practices in order to shop more sustainably?
“Shifting mainstream perception and mindset around renting clothing and reassuring people that it is no different than sleeping in someone’s Airbnb or even using towels in a hotel. If your clothes are a tool for self-expression then it is normal to be bound to them somewhat personally, but a handful of our users who joined with doubts are hooked after trying ‘rotating’ just once, from the mere satisfaction that comes with seeing someone else wear and love your items.” – Eshita Kabra
Sascha, as an activist for Vegan fashion, I would assume that you would find a lot of support from millennials and generation Z. How hopeful are you about this support for the future of Vegan fashion?
“There’s no doubt that a vegan fashion revolution is underway – and it’s especially well supported by younger generations: Consulting group Bain & Co told The Wall Street Journal that for millennial and Generation Z shoppers, “animal welfare stands out as [a] key topic” – and that’s prompting the fashion industry to turn towards sustainable and animal-friendly material innovations. People are learning more about the animals we share this world with, and that makes it harder to justify torturing and killing them for a coat, jumper, or bag.” – Sascha Camilli
In the UK itself, around £140 million worth of used but still wearable clothing goes to landfill each year. We understand Depop has played an active role in addressing this issue as a resale platform but we’d like to know what barriers are restricting the successful integration of clothing recycling schemes into other clothing retail businesses?
“The biggest obstacles for retail businesses integrating clothing recycling schemes are cost and technology. Fast fashion companies, but many smaller brands, as well—will need to invest financially on a structural level to meaningfully make necessary changes.. That is a scary prospect for brands large and small, some of whom are perennially struggling to maintain billion dollar businesses among shifting consumer behavior trends to begin with. Frankly, they need to want it bad enough and think about it strategically to develop ways to implement new best practices, which would realistically likely need to be employed incrementally.
On a tech level, virgin fibers often feel and perform better than those that are recycled, and some recycling processes are time and resource-intensive. Studies have shown that as little as under 1% of annual clothing production is eventually recycled into new clothing forming a fully closed loop recycling proposition. Fiber blends, which are relatively cheap to produce en masse, are also currently more difficult to recycle than homogenous fibers. As tech improves, we’re hopeful that this will become less of a reason to avoid adopting recycling as a viable part of a profitable business model.” – Steve Dool
Who is leading the way and how can organisations work together to share best practice and bring about systemic change?
“ There are so many touchpoints in the industry and lots of leaders in certain aspects of the industry. For example we have Stella McCartney pushing the envelope with materials. Then you have really good think tanks like Fashion Roundtable. Collaboration has been a big problem since this industry has been built on secrets for so long, it’s always been “my designs, my intellectual property”- Paola Masperi
“I am inspired by successful resale marketplaces such as Vestiaire Collective and Depop. They have completely shifted the mindset around preloved fashion – making it cool to wear second hand and vintage. With By Rotation, I wish to enable people to reconsider their consumption habits and ask them to embrace the sharing economy within fashion.”- Eshita Kabra
“The activist consumer is necessarily leading the way. Concerned shoppers who realize the power of their wallet and spend accordingly will, if they can continue to gain numbers and momentum, always set the tone for how organizations should act. And not to put too fine a point on it, but if organizations don’t respond, they will eventually be left behind.”- Steve Dool
“I’ve seen many interesting cases such as Stella McCartney who is always the first one to lead the material revolutions in her category; H&M has a whole system solution and strategy on pivoting to zero waste and circular business while thinking of fair trade and worker’s rights; Everlane is another brand worth thinking about because they have presented how important it is to show the transparency supply chain to your customer.” – Queennie Yang
“We (PETA) work with companies by offering them our “PETA-Approved Vegan” logo, which enables consumers to identify vegan garments and accessories at a glance.”- Sascha Camilli
Q3. Do you think ethical clothing will ever out-compete the mainstream less ethical products (e.g. H & M, Topshop) and dominate the fashion industry in the future? Why?
“ I do think that in a few years time if we keep pressure on the government we will not need to use the words ethical fashion or sustainable fashion before fashion again. 100 years ago this was the same with hygiene. Now it is seen as a given that a factory is a clean environment. That’s my hope that we will get to a new paradise where it is the norm for things to be ethically produced where sustainability isn’t just something on the side .” – Paola Masperi
“ Business models and circular systems such as By Rotation are the future of consumption, while upcycling and new methods of production such as digital clothing will provide the creative and viable alternatives to new fashion.”
“ We want to transform the way that we consume fashion and disrupt the usual journey of retail through rental. We are setting out to convince everyone that we no longer need to buy fast fashion and can instead share quality clothing with each other. After all, what may no longer feel new to you can actually be new for somebody else.” – Eshita Kabra
“ We know based on surveys and analysis that the Depop community is deeply and genuinely concerned with sustainability and responsible consumption. That is a hugely promising sign, as they are a majority of young people under 26 years old. If established brands wait to make the necessary changes and financial investment needed to improve their entire business model from a sustainability perspective, there will be new companies with more ethical practices baked into their business models from the beginning that will inevitably come up to replace them”- Steve Dool
“This is not an either/or question. We need those fast fashion brands to join this revolution because they have bigger scale and responsibilities. Zara, H&M, Uniqlo, they all have their sustainability plans. They really need to invest more in the innovation and use their influence to change their ways of manufacturing and merchandising. They should make sustainable fashion something ordinary in people’s daily life rather than just being seen as greenwashing campaigns” – Queennie Yang
Q4. How do you expect government policy to play a role in promoting sustainable fashion production and consumption?
“The environmental and social impact caused by this industry can only be alleviated or solved with policy changes such as mandatory environmental targets and regulations for big businesses and severe penalties for not complying. Last year the EAC published the ¨Fixing Fashion¨ report which laid out a great amount of solutions that could be implemented in the future.”– Eshita Kabra
“PETA and other animal protection groups have joined together to call on the government to implement a ban on the sale of fur. The #FurFreeBritain campaign brings attention to this; As the UK was the first country in the world to ban the farming of animals for fur, it makes no logical sense to keep importing it from other places.” –Sacha Camilli
“Our current situation with COVID-19 is potentially a turning point for how government policy will play a role in virtually every aspect of modern life. The health and safety of people around the world needs to be the number one priority of policymakers, and that is intrinsically linked to the health of our planet.The hope is that seeing the direct positive impact pausing production and travel has had on the environment in a matter of weeks will encourage our governments to rethink how we can all work more responsibly across the board. Businesses will be looking for ways to financially recover, and our most forward-thinking policymakers have an opportunity to argue for mutually beneficial incentives like tax breaks for consumer goods produced within thresholds of carbon allowances, or, if we´re truly lucky, financial incentives for companies with robust and comprehensive upcycling or buy-back programs.”- Steve Dool
As a concluding remark, the outlook for ‘The Future is Sustainable’ seems largely positive, particularly with Paola’s comparison of sustainability now to hygiene 100 years ago. The most notable trends we’ve seen from this article have been the changing perceptions towards sustainability and the growth of new business models such as ByRotation. Yet, our speakers have highlighted areas that need to be addressed further by businesses, the government and consumers. Queennie emphasizes the need for larger brands to lead the way with better sustainability plans ,whilst Sascha stresses how activism for vegan fashion is far from over. Lastly, Steve touches on the impact COVID-19 is having on the industry and the potential implications it has for accelerating the growth towards a more sustainable future. We remain hopeful of what is to come next and look forward to further diving into this development!
Illustration by Amber Conway