1. Shifting Consumer Consciousness
I’m probably not the first to tell you that consumers are placing more emphasis on social and environmental commitments than ever before. You may have noticed it yourself. Maybe you’ve started to buy products with zero-plastic packaging. Perhaps you thoroughly research a brand before buying from them. You may have even looked at going vegan or buying an electric car. If so – good on you! In any case, you’re definitely not alone.
According to research from Mckinsey, 67% of us consider sustainable materials to be an important purchasing factor, with younger generations making up the majority of that figure. On top of that, an item’s ‘newness’ (how recently it was made) now ranks at the bottom of most people’s list of important factors when buying clothing. In fact, 50% of young people now expect to buy more second-hand clothing.
So, what are we to make of all this? Firstly, it tells us that sustainability is not a fad; it’s a core value of modern consumers. Secondly, the socially and environmentally compassionate mindsets of young consumers are sure to shape the long-term strategies of fashion retailers in a more sustainable way. And since consumer demand dictates the actions of businesses, we can put a lot of faith behind these trends.
2. Increasing Brand Action
Obviously with consumer sentiment changing so rapidly, retailers must be doing something about it, right? Well yes, they are. Buy-back schemes are one way fashion businesses are tackling sustainability. In essence, if you have any clothing that’s remotely valuable, brands will buy it back, though mostly in exchange for store credit.
Consider Trove. Trove provides a platform for brands like Patagonia and Eileen Fisher with the ability to buy back old stock from customers which can then be resold under a new category such as Patagonia’s ‘worn wear’. Trove is a perfect example of a sustainable business model that benefits all parties involved. Customers still get the same level of satisfaction, and brands can shave millions off their production and sourcing costs.
The 100% by 2025 challenge is another way brands are demonstrating their commitment to sustainability. By signing up to the challenge, brands pledge that they will use 100% organic cotton by 2025. So far, more than 80 brands have committed, including H&M, Levi’s and Asos. If successful, then by the middle of the decade, more that 50% of cotton will be grown sustainably. That’s definitely something to be happy about!
3. Smart Materials
It can seem a little naive to rely on the future to solve all of today’s problems – especially when those problems might prevent the future from happening at all. But the progress of smart clothing has been growing faster than anticipated, and its implications are mind blowing.
Triboelectric materials convert kinetic energy to electricity, essentially making anyone who wears them a human power station. Think about it. You would never need to charge your phone, or any device for that matter, ever again. Triboelectric treadmills could generate electricity for gyms. Busy pavements could power electric car chargers. Endless possibilities await!
Imagine wearing a sweater that could warm you up or cool you down. That’s what metatextiles are all about. Metatextiles dynamically improve comfort to the wearer depending on environmental conditions using an innovative new yarn called triacetate cellulose. Future applications include sportswear – specifically in the inner lining of ski jackets to keep people warm throughout the aprés ski at La Folie Douce.
As cool as these smart materials are, they cannot be considered sustainable as of right now. So why are they on this list? Good question. If you could consistently rely on your clothing to keep your body at a comfortable temperature, what need would you have for air conditioning and central heating? Similarly, if you could charge any mobile device purely through your own movement, what need would you have for wall-socket chargers?
So you begin to see that whilst smart materials are not necessarily sustainable in their own right, their secondary benefits could lead to a dramatic decrease in energy demand for certain sectors, and by extension, reduce the impact of any fossil fuel burning energy sources.
4. More Recycling!
As of right now, only about 13% of clothing and footwear are recycled. This is because textile recycling is a complex and expensive problem that has had little commercial interest until now. Recently, large strides have been made in textile recycling technology, to the point where t-shirts and other garments can be sorted, shredded and cleaned, ready to be sold on for use elsewhere.
Using recycled materials has obvious environmental impacts. Roughly 80-90% of a garment’s carbon footprint comes from its original production. By using recycled materials, garment manufacturers can lower carbon emissions and reduce the burden placed on the environment by intense cotton farming. Using recycled textiles may also ease the strain on workers in loosely regulated labour markets, since brands would be sourcing raw materials elsewhere.
You should also know about upcycling. Not to be confused with recycling, upcycling is when you take a garment, make some improvements to it, and then resell it on a platform like Depop. One of the best examples of this is cloth surgeon; a small company that sources interesting materials from all over the world and then upcycles them into bespoke streetwear clothes.
5. The fallout from Covid-19
Ahh yes, Covid-19. The nemesis of supply chain managers, graduates and outdated business models. But, as much as you may resent the appearance of Covid-19, it has actually been a mini-miracle for those of us wanting to see a more heavy-duty response to environmental and societal issues.
Aside from driving an unprecedented shift towards digital transformation, the pandemic has also forced many businesses to reassess their supply chains. Many European fashion brands are now looking a little closer to home when it comes to selecting a place to manufacture products. ‘Nearshoring’ as it’s known, means we are likely to see a gradual shift away from eastern powerhouses like Bangladesh and China, towards new markets like North Africa and Eastern Europe.
Of course, unless these brands are using sustainable materials and treating workers fairly, then the only real benefit is the reduced emissions from shipping. In fact, having manufacturers closer to home could encourage brands to ramp up production in true fast-fashion style.
Personally though, I doubt this will happen. Brands are already struggling to move their business online and not all of them will have to resources to increase production. Furthermore, we consumers have to be respected, and as the data shows, less and less of us want to shop somewhere that leaves a trail of environmental and social catastrophe in its wake.