Loving the environment and being accountable to our environment responsibilities were taught to us from our school days, but never before has its relevance been understood so well than now. In these tough times, when the whole retail world is writhing in pain inflicted by the deadly pandemic, those from the apparel and fashion industry, in particular, are committed to making eco-friendly products as that’s the only ‘mantra’ to stand out today and make a difference.
If there is one industry that has to take an initiative and make that difference, then it has to be the fashion and apparel industry. After all, aren’t they the biggest contributors to environment pollution? In fact, according to 2019 study by the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, fashion industry was the second largest consumer of water, in addition to contributing 8 to 10 per cent of global carbon emissions. If the fashion industry continues in the same way, it will, as per some reports, produce 26 per cent of the world’s carbon footprint by 2050. Clearly, something needs to be done to remedy the situation and save the planet.
The ReWire Sustainability 2021 conference, which was held in February 2021, spoke a lot about innovation and hype in the land of materials in addition to stressing on digitising a pathway towards circularity. The conference, hosted by MOTIF and The Mills Fabrica, saw the presence of some of the biggest names from the fashion world across the globe. COVID-19 has today accelerated and focused the industry’s imperative to do things differently.
Therefore, it was a delight when recently the American denim brand Madewell updated its progress on the goals that it had set in 2020 in its Do Well report. While updating about the progress made, Liz Hershfield, Senior Vice President and Head of Sustainability, J. Crew Group (parent firm of Madewell) said, “67 per cent of Madewell products now have at least one sustainable attribute (the goal is 100 per cent by 2025). And 40 per cent of the fibres used in its products are sustainably sourced (also with a goal of 100 per cent by 2025).”
While stating how making sustainability goals public helps pushing a brand internally to attain those goals, Liz feels Madewell could have made commitment to enhance the use of sustainable materials by 1 per cent, but doing so wouldn’t have been that effective. Liz added, “We felt like we had to go full force and commit to 100 per cent sustainable fibres by 2025. It is tough but doable.”
The progress seems to be visible now. The US brand has already given the equivalent of US $ 580,000 back to the garment workers who work in its factories by switching to Fair Trade Certified products – and now the goal is to have 90 per cent of its denim units Fair Trade Certified. Yes, things are changing and that’s a good sign.
Sustainability is integral to these US brands
Many American fashion brands have been talking and publishing their sustainability goals, but what has changed lately is that brands are actually putting efforts to make sustainable products, and also letting consumers understand the process and progress made in doing so.
Levi’s, another renowned American denim brand, with its much-talked about Wellthread x Outerknown collection is piloting products with 30 per cent cottonised hemp and jackets with detachable hardware to make them more easily recyclable. Notably, its waterless denim collections were developed to bring down the amount of water used in producing some of its most popular styles and fits.
Another denim giant from the US, Wrangler, which was one of the first to sign on to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Jeans Redesign programme, and is also a part of the Make Fashion Circular, has pledged to use 100 per cent sustainable cotton in all of its collections by 2025. Neiman Marcus, the Dallas-based fashion brand, too wants its customers to know that it is buying into sustainability. It has formed a 3-member team that is focused on incorporating environmental issues and sustainability into all its business and for this it has also set up task force across all its departments.
Customers have all the right to know what their favourite brands are doing for the environment and how responsible are the products that they are buying. Bain & Co. had said in one of its reports in January 2021, “Luxury players need to think boldly to rewrite the rules of the game, transforming their operations and redefining their purpose to meet new customer demands and retain their relevance, especially for younger generations, who are set to drive 180 per cent of the growth in the market from 2019 to 2025.”
Patagonia, the California-based retailer known for marketing and selling outdoor apparels, not only uses sustainable materials in its outerwear, but also helps customers repair their clothing instead of buying new clothes. Because the products are so durable, customers are encouraged to recycle old Patagonia dresses and purchase clothes second hand.
Then there’s Elevate Textiles, which was formerly International Textile Group, and also the firm behind reputed global textile brands like American & Efird, Burlington, Cone Denim, Gütermann and Safety Components, which recently came up with its 2021 Sustainability Report.
The report is aligned with chief UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) commitments related to Elevate and its brands, and also reveals increased involvement in global sustainability initiatives and significant progress against firm’s 2025 Sustainability Goals. With a global array of premium fabric and thread solutions focused on innovation, sustainability and quality craftsmanship, Elevate and its brands offer products that surround us every day and, importantly, in all aspects of life. Outlining progress towards its 2025 Sustainability Goals, Elevate has been focusing on sustainably sourced fibres and reduced water consumption – all this to offer sustainably innovative products to consumers.
Corroborating further on the above, Sim Skinner, President and CEO, Elevate, averred, “As a valued supply partner and responsible manufacturer, our Elevate teams and brands are committed to understanding our customers’ needs and aligning our actions to help achieve critical sustainability goals.” Notably, Elevate has achieved 68 per cent sustainably sourced cotton against its goal of 80 per cent sustainable sourcing by 2025. It’s all about driving the change for better.
Another fashion bigwig Tommy Hilfiger has been making contributions towards a better fashion industry. To date, 80 per cent of its product designers have been trained on circular design strategies and till 2 years back, 72 per cent of cotton used by the brand came from more sustainable sources. Notably, 2 million pieces of denim have been finished in lower impact, thereby bringing down the amount of water and energy used, and each seasonal Tommy Hilfiger collection comprises more sustainable styles in its collections, distinctly evidenced by the 50 per cent more sustainable styles planned for Spring 2021 – that’s twice the amount during the same period in 2020.
Well-known American fashion brand Reformation, earlier in March 2021, joined hands with traceability solutions provider FibreTrace and is all set to trial its technology with the rollout of a new denim collection. FibreTrace tags textiles with a special pigment that can be tracked throughout apparel supply chains and authenticated in the finished goods. It is worth mentioning that this project aligns with Reformation’s goal of becoming climate positive by 2025.
Triarchy, the sustainable denim brand from the US, became one of the first brands to go to the market with Candiani Denim’s patented plant-based Coreva Stretch Technology. Notably, the biodegradable stretch denim is made from organic cotton yarns wrapped around a natural rubber core. Not many may know that Triarchy’s collections are made with Tencel, 100 per cent Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) cotton and recycled metal hardware.
Building upon the brand’s 2016 Gap for Good commitment to use less water and more sustainable materials, US retailer Gap’s recently launched (March 2021) ‘Generation Good’ capsule is made of organic and recycled fabrics and has been manufactured using less waste, less water, lower emissions and better materials, alongside initiatives that support its workers.
Since last 2 years, Gap has been using 5 per cent recycled cotton in denim and 100 per cent organic cotton in styles for babies and children; this is in addition to using 100 per cent recycled nylon in selected outerwear.
At present, 91 per cent of Gap denim is a part of its water-saving Washwell programme, which is better than its original 2021 goal of 75 per cent. That’s the retailer’s latest commitment to sustainability! In December 2020, Gap had said that it is committed to using 100 per cent sustainably sourced cotton by 2025 across its other brands that include Gap and Old Navy, amongst others.
The sustainable efforts initiated by bigwigs like Gap, Tommy Hilfiger, Neiman Marcus, Triarchy or any other fashion pioneers mentioned above are quite enough to inspire young brands as well. In fact, many young and upcoming fashion brands are also putting efforts to perfectly align with this shift in consumer sensitivities. Girlfriend Collective, the young sustainable US activewear brand, is one of them, which has been constantly stressing on transparency and selling leggings made of recycled polyester. But it is not confined to the US alone…
Those in Europe aren’t behind either
The consumer’s awareness about sustainability is growing as fast as the brand’s awareness for the same and it is the same story across the globe – be it in the US or Europe. Earlier in April 2021, Sweden-based KappAhl was out with its Sustainability Report for the extended reporting period from 1 September 2019 to 31 December 2020. Here it is important to state that amidst all pandemic constraints, 2020 was also a year in which the future of KappAhl began to take shape.
The Sweden-based fashion chain, which offers affordable, responsible fashion simply and sustainably at around 370 KappAhl and Newbie stores, has resolved to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris Agreement. The share of the product range made using more sustainable materials and/or by more sustainable methods has risen by 70 (58) per cent. The goal is to reach 100 per cent by 2025.
Substantiating on the same, Elisabeth Peregi, President and CEO, KappAhl, said “Despite a challenging year, we also continued our efforts to integrate sustainability in our main business strategy to underpin KappAhl’s further strength and reliability going forward.”
And then there’s H&M Conscious from H&M! H&M is moving away from its fast fashion roots with the Conscious collection, made of materials like organic cotton and recycled polyester. By using eco-friendly fabrics and more sustainable production methods, the brand hopes to eliminate its environmental footprint. Customers can also recycle unwanted garments at H&M stores and get a discount for a future purchase. H&M is clear that its goal is to use only sustainably sourced materials by 2030.
The thoughts and practices are not much different for German sportswear giant adidas, which had in 2019 released 200 pairs of its Futurecraft.Loop sneakers. These were 100 per cent recyclable line of running shoes, which despite a good beginning, slumped a bit as people didn’t bring the shoes back. And now, in its continual commitment to sustainability, adidas is all set to fully launch the sneakers in Spring 2021. What’s pleasing, however, is not just to see brands make products advocating ‘ethical fashion’, but also put efforts to tell customers what they are doing.
Boohoo, the British online retailer, which owns brands like, BoohooMan, NastyGal, MissPap, Karen Millen, Coast as well as the recently acquired Debenhams and Arcadia’s Dorothy Perkins, has said it will be prioritising polyester and cotton, followed by viscose and animal-derived products. It also said that customers will be informed of products’ sustainable credentials with the strapline ‘ready for the future’ – and that will be for all of Boohoo’s brands.
To mark Earth Day 2021, Stella McCartney launched in April a small capsule collection in support of Greenpeace’s campaign to stop deforestation in the Amazon. Highlighting the brand’s commitment to protecting the planet and wildlife, the collections are inspired by vintage activist T-shirts, and are designed to not only raise awareness but also to direct consumers to read more about Greenpeace’s campaign and sign the petition.
JPL Atelier, a comparatively not so well-known London-based womenswear brand, prides itself on its devotion to ‘women alongside [their] muse, Mother Earth.’ To commemorate Women’s Equality Day, the brand recently unveiled 5 white cotton T-shirts, all of which were sustainably made through renewable solar and wind energy.
British clothing retailer Marks and Spencer (M&S) recently claimed to have launched new sustainability standards for its denim collections, which it says use ‘kinder’ indigo dyes and 86 per cent less water than what the industry uses on an average. The fashion retailer, which sells one in ten of every pair of jeans sold in the UK, mentioned that all of the cotton used for its denim is responsibly sourced, mostly through the BCI.
So, whether it’s the brands from the US or the UK or those from the EU group, many are now adhering to sustainable guidelines and producing products that are sustainably innovative. Many fashion bigwigs like H&M, adidas or Triarchy have already launched such conscious items in the market, and many others like Lee, Gap or Reformation are all set to release dozens more to shoppers.
Yes, the mindset is changing – and changing fast – and 2020 has just made that whole process of being responsible and accountable to environment more relevant. Isn’t it? From the collection of raw materials to manufacturing and delivery of products, offering ethical fashion to consumers seems to be the ‘magic mantra’ to success. That’s the only way forward to survive and succeed! Hope more and more brands come forward and embrace ethical fashion and make sustainable and innovative products and thereby help grow both economically and environmentally – and importantly help make this world a better place to live.
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