Trends toward sustainable womenswear have been a welcome transition in an industry often characterised by a heavy environmental footprint. However, while sustainable womenswear is quickly becoming the norm, the adoption of sustainable menswear has faced slower momentum.
Sustainable menswear brands are starting to make waves in the fashion scene, but a substantial lack of accessible choices remains a significant challenge for consumers. For the womenswear segment, designers such as Mara Hoffman and Eileen Fisher have set high benchmarks for clean and ethical manufacturing and were quick to rethink the fabrics they design with.
Interest from male consumers may play a role in this disparity. According to the 2020 Conscious Fashion Report, shared on part of Lyst (the largest global fashion search platform), online searches for women’s sustainable apparel outpace that of menswear by a staggering 45 per cent, suggesting a need for wider consumer consciousness on sustainable alternatives for men.
However, perceptions of sustainable interest do not paint the full picture. Research suggests many consumers understand the importance of sustainability and make eco-conscious choices with other everyday items, such as carrying reusable drink bottles or using paper straws. Across the board, customers have high expectations for the environmental responsibility of brands and demand ethical and sustainable options both within and outside of the fashion landscape, meaning sustainable menswear designers must take action to increase customer awareness about the availability of alternatives.
Crucially, two major shifts have taken place in the past few years, positioning menswear as an important final frontier for the eco-fashion revival. We have witnessed an unprecedented global shift away from strict tailoring, for both men and women, towards streetwear-inspired unisex apparel. There has also been a surge in the popularity of androgynous garment innovations, as designers and consumers push back against traditional gender binaries in fashion. These trends highlight the importance of sustainable menswear alternatives, especially in the ready-to-wear market.
Ready-to-wear denim brands such as Levi’s and Mavi are currently bolstering their sustainable alternatives to include materials like TENCEL™ branded fibres. Meanwhile, Kings of Indigo, which produces casual sustainable garments for men and women, recently developed a unique biodegradable stretch denim and aims to become carbon positive by 2025.
Sustainable Raw Materials
Eco-friendly alternatives must also make their way into men’s tailoring, still largely untouched in terms of sustainability. This requires significant investment to create durable pieces from fabrics never before used in formalwear. Brands like Brave Gentleman are leading this trend, creating sustainable and durable suits from innovative wood-based fibres like bamboo.
Some menswear pieces can enjoy an easier transition into sustainability, as they can carry across sustainable innovations from women’s athleisure. However, complex fashion pieces such as sneakers, continue to present challenges for designers.
Yatay is among one of the brands undergoing the enormous task of pioneering sustainable alternatives for sneakers. The Milanese footwear designer offers 100 per cent vegan leather sneakers, derived primarily from cereals. This is a completely biodegradable fabric when the shoes reach the end of their useful life. The small amount of recycled ocean plastic used for the shoe’s soles can even be sent back to Yatay for them to reuse.
Brands like these are still a minority and general accessibility to sustainable menswear remains lacklustre. To make a more substantial impact, menswear brands must also reassess their value chains to optimise production with closed loop processes whilst ensuring clothing is created ethically for all involved.
Retailers Looking At Sustainability
International retailer giants such as H&M and Zara have already committed to rethinking their supply chains to include recyclable and sustainable materials. High and niche fashion retailers are also following the trend.
Outdoor clothing trailblazer Patagonia is also making similar moves. Patagonia now monitors its entire value chain to ensure supplies use sustainable materials including wood-based fibres like TENCEL™.
High-quality wood-based fibres produced by environmentally responsible processes from sustainability sourced natural raw materials, and like the trees from which they are derived, prove to be incredibly durable. This is of particular importance for any outdoor clothing brand that aims to provide consumers with clothing options that will stand the test of time.
Patagonia’s strategy proves that the interplay between business and environmental responsibility can be fruitful -a trend many brands should look at as they embark on their journeys forward.
Key Opportunity Areas
Menswear designers have a massive opportunity to set the benchmark for a sustainable menswear future and prescribe eco-cultural transformations for the entire industry. From integrating sustainable fibres into core product offerings to rethinking supply chains in the name of circularity and transparency, the smallest shifts will have powerful implications for an industry that is currently heavily reliant on trendsetters to drive the movement.
To truly inspire an eco-fashion revolution, menswear brands must also radically increase public consciousness about the viability and accessibility of alternatives and ensure new pieces make use of the very best in terms of sustainable raw materials.
Like the womenswear pioneers that came before, menswear designers and retailers must double down on sustainability in this massive, yet neglected segment of the market to create accessible and durable pieces tailored for the critical transition towards a sustainable future.