Is the Fashion Industry on its Way to a Sustainable Future?

Alice Benzimra


Sustainability is not exactly the first thing that comes to mind when we think about fashion.

Behind the glamorous and attractive image of fashion lies a dirty number: the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions to produce and sell our beloved clothes, making it one of the most polluting industries in the world. It’s time to seriously consider how to make the industry more sustainable and eco-friendly, and the good news is that many brands have already understood that.

Where is the Change Coming From?

Not only from an ethical point of view, but also from an economic angle, brands have a lot to gain from becoming responsible producers. Millennials are the new target and they’re also the group of consumers who care the most about buying responsibly. According to a study by Nielsen in 2015, 75% of millennials would be willing to pay more for a product if it’s sustainably sourced.

The Big Initiatives

There are already some new initiatives that exist in order to encourage brands and the industry to change. We’ve previously spoken about H&M’s Conscious Collection, made with certified organic cotton and sustainable materials. Fashion for Good, founded in partnership with C&A Foundation, is an open invitation for the whole textile industry to collaborate in “bringing good to fashion”. It aims towards an industry with Good materials, Good economy, Good energy, Good water and Goodlives. Among big fashion names, C&A and Kering are official partners of Fashion for Good and the two groups have been recognised for being involved with innovative solutions. Kering is the founding partner of the Fashion for Good accelerator program with Plug and Play, a global innovation platform from Silicon Valley that provides mentorship to start-ups  and useful resources to develop technologies that could improve sustainable production.

Image: Fashion for Good

Image: Fashion for Good

Target for Brands

Greenpeace published a report in 2015 to shed light on the fashion brands they consider to be “detox leaders“. The three criteria they take into account are the elimination of toxic and water-polluting chemical groups such as PFCs and APEOs, and transparency. Brands that have committed to this criteria include: Adidas, Burberry, C&A, Esprit, Fast Retailing, H&M, Inditex, Primark and Valentino, among others.

Fast Retailing, the group behind Uniqlo, Theory, and Comptoir des Cotonniers, has been remarkable on transparency ensuring the publication of 80% of its global supply chain facilities. Theory is also working on a capsule collection called Theory 2.0 targeting young women with fresh ideas and new materials. The new collection adopts materials such as vegan leather and suede which is more respectful of the environment but still provides a fabric of high quality.

Sustainability at Fashion Week

Even in the fashion industry, Scandinavian countries do not fail their reputation of being innovate and environmentally responsibleHelsinki  Fashion Week for example, has a specific focus on sustainable production and brands. Last month, they presented their project ‘A New Normal’, which will launch a collection next year made with only recycled materials. 60% of each piece sold from the collection is planned to be redistributed to nature conservation projects by WWF Finland.

It is encouraging to notice new projects specifically fighting the current methods of production in fashion. Customers are increasingly aware that their vote for change lies in their shopping choices. Sustainable fashion is the opportunity for the whole industry to have a positive role in the fight against global warming, but it can also be identified as a new business sector with endless possibilities.