Sustainability Picking Up Steam in the Fashion Industry

It’s no longer a surprise, or a trend, or a niche for corporate fashion brands to get on board with sustainability efforts. Many would argue it’s gone into hyperdrive, and honestly, we love to see it! Of course, these efforts come after years and years of experts shouting from the rooftops that we can no longer avoid climate change. It's already having it’s devastating and tangible impacts on many parts of the world. 

Although this is grim news, there are real positive strides being taken by the fashion industry, as they are the second most polluting industry in the world after oil [1]. 

As the world faces an overexploitation of resources, 90% of corporate executives think sustainability is important, but only 60% of companies have a sustainability strategy [2]. Although this isn’t exactly the numbers we want to see, it is very evident that sustainability and environmental practices are seriously picking up steam for all companies, especially those in the fashion industry. Companies are now aware that implementing and pioneering sustainability, as a core corporate value, is good for added brand value and provides a competitive advantage over the “old guys” [2].

So who can we thank for this new standard? Spoiler alert: it’s not boomers. Millennials have now become the largest generation of the population. According to a survey by Nielsen, millennials are twice as likely as baby boomers to say they are changing habits to reduce environmental impact. Generation Z is soon to become the next dominant generation and is equally concerned, if not more concerned, about sustainability than millennials. The same Nielson study showed that “66% of consumers would spend more for a product if it came from a sustainable brand, and 81% of global consumers feel strongly that companies should help improve the environment. There is a changing trend among consumers toward supporting sustainability, and it is only getting stronger as the number of millennials and generation Z increases” [2].

Luxury Fashion Still Reigns Supreme

As the world becomes more aware of the devastating impact the fashion industry has on our environment, it’s easy to point the finger at fast-fashion for these damages. Luxury brands have an advantage over fast-fashion companies as their products are purchased for longevity, rather than being temporary and disposable like their inexpensive counterparts [1].

Progressively over time, it seems that shoppers are shifting away from buying frivolously towards investing wisely; quantity is out and quality is in. According to a quote in Harper’s Bazaar, “customers are moving away from the easy ‘Insta-ready’ entry level items to investment purchases, most notably in forever bags from brands like Gucci, Bottega Veneta and Saint Laurent." As a result, these styles are proving almost impossible to hold in stock [1].

Besides investing in longevity and quality over quantity, at the core of many luxury brands is authenticity, origin, and heritage. Meaning their manufacturing is often based close to where the brand originated and main fashion houses still reside. Chanel manufactures mainly in France, Gucci is still produced solely in Italy, and so on and so forth. This human touch and localization not only increases social impact and perception, but also helps sustainability efforts. The less a product needs to travel to get from the manufacturers to the end customer, the less impact it has on the environment [3].

Chloé Sets the Bar High

No luxury brands can claim they are taking these matters as seriously as Chloé. After welcoming their new creative director, Gabriela Hearst, less than a year ago, Hearst has been cracking down on Chloé’s environmental impact. So much so, that Chloé has become the very first (and only) luxury fashion brand to earn a B Corp Certification

B Corp is the most rigorous and demanding certification status, requiring brands to answer 300 questions about their social and environmental impacts. Their answers are scored on a points system, and brands must earn at least 80 to be B Corp certified; only 3,500 brands out of 100,000 have made the cut. In October, it was announced that Chloé was joining the ranks, becoming the first luxury fashion house to do so [4]. 

In helping with these efforts, Hearst’s debut collection included recycled cashmere and wool knits, reworked vintage handbags, and puffers made in collaboration with Sheltersuit, a nonprofit providing shelter for the homeless, using leftover Chloé textiles. The total carbon footprint was a whopping 400% smaller than the prior year’s line [4].

Not only are the products more environmentally friendly, but the creative director herself is personally advocating for the way in which we consume fashion. During an interview at the Chloé showroom in Paris, just days before she was due to sit on a COP26 panel, the designer spoke openly, and with urgency, about fashion's role in turning the climate crisis into what she called "climate success” [5]. 

"I grew up on a farm," Hearst explained. "Everything gets used on a farm, so that's where I learned utilitarian skills for sustainability. We live in a [world] that is overproducing things that we don't need," she expressed, explaining that her three-point approach to design looks at fossil fuels, overconsumption and the need to rehabilitate the environment. She continued by adding, "I always tell my clients, 'Do not buy a lot, buy what you need, what you want, what you want to pass down.’” It's a mindset she learned from her mother, whose clothes, made by the family tailor, were meant to last a lifetime [5]. 

So What Can You Do to Keep Up the Current Momentum?

There is so much we can do, from little changes to big impacts. For one, we can also shop with intent as opposed to excess. Being mindful about the way we consume is a huge part of it and putting our money where our mouth is will tell the industry what is important to us. Investing in key pieces isn’t the only way consumers can go greener. Second-hand fashion is set to surge in the coming years, which could overtake the fast-fashion market by 2029 [1].

Another way we can make our own efforts is through education. CNN Style shared a great list of books and resources for those concerned about climate change and their lifestyle choices. Read the full list here.

We can also watch and follow those that lead by example. It’s not only inspiring, but these brands, organizations, and social media influencers share their knowledge, tips, and tricks to living a more sustainable life, especially when it comes to fashion. Check them out below and click the links below the image to give them a follow!

Top row: @consciousfashion  @elizafaulkner  @inspiroue  @jaylopat

Bottom row: @marikoashley  @remakeourworld  @styleand.sustain  @thegoodtrade

To leave you with some food for thought, Stella McCartney shares her feelings regarding sustainability by stating, “The future of fashion is circular. It has to be.” She concludes by saying, “Right now, the equivalent of one dump truck of textiles gets landfilled or burned every second, and by 2025 the clothing waste accumulated between now and then will weigh as much as today’s world population. We can’t ignore it” [1].

Unit next time, take care of yourself and the planet, Luxers!

 

Sources:

1. Jessica Davis, “How are luxury retailers taking on sustainability?”, Harper’s Bazaar, January 2, 2020. https://www.harpersbazaar.com/uk/fashion/fashion-news/a29386990/luxury-retailers-sustainability/

2. Talal Rafi, “Why Corporate Strategies Should Be Focused On Sustainability”, Forbes, February 10, 2021. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbusinesscouncil/2021/02/10/why-corporate-strategies-should-be-focused-on-sustainability/?sh=65d6b0a37e9f

3. Gwarlann de Kerviler, Elodie Gentina, and Nico Heuvinck, “ Research: How to Position a Luxury Brand as Sustainable”, Harvard Business Review, September 10, 2021. https://hbr.org/2021/09/research-how-to-position-a-luxury-brand-as-sustainable

4. Emily Fara, “Chloé Is the First Luxury Fashion House to Earn a B Corp Certification”, Vogue, October 18, 2021. https://www.vogue.com/article/chloe-b-corp-certification-sustainability

5. Fiona Sinclair Scott, “We're not perfect but we're freaking trying': Chloé's Gabriela Hearst on making fashion sustainable”, CNN Style, November 5, 2021. https://www.cnn.com/style/article/gabriela-hearst-sustainable-fashion/index.html

6. Orsola de Castro and Bronwyn Seier, “What to read if you're worried about the climate crisis and your lifestyle”, CNN Style, August 31, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/style/article/reading-list-fashion-climate-crisis-sept/index.html 

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