The Simple Truth – Why Fashion needs to become sustainable
The future of fashion
If predictions made by scientists become true, by 2050 the materials used by the fashion industry, including its operational structures, global trade networks and workforce, could be unrecognizable. Fashion is always on the search for constant new raw materials and labor intensive production processes, which make it particularly vulnerable to environmental disruption. At risk is not only the environment, but also the profit margins of businesses that operate within it. The most pressing topic is climate change, which could lead to radical risk-taking results. We have identified the top 5 pressing threats to fashion businesses, and why it’s important for the industry to do something about them.
1.Cost of Raw Materials
The fashion industry has identified itself, especially during the last decades, as a “take, make and waste” sector. Nonetheless, as environmental issues are becoming more and more important, it has become clear that some of the resources fashion relies upon to create its goods are starting to scarse. The main one is fresh water. Dyeing and treatment processes use vast amounts of water; to make a pair of jeans and a t-shirt takes 20,000 liters according to the WWF. Over 70 percent of that water usage is in the agriculture of cotton, which is among the fabrics with the highest environmental impact along with silk, wool and leather. The possibility of water becoming scarce will lead to more regulations and higher prices. Current consumption rates are not sustainable, unless technology can collect and recycle enough used garments. The Swedish label Weekday works in a sustainable way to minimize waste. Committed to keeping both the future of fashion and the future of society in mind, Weekday is always looking at different ways to work sustainably. They use recycled and leftover materials, saving therefore materials that might otherwise be discarded.
Many of the countries that fashion relies upon for cheap labour are at high risk of environmental disruption. The climate change and extreme weather conditions are likely to affect the livelihood and mobility of millions of garment workers, leading to supply chain inefficiency and decreasing output. In unaffected areas, the cost of labour is expected to rise significantly, the same way as fashion manufacturers experienced over the last 15 years in China. Swiss brand Qwstion produces sustainable bags. They are designed and developed in Zurich, but production takes place in the city of Huizhou which is located in the Hongkong area. Since 2009 they have been working with a small factory that’s run by its owners. They ensure skilled workmanship and through a close partnership they can accomplish the high standards that they set for themselves. They also pay particular attention to the conditions of production due to the fact that in China the standards are not equal to Europe. The factory is a member of BSCI (Business and Social Compliance Initiative), an EU initiative that implements European standards in terms of working conditions and ecological aspects in Non-EU countries.
As oil and petrol are becoming more difficult to access and the extraction cost rises, oil prices will increase as well. This will have consequences on transportation and logistics industries in the future. One of the results will be regionalization of supply chains and relocation of production sites. If supply chains were to be regionalized, the ramifications for global fashion businesses would be extreme — perhaps insurmountable. Local production places an important role in the sustainability of a brand. German label Closed, based in Hamburg, produces all its collections in Europe, between a family-run business in Italy and bags in Portugal.
Scarcity of resources will play an important role in the manufacturing of products, such as cotton for example. Two situations could happen. The first one, in which the fashion industry establishes its own sustainability standards and bodies, which are then acknowledged and affirmed by international regulatory bodies. The second one, sees international regulators “taking part much more aggressively, ushering in a new generation of profitability for everybody,” according to Seara. “Due to increasing cost pressures, increasing consumer pressure, and eventual regulator pressure of some form, whoever doesn’t get on the wagon of fixing the foundation, collaborating with others to improve, they will not be part of the game.” The Swedish brand Acne Studios is one of the labels that’s already setting higher standards. Since 2008 they are member of the Fair Wear Foundation, an independent, non-profit organization that works with companies and factories to improve labour conditions for garment workers.
Millenials is the generation that needs to educated and informed – by 202 they will be the leading consumers leading the fashion industry. Millennials consistently identify sustainability as a factor that influences their purchasing habits. However, only a tiny proportion of all consumers is actually willing to pay more for a sustainable product. This is exactly what we do at Fair-a-porter. Our aim is to change fashion from an anonymous product into a known product by telling its multifaceted story and providing a platform only for those companies that care about transparent and ethical production. We select our products by how much we know about them: From the sourcing of the raw materials, to their country of origin, to the steps a brand takes to grant transparent production. We have therefore developed our four standards, where at least one needs to be met from a brand in order to be present in our shop.