By Julia Homilius

Year-end reports about alarming pollution caused by the fashion industry have fashionistas, fashion giants, researchers, and thought leaders in agreement, reimagining the textile industry’s sustainability standards and regulatory framework. The next step in accountability is assessing the true price of natural resources withdrawn from the earth, including the release of harmful substances and overall pollution.

The UN`s 2018 fashion industry charter for climate action, launched in 2018 in Katowice, Poland, has an ambitious goal, with many of your favorite fashion brands (think Adidas, H&M) targeting a 30% cut of their emissions by 2030. The commitment leaves UN climate change executive secretary Patricia Espinosa pleased: “I congratulate the signatories of this important charter, which represents a unique commitment and collaboration from an array of fashion leaders. The Charter, like the renowned fashion runways of the world, sets an example that I hope others will follow.”

The Industry’s Carbon Footprint is, Well, Bad

There are positive efforts with many impressive examples of changes being made. Still, “On current trend, the negative impacts of the industry will still be potentially catastrophic, if the industry continues on its current path, by 2050, it could use more than 26% of the carbon budget associated with the 2°C average global warming limit.” Total greenhouse gas emissions from textiles production exceed 1.2 billion tonnes annually. This equates to a carbon footprint higher than international flights and maritime shipping combined.

A Look to the Future – Five Ways the Fashion Industry is Committed to Change

A report published by a team from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation called, A new textiles economy: redesigning fashions future, reinvents and rethinks the current supply chain, and proposes stepping back from the outdated linear system: “A new textiles economy is an attractive vision of a system that works,” and suggests change summarised as follows:

  1. Innovation towards safe material cycles: Substances that are potentially harmful to health or the environment are phased out, and no pollutants like plastic microfibers are released into the environment and oceans.
  2. Making durability more attractive by changing the marketing approach, designing quality garments that last long-term and adopting a new understanding of fashion business models like short-term rentals for frequent use.
  3. Improving recycling radically by incorporating the different life cycles of the product in the design process to make the product useful at any stage of its life cycle.
  4. Less waste, be it fossil fuels, microfibres, or water waste.
  5. More effective use of resources and renewable inputs, especially when virgin materials are applied in the production processes.

The necessary steps described in the report call for a steady long-term approach when it comes to incorporating these dramatic changes in the supply-chain, but we are excited to see this future coming!

Also, your favourite luxury brands are working on becoming better: “We are continually working to reduce our carbon footprint and taking action to combat climate change. Going even further, we have set Science Based Targets within our 2025 sustainability strategy to guide us to do so, while we pursue our progressive sustainability targets overall,” says Marie-Claire Daveu, Chief Sustainability Officer and Head of international institutional affairs of Kering, the global luxury group, currently recognized as the climate change leader, especially when it comes to changes in the supply chain. Kering works with and for many well-known luxury brands like Gucci, Saint Laurent or lifestyle brands like Puma and Cobra. 

A New Business Model – Renting Instead of Buying

Through adopting new clothing rental business models, the fashion industry attempts to change the perception of clothing, from that of a once worn disposable item, to that of a more durable, reusable and sustainable product. For the customers who like to frequently change their outfits, rentals are perfect.

A subscription-based model can offer a lucrative alternative to frequently purchasing new items. It saves money and reduces waste at the same time. This approach could change the industry, not only for clothing for special occasions, but also for children`s clothing, keeping special dresses in regulated use, instead of moth-eaten in closets. The US is currently at the forefront with the idea of renting clothes. With companies like Rent The Runway, consumers can rent four pieces at once for $159 a month. In the UK, you can find a service called Girl Meets Dress.

Adopting new business models is one way to cut gas house emissions, but there is also a ‘small club’ of brands going all the way, 100% carbon neutral now. 

One Hundred Percent Carbon Neutral

In order to be recognized as a carbon-neutral brand, the amount of damage a brand is doing to the environment is offset by contributing to the betterment of that environment, investing for instance in renewable energy projects.

The brand Reformation changed their business model by going 100% carbon neutral and incorporating other environmentally friendly initiatives: “That last climate report literally was keeping us up at night,” says Kathleen Talbott, vice president of operations and sustainability at Reformation. “We didn’t feel like we were doing enough. We wanted to make what we had learned as a business easier and more accessible to the average person.”

Despite higher costs, the factory is based in Los Angeles, proving that clothing can be ‘homemade’ in western countries and still be cost accessible to the average person. It’s fun to just scroll through their website, getting to know the workers and the company’s efforts to raise awareness by applying and promoting sustainable standards. 

Another great example is the Copenhagen-based company Neutral. The brand is a market-leader for sustainable clothing and accessories, operating in the business-to-business (B2B) market. The company follows international sustainability standards covering the entire supply chain, making it a great example and best practise for the industry. 

The go-to example when it comes to footwear is Allbirds. They represent a new way of creating shoes. The founders created the product after many years of research and are inspired by natural materials. These shoes incorporate merino wool and are perhaps the world’s most comfortable footwear.

Though there is a long way to go for the fashion industry to rise above its environmental challenges, it’s good to see that a strong effort is gathering momentum. We are hopeful and look forward to sustainably conscious outfits as a regular standard, widely available in the near future.