The fashion industry at large is on a journey to a more sustainable future. The ever-increasing awareness of its adverse effects is creating the opportunity for tremendous growth. As society continues to be educated on the issues of fast fashion and greenwashing, consumers are in the middle of their own journey to discover their values and create a better future from the ground up. Whether consumers are looking to support social justice efforts, environmental or animal rights issues to name a few, sustainability allows them to alter their spending habits and take control of their purchasing power to induce change.
Current Predictions of Economic Growth
According to a report by the UN for the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, “Should the global population reach 9.6 billion by 2050, the equivalent of almost three planets could be required to provide the natural resources needed to sustain current lifestyles.”
It is evident that we need to separate our economic growth from environmental degradation. So why are we still supporting industry practices that are polluting the air, land, waterways we need to survive? The answer is simple: money.
The fast fashion industry contributes so much to the world economy, so it’s no surprise that completely eradicating it seems daunting. According to the Economic Times, “Global apparel consumption is estimated to be around $1.8 trillion making it around 2.3% of global GDP.” This all comes down to our current linear economy which is contributing to the enormous amounts of waste and environmental degradation. This is simply because we are relying on finite resources.
In contrast, the global ethical fashion market is predicted to “reach 8.25 billion in 2023 at a compound annual growth rate of 10.33%. That’s a pretty good return for a low-risk investment. Because sustainability offers the opportunity to design and produce indefinitely, the long-term growth and increased profit makes this initiative a no brainer. Thankfully consumers are pushing trends that have the potential to accelerate this growth.
A shift in values for a sustainable future
Consumers are starting to ask all the right questions as they put emphasis on values and sustainability. This is largely due to the emergence of younger generations like Gen Z demanding transparency. In a recent McKinsey Podcast, guest Bo Finneman discussed how “they’re looking beyond tangible products and actually trying to understand what it is that makes the company tick. What’s its mission? What’s its purpose? And what is it actually trying to build for us as a society?” For an industry based on brand image, love and loyalty, future success will be increasingly dependent on sustainable and ethical attributes.
Gen Z knows that they are the future, and they are holding older generations accountable before they are passed the baton. Because they won’t reach their peak in population for about another ten years, this provides room for growth as we look to their influence today as a guiding principle for tomorrow.
An Opportunity for Sustainable Change and Growth
Living a truly sustainable lifestyle means zero waste and straying from our current linear economy. Thankfully, new technologies and innovations are paving the way to make a circular economy possible.
A large part of this is due to the emergence of Systems Thinking. This correlates with shifting to a nonlinear and circular economy. The overarching goal would eventually be to create a long-lasting way of life that strays from tradition to eventually reach a state of neutrality in terms of waste. Of course as with all aspects of sustainability, we must rely on humanity to create means to an end. We must acknowledge that everything comes from a source and ends up somewhere at the end of its life cycle. Once we accept this and seek to change it we can foster positive relationships between products, communities, and people from start to finish.
What does circular fashion and beauty look like? Ideally, businesses in these industries would work to switch to a business model focused on regeneration. This is extremely important because rather than thinking in terms of the consumer, companies can focus on bettering their product for future reuse, recycling, biodegradability, etc. At the end of the day this all comes down to design and resource sourcing. Fashion companies could start focusing on alternative materials in their production processes that are durable enough for reuse and have the potential to be biodegradable. Similarly, beauty companies might prioritize forgoing single-use packaging and sourcing certified organic, or natural ingredients. These are just a few examples to get going in the right direction.
The first concept all businesses in the fashion, beauty, and home goods industries should implement is the triple bottom line. The economic concept champions the idea to measure social and environmental impact as well as financial performance. It can be broken down into the “three P’s”: profit, people, and planet. Many skeptics like to point out that this idea is more fantasy than reality in today’s world. However, so many companies are proving them wrong by demonstrating that you can be successful by doing good.
Many designers begin to approach these ideas with simple changes. Some ways they might become more sustainable include ensuring ethical production or sourcing sustainable materials and packaging. Overall it's the small changes that will lead to the future success of the big picture.
A call to action
As the younger generations rise up as powerful consumers, we can expect to see the fashion industry as a whole shift to meet their demands. Current practices will either be forced to change from polluting our planet or cease to exist. So how can we make the case to shift to a more sustainable and circular lifestyle?
First, continue to become educated through watching Documentaries, Videos, And Podcasts To Kick Start Your Fight Against Fast Fashion. Through this we can all develop our values further and start to support businesses that align with our values.
Next, understand that this is a business opportunity. All the evidence in the world might not be enough to induce change within many existing businesses. However, this is exactly why we should all be looking to new small businesses that are leading by example.
4 brands that focus on profit & sustainability:
One of our brands proving that ethical and sustainable processes are profitable is AAKS. Each of the brand’s raffia bags are handmade by a women’s cooperative in Northern Ghana. Their process demonstrates how we can remain dedicated to modern style while also adhering to traditional methods of production that are both ethical and sustainable.
Alana Athletica is a social impact activewear brand that makes premium quality activewear while bettering the lives of courageous Sri Lankan women who have survived abuse. Each garment is made ethically and sustainably by a 100% women production workforce that receives food, fair wages, and a humane environment.
Huma Blanco is a woman-owned, ethical, and sustainable leather accessory brand designed and produced in the largest artisanal factory in Lima, Peru. The founder, Adriana Crocco, is a third generation shoemaker and designer with a goal to sustain long-term jobs for shoemakers in Peru. Each product illustrates an appreciation for quality, style, and sustainability.
Sunday Morning is a sleep/loungewear and home goods brand based out of New York City. All of their goods are sustainably and ethically made with comfort and elegance in mind.