Ethical is the New Black

Styles and trends are constantly changing but do you ever wonder what happens to all the stuff that inevitably goes out of style? As a shopaholic, it’s incredibly easy to forget where your new threads are coming from. My experience in retail opened my eyes to how much product flies in and out of our stores.

Look…we all know the fashion industry is incredibly wasteful. We’re reminded by it constantly by the constant posts, threaded throughout our feeds. It’s now public knowledge that after petroleum, fashion is the second most polluting industry. Fast fashion is responsible for 10% of the world’s carbon emissions. To put this into perspective, it’s five times higher than all of the output of the world’s airlines combined. This has given the fashion industry a terrible reputation.

But, are times changing?

In the past, many brands have used Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)  as a marketing tactic, rather than an ethical decision to make their company greener. An example of how this tactic can backfire on a company  is Gorman. They grew their loyal customer base off the foundation of false ethical advertisement. The marketing was always about being natural, earthy and world focused. However, Gorman were scrutinised when the Baptist World Aid Australian 2016 Fashion Report was released. With the lowest ethical score possible, Gorman got a big fat F for lack of transparency. Many other brands didn’t do much better. So essentially it gave the entire fashion industry a bad rep for it’s attempt at CSR.

However, according to The State Of Fashion 2018, sustainability will be the forefront of innovation, with leading brands harnessing the circular economy.  The circular economy is essentially linking the product lifecycle by recycling clothes. It uses those fibres to create new clothes, rather than the “take-make-dispose” approach. This means that sustainability has evolved from being apart of fragmented initiatives to an integral part of the entire fashion value chain.

The Shelton Group, a marketing agency specializing in sustainability, found that 90% of millennials buy from brands whose environmental and social practices they trust, so they are more likely to recommend the brand to their friends. Additionally, 66% of global millennials are willing to spend more on brands that are sustainable.

Consumers have taken to social media to vocalise sustainable issues, making it imperative for brands to offer transparency over their apparel production practices. The growth in shopper awareness and demand for sustainable clothing has justified retailers’ investment in sustainable apparel. It was found that brands like Patagonia, Stella McCartney and Gucci, (often named dropped by millennials) have all made massive strides to commit to going green. Which means that they aren’t afraid to put their money where their mouth is.

Many high fashion and fast fashion brands have adopted alternative business models and new concepts centered around sustainability. Arket is a recent example; it is H&M’s new brand of sustainable clothing. This brand is based around the concept of longevity, with an emphasis on ‘enduring design and quality’. However, H&M’s biggest move towards a circular economy is their recycling program. H&M have invested in Newcell and Eileen Fisher’s Renew program, which mends or renews clothes for reuse. Essentially, consumers can exchange old clothing for discount vouchers. This helps to reduce clothing from becoming landfill, and instead recycling it into new clothing. Zara has followed suite in a similar program, with collection bins across all stores in China.

H&M’s Recycling Program

However, sustainability collections need to stand up to core fashion in terms of design, fit, quality and fashion credibility.  Fast-fashion giants such as H&M, Zara and ASOS, have grown their sustainable ranges to be sophisticated in terms of design and competitive price. It has been marketed in line with wider collections, easing consumer adoption, which disintegrates perceptions of unappealing sustainable collections. Because let’s be real, no one wants their clothes to look like their granny’s collage book.

High fashion brands have also made large leaps to create change. Viktor & Rolf produced RE:CYCLE which makes efforts towards closing the garment cycle. This was a collaboration with Europe’s biggest online fashion retailer, Zalando began to create a fully recycled collection. Victor & Rolf are not strangers to sustainable fashion. There past collections have incorporated the designer’s leftover fabric from previous seasons to create couture garments. For Viktor & Rolf, “Haute Couture has always been a laboratory for experimentation. With our past Haute Couture collections, we have explored creative recycling methods: new, artistic ways to re-use elements from the past to create something new.”

Another brand that has jumped on board is Gucci. They recently announced that its spring 2018 collection will no longer use mink, fox, rabbit, racoon dog and Karakul lamb as part of its 10 year “Culture of Purpose” sustainability plan. The plan aims to create the necessary conditions for a progressive approach to sustainability.

There is no doubt that the “next level” of sustainability is being brought to fruition. Companies are starting to fully embrace the competitive advantage that green fashion provides. Retailers like H&M, Patagonia, Stella McCartney and more are paving the way, and showing the fashion industry how to drive innovation by closing the fashion loop.


If this article sparked your interest on ethical fashion then check out this podcast by Business of Fashion on the fur debate.

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