Once a fringe concept, sustainability in fashion is today arguably one of the most important issues in the fashion industry. It’s hard to open a magazine, browse a blog or shop online without seeing some reference to how brands are “going green.”
So as sustainable fashion gradually becomes “mainstream”, what will be the new frontiers? Jessica Kruger, founder of sustainable fashion brand LUXTRA shares her thoughts:
Today “sustainability” is the buzzword du jour, but very soon it will be eclipsed by conversations focusing on “circularity” and the “circular economy”. As the name suggests, circularity is about designing waste out of the system entirely. This will be a big shift for the fashion industry as it will require brands to plan for the “end of life” of their products. Should they support a second-hand market for their products? Can they take the products back, break them down and reuse them? For many, it will require a radical new approach to their business models.
We’ll similarly start to hear more about other concepts linked to the circular economy, including “cradle to cradle”, “zero waste” and “closed-loop”.
As with any trend, there are brands that will try to jump on the sustainability bandwagon without doing the hard yards. Known as greenwashing, this happens when companies exaggerate or distort environmental claims to make them appear more eco-friendly than they really are. In March 2021, France was one of the first countries to introduce fines for companies found to be greenwashing, with the EU and UK tipped to follow imminently.
Such legislation will protect consumers and hopefully level the playing field somewhat for companies who mean business when it comes to earth-friendly fashion.
The Rise of B Corps
Given the fluidity of terms like “sustainability” and their susceptibility to greenwashing, we will see the rise of B Corporations or B Corps for short. Companies that have certified as a B Corp have gone through a rigorous, independently assessed process that has investigated every aspect of the business. Companies that “pass” therefore meet the highest standards of ethical and environmental impact.
The status is difficult to achieve, so it’s a signifier to the customers and world at large that they really do walk the walk and talk the talk on all things sustainable.
Bio-based materials and lab-grown leather
With more and more attention (and therefore money) directed towards sustainability in the fashion industry, we will see the acceleration of innovative new materials.
Leather alternatives made from apples, grapes, pineapple leaves and cacti (amongst others) are already available on the market but command a premium price as the technologies are still in their infancy. They also remain reliant on PU (polyurethane – a plastic made from petro-chemicals) for longevity.
There are dozens of companies around the world working on plastic-free options and even lab-grown leathers. Most are not available on the market and/or extremely expensive, but with time and investment, these innovative materials will become mainstream in a matter of years.
Consumer savviness and the new frontier
The coming years will see consumers become savvier about sustainability. They will become aware, perhaps even outraged, at the terrible business practises going on behind the glossy façades of many of their hitherto favourite brands.
Social media has given consumers a voice and we’ve already started to see brands sit up and take notice. Change amongst big brands is almost by definition slow, meaning those that don’t keep up will start to fade. As we’ve seen even in the past few years, brands that aren’t woke to these issues will be eclipsed by the new guard of brands that are switched on and committed to producing their products responsibly.