How fashion brands are approaching sustainability

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Many businesses have come under criticism for their approach on environmental issues, with some consumers even switching their most loyal brands to competitors as a result. But innovative businesses are now quickly realising that deploying an eco-conscious tangential change in their material sourcing is what the consumers of 2019 want.

Sustainability within retail refers to the sourcing of eco-friendly materials that make up the fabrics used in clothing. Other factors include the working conditions of the people producing the materials, the materials total carbon footprint as well as what happens to it once it’s discarded by its owner.

Environmental villains

This wasn’t the case for luxury brands though, in 2017, Burberry, Britain’s largest luxury label by sales, infamously burnt around £28 million worth of clothing and cosmetics in an attempt to prevent consumers getting their hands on heavily discounted or unwanted items that weren’t going to sell at the recommended retail price. Their only justification was to maintain its brand value and reputation as a luxury fashion conglomerate.

Naturally, this was received with general negativity from the public, arguing not only the ecological problems but the human aspect of homeless or poor families that could’ve had the clothes that were going to get destroyed anyway.

It isn’t just Burberry that are doing it, though. Despite the brand burning almost £100m worth of stock in the last 5 years or so, this form of clothing destruction is common amongst brands in the retail sector, but Burberry got caught in the headlights.

Environmental efforts

The stubborn, adamant campaigners have once again influenced the stratagem of a retailing powerhouse. Despite Burberry burning all their unwanted stock, they did announce towards the end of last year that going forward, not only would they be stopping this practice, they would also be stopping the use of real fur.

Massive brands with large consumer followings such as H&M are starting to roll out their efforts to a more sustainable planet. They announced last year that they aim to use only recycled materials by 2030 and by 2040 it wants to be 100% climate positive. Of course, it’s one thing making a bold statement but it’s another to follow up on it by implementing changes straight away. As the world’s second largest clothing retailer, they currently source 35% of materials from recycled or sustainably sourced materials, although their goal is in years to come, they still have a long way to go in order to achieve it.

Going ‘eco’ shouldn’t mean a change of desirability of the clothing. People buy clothes because they like the aesthetics of them, and going green shouldn’t mean beige, “oatmeal-coloured fashion that are oversized or lacking in any sort of luxury” as Stella McCartney puts it, it’s a nod in the direction of the way fashion brands are being experimental when it comes to how they continuously mould their strategies.

What contributes towards a bad footprint?

Although efforts are being made to reduce the massive carbon footprint caused by the retail sector, including sustainable cotton initiatives to reduce the amount of water used, as well as monitoring energy and chemical use, the balance has actually tilted in the direction of the consumer.

With growing demands to stay on top of the latest fashion, the unquenchable desire means people are buying more and more clothes, in fact, since 2012, the amount of clothes we have purchased has risen 10%. Not only are we buying more, the rate at which they’re getting discarded is also increasing.

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