Ethical Sustainable Fashion Revolution
The sustainability challenges facing the clothing industry today are immense. In 2013 the Danish fashion institute estimated it to be the second-most damaging industry in the world. It currently uses a constant flow of natural resources to produce ‘Fast Fashion’ garments. In the way it operates, this industry is constantly contributing to the depletion of fossil fuels, used, for example, in textile & garment production and transportation.
As a result, some natural resources are in jeopardy and forests and ecosystems are being damaged or destroyed for such things as fibre production, leading to issues such as droughts, desertification and not least, climate change, that are affecting society at large.
In an industry that produces more than 150 billion items of clothing per year (enough to provide 20 new garments to every person on the planet) addressing these impacts isn’t easy. Fashion is fickle and trend-driven; no product solution typically stays on the market for long. The economics of fashion are also limiting: per-item profit in the industry is typically as low as 4 percent, driving decision-makers invariably toward cheaper options. Questions therefore arise as to how this behemoth of an industry, founded on creating ever-increasing amounts of product for ever-decreasing margins, can ever truly hope to transform itself?
The millennial generation is the primary driving force behind the Ethical Sustainable Fashion Revolution. Companies are adopting the values of sustainability, transparency, and authenticity for engaging the next generation cash rich buyers.
Ethical clothing companies are starting to become more effective at combining sustainable values with smart branding. When brands place sustainability at the core of their identity and marketing, conscious customers can outwardly express their values through the clothes they wear.
Conscious fashion movement is combining sophisticated marketing with the work of NGOs pressuring companies toward transparency—that is, allowing activism and buying to work together. O’Rourke believes that fashion, which is “by nature a form of conspicuous consumption” is ripe for mining “the Prius effect”—“People see you driving around in a Prius, and it gives you recognition as a person who is thoughtful about environmental or energy issues. People see you in your Patagonia jacket, and the choice of your clothing similarly signals and creates the potential for status and for the social influence effect.” H&M’s “Conscious Collection” has a distinct green tag that communicates explicitly consumers’ conscious status to fellow shoppers.
Large brands and retailers are working behind the scenes to become sustainable so that they can be well-positioned once the market begins to demand it. “They are trying to figure out how to get ahead of these trends and often quietly doing a lot, because they don’t want to be a target of criticism for when they fall short or when their goals are not ambitious enough,” O’Rourke says. “There are very few brands that are strong enough to come out in the way that Patagonia does to say, ‘Here’s the good and here’s the ugly. Here’s what we’re working on, and here’s what we haven’t gotten right yet.’
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