No More Business as Usual: Eight Innovations & Opportunities Developing in the Sustainable Fashion Industry

designers from imogene+willie at work

Eco-fashion designers and business owners are completely revamping how they work with one another as well as with those in the ‘fast fashion’ industry. In fact, there are at least eight innovations and opportunities happening in the sustainable fashion industry that you’re sure to notice as you shop your favorite brands.

Sarah Ditty, Deputy Editor of SOURCE Intelligence, a magazine helping to link individuals throughout the apparel manufacturing processes, discussed several of these new business practices at Ethical Fashion Forum’s SOURCE Summit earlier this Summer. (You can watch a video of the event here.) Some of these ideas are still in their infancy stages, while others are well-established and succeeding to further move eco-fashions into mainstream markets.

New Standards are Strutting into Fashion

  1. Transparent Supply Chains: Environmentally-conscious brands are not hiding behind their supply chains; instead, they’re encouraging their customers to be informed about where and how their clothing is being made. For instance, Honest by is one of the first companies in the world to trace the origins of each element in every garment to be sure it’s safe for you and the environment. I checked out their site, and I was indeed able to find out where the fabric, trimmings and even the buttons were sourced to make one of their beautiful dresses. The company also provides details about how its apparel is made, price calculations and estimated carbon footprint; now that’s what I call staying in the loop.
  1. Take-Back (Product) Schemes: Fashion powerhouses H&M and Puma are some of the larger companies to respond to customers’ demands for more sustainable practices. Both brands have launched apparel recycling programs to spur shoppers to return used and/or disregarded clothing and shoes in exchange for vouchers towards future purchases. While there has been some criticism of such programs suggesting these companies should first lower their high turnover of low-cost apparel, I believe this remain as a significant step towards educating shoppers about the lifecycle of their garments.
  1. Collaborative Consumption: Companies with a focus in peer-to-peer apparel sharing are seeing an increase in online sales as more fashionistas are renting the latest runway looks and returning them when they are done. But if your style budget is a bit more modest, you can still get in on the fun of “swishing” by trading items in your wardrobe with a friend or hosting a swap party in your community.
  1. Global Apparel Retailers are “Detoxing”: Thanks to the efforts of Greenpeace investigators and its supporters, at least thirteen retail giants committed to have a toxic-free supply chain by 2020, which means no longer producing clothing with the use of chemicals and/or contaminating public water sources.
  1. Collaborative Opportunities: Designers of varying disciplines and backgrounds are joining forces to create some of the season’s most desired looks. The most recent instance of such collaborations is fashion brand Topshop, and upcycling label Reclaim to Wear‘s debut of their second collection. It includes graphic floral print shirts and shorts, oversized shirts great for pairing with tights and boots for the upcoming Fall season and much more. The best part is all of the garments are made from recycled fabrics. What a great way to show ‘fast-fashion’ shoppers that sustainably-made garments are indeed eco-chic!
  1. Partnering with Non-Profit Organizations: Scheduled to launch late this month, Zady, a multi-brand shopping platform, is making it easier for the more “conscious” fashionistas to know where and how their favorite looks are being made. Not only is their transparent approach to fashion helping to give greater meaning to our purchases, but five percent of all of the company’s proceeds will benefit The Bootstrap Project, which help to promote and retain centuries-old crafts and customs from artisans and their families’ living around the world.
  1. Closed Loop Fabric Advancements: Just as Puma created InCycle, the first closed loop apparel collection made entirely from recycled materials, H&M and denim brand Kuyichi are steadily working towards similar outcomes in their supply chains. Closed loop clothing will definitely continue to grow in popularity as it’s an efficient way to reuse and repurpose textiles and ultimately reduce the consumption of oil, water, chemicals and other resources.
  1. Emerging Markets: Russia, Brazil, Australia, Uruguay and New Zealand are developing into some of newest places to spot high-fashion, ethically-made styles by the industry’s top designers. In fact, New Zealand will host its first ever eco-fashion week on September 21 and its co-founder and fellow sustainable designer, Denise Anglesey said, “Eco is in and New Zealanders are ready for it!”

After reading through this list, do you think I’ve overlooked any new, exciting developments in sustainable fashion? If so, leave me note and we’ll share them with other fashionistas and business owners.

Image credit: Zady

  1. Amanda

    I think having access to information about the supply chain is the best way for consumers to make ethical fashion choices. I hope more labels begin doing the same.

    The one point I have issue with in this list is the take-back scheme. The only thing that does is perpetuate fast fashion and make it “OK” by being rewarded for purchasing fast fashion and bringing it back to the store to be recycled. In fact, I think a recycling program is little more than a diversion. Making consumers feel better about buying fast fashion because it can eventually be recycled keeps them from really thinking about the environmental and social costs of such purchases. I am not saying the take-back scheme is futile. We most certainly need to do something with all that cheap clothing that might end up in a landfill (and better that the manufacturers take care of it). What I mean to point out is that recycling programs don’t change the fact the industry is flawed.

    If we really want to be ethical about fashion, our garments should not have such a short life cycle as those from H&M (i.e. I wear it a few times, and then it gets recycled into something else). We should be buying more expensive, better made clothing that we treasure for years to come.

  2. Diane C

    I’ve never shopped at H&M and wonder if they buy back things not from their store. I no longer fit into a couple pairs of slacks I bought in 1977 and wouldn’t mind recycling.

  3. Talancia Pea

    Thanks Amanda and Diane C for sharing your comments on this posting. I always like to know what you ladies (and guys) are thinking about the changes happening in the eco- fashion industry. With that being said, Diane C, you can go to H&M’s Garment Collecting site, http://about.hm.com/AboutSection/en/About/Sustainability/Commitments/Reduce-Reuse-Recycle/Garment-Collecting.html, to learn more about the program, and they will indeed accept clothing from any retailer. Happy Recycling!

  4. SM

    It all sounds very interesting. However, know that these companies, cant and wont ever be able to control each area in their supply chain. This because if they did, the prices in H&M etc would be 3 times as high.
    They demand more from the suppliers, harder control on each area, pay higher salaries for overtime etc etc, in return they also demand lower prices while buying. This is not a sustainable business model for the suppliers, so they find new ways of “working around” these demands. You cant pay for a big mac and expect a fillet steak.
    Imagine it worked the other way, H&M asked you when you were buying your clothes for example, how much do you make in a year? Ohh ok, you make that much, then this tshirt will be 20 Euro more for you. You would not be honest anymore when you go there and instead say your yearly income was much less.
    Good luck with changing China, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Business is business and no one works for free.
    Recycling? This is designed for the companies to make a bigger profit, trust me. The vouchers you get will be worth 1 / 10th of what the what these fashion giants will make in return.

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