While retail has seen somewhat of a return to normalcy this year, it's clear that the fashion industry cannot return to its environmentally damaging pre-pandemic processes and unsustainable levels of mass production.
2022 indicates a fresh start and global retailers are readying to bounce back from a turbulent year of COVID and supply chain challenges. However, the businesses poised to thrive are those doubling down on sustainability efforts and innovation.
Harnessing the power of market intelligence, EDITED can help maximize profits and minimize the number of unsold goods that are adding to the fashion industry’s global problem. For a more sustainable and successful 2022, reach out for a demo.
EDITED's key takeaways
- The urgency of the UN's climate change report coupled with conversations at COP26 could lead to new legislation and penalties for fashion businesses, holding greater accountability to achieve net-zero emission targets. EDITED customers can log in to read our COP26 Takeaways.
- Next year, we can expect retailers to accelerate their climate ambitions by overhauling their most carbon-intensive processes opting instead for natural-based solutions and digital innovation, while further embracing the circular economy.
- Material experimentation will reach fever pitch, leading to greater investment in more responsible alternatives to combat rising cotton prices and the impact of conventional fabrics and animal agriculture on people and natural resources.
- Greenwashing crackdowns and heightened education on fashion's footprint mean retailers need to adopt brutally direct marketing to reclaim consumer trust. While the use of conscious materials is the primary way retailers indicate sustainability, retailers can't rightly brand themselves this if their environmentalism isn't intersectional and their workers aren't compensated - something that requires transparency going forward.
Why take note
Fashion was a key discussion point on the COP26 agenda, with the summit prioritizing achieving net-zero emissions. Meanwhile, the UN climate change report urged businesses to act faster to combat global warming. Retailers need to evolve in line with these macro shifts and reshape their most carbon-intensive processes, such as sourcing and shipping.
How to act
Despite setting ambitious targets, a tighter timeframe is required, with the UN reporting that what companies do in the next five or ten years will really matter. Councils lobbied COP26 to implement a global strategy for taxing carbon and incentivizing regenerative energy sources, which could lead to retailers manufacturing in countries heavily reliant on fossil fuels to experience higher supply chain costs. To strive towards net-zero, retailers need to rewire their processes at every section of the value chain and not rely solely on offsetting excess emissions.
Marks & Spencer's reset of its Plan A pledge to eradicate its carbon footprint will see the retailer collaborate with its suppliers on new and better processes, as well as promote carbon literacy through buying, sourcing and operations to drive net-zero delivery. Offsets will account for 14% of reductions by the 2030s. Adding to the exorbitant resources and energy used within fashion, overproduction is rife with new arrivals outpacing pre-pandemic levels. The unnecessary amount of apparel produced at a rapid turnaround needs to be addressed and pulled back. Supply chains are showing obvious strain with ports over congested and factories shuttered due to vaccine inequality in major manufacturing regions, indicating operations can no longer run at this capacity with coronavirus now a part of life.
Taking a slow fashion approach by producing fewer options for demand is becoming more common in the industry. Farfetch is one of the latest retailers taking this approach, launching a pre-order scheme and only making what's been ordered to help minimize waste. Though consumers care about the environment, they prioritize fast, seamless and mainly free delivery and returns, clashing with retailers' carbon-reduction goals. The pandemic has opened shoppers up to alternatives such as click-and-collect and curbside pickup, which can be expanded to include pickup from delivery hubs - an option bubbling up in the UK with retailers transforming closed-down physical stores into mini-fulfillment centers for online orders. Retailers are also adopting reusable packaging for orders and seeking greener alternative modes of transport.
Image via Farfetch
The New Material Reset
Why take note
Fashion's overreliance on cotton has led to steep price increases as well as environmental and political impacts. All the while natural resources are at stake, with an estimated single mill using 200 tons of fresh water per ton of dyed fabric. At COP26, more world leaders signed up to the Global Methane Pledge to cut methane emissions 30% by 2030. This is an opportunity for retailers to pivot further away from methane-rich animal products, such as leather, and look beyond conventional materials to create more responsible garments.
How to act
Across 2021, grape leather became a mainstay at Ganni, while mushroom alternatives spread further into the mainstream with adidas, Stella McCartney and Lululemon experimenting with Mylo™ - a mycelium-based leather that is grown in a few weeks, emits fewer greenhouse gases and uses less land than raising livestock.
Repurposing materials from food waste is also becoming more popular. Brands leading the way include Rens Original, creating sneakers containing 150 grams of coffee waste; Virón, making dyes derived from food and flowers; and PANGAIA's FRUTFIBER™ and PLNTFIBER™ collections made with bamboo, Himalayan nettle eucalyptus and seaweed, alongside production waste from banana and pineapple leaves.
Retailers like Crocs are overhauling their original materials to be more carbon-friendly. From early 2022, it will modify the materials used in its iconic clog style to introduce a new bio-based Croslite fabric. This will decrease its already low carbon footprint of 3.94 kilograms carbon dioxide equivalent per Croc. Given the adverse impact of fashion on the planet, retailers need to be factoring in end-of-life solutions to their materials. Zalando recently invested in circular apparel and textile technology group, Infinited Fiber Company, with plans to use its patented biodegradable and recyclable Infinna textile for its private label collection.
Image via Ganni
Rewear, Repair & Resell
Why take note
In addition to experimenting with new material technologies, retailers need to implement circular processes to account for product longevity. Post-pandemic, 80% of US consumers plan to refresh their closets once the pandemic is over by either tossing items they no longer want or buying something new, adding to fashion's waste problem. With the secondhand market projected to double in the next five years, reaching $77bn, the retailers who aren't planning to get on board are already behind.
How to act
Denim's durability and seasonless appeal make it ideal for the resale market. Madewell and ThredUp accelerated their partnership, launching a resale program, Madewell Forever. Customers can trade in any pair of pre-worn jeans for a $20 credit towards new Madewell styles.
The returned jeans are assessed and resold on either Madewell Forever or ThredUp for $35 to $50, while unsellable pairs are recycled. In the Netherlands, G-Star customers can now receive complimentary repair work for broken zippers, open stitches, open hemstitches and button restorations. The high quality associated with designer goods has led retailers to ensure luxury items can be handed down - Net-a-Porter is one of the newest entrants in the resale space.
To encourage consumers to dispose of clothing with the planet in mind, retailers need to provide education and incentives. Marks & Spencer rewards its consumers on its Sparks loyalty program if they donate unwanted clothes to UK-based charity Oxfam. Browns launched a take back initiative where consumers can earn credit from the items resold on Thrift+ with a third of the value donated to a charity of the donor's choice.
Madewell US Email - Aug 30, 2021
Radical Marketing Transparency
Why take note
Consumers are savvy when it comes to greenwashing, with 69% stating they don't always trust brands and retailers that say they are sustainable. Government bodies are cracking down on it too. The UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) found 40% of green claims made online are misleading and warned that businesses, including fashion, have until the new year to ensure their eco marketing is compliant by law. Products must hold up the six principles of the Green Claims Code: claims must be truthful and accurate; clear and unambiguous; not omit or hide important relevant information; make fair and meaningful comparisons; consider the full life cycle of the product or service; and must be substantiated. This means retailers can no longer market products as "sustainable" without the information to back them up. The protection of garment workers must also be taken into account. Recently, the Government of California passed SB62, ensuring an hourly rate for garment workers and holding brands accountable for wage theft.
How to act
As more regulations to protect people and the planet come into place and become more widespread, retailers who are actively transparent now can avoid damaging their reputations and running into legal challenges down the track. With a lot of jargon surrounding what makes a product sustainable, which overwhelms customers, retailers need to strip back their messaging and clearly state what they're doing, what they're aiming for and how it aligns with broader scientific goals set by the UN or other key parties. Avoiding ambiguity is key. Take, for instance, Submission Beauty's "Shit List", actively calling out the ingredients it doesn't use and why. Such a clear statement instantly instills trust in the consumer that these products don't contain elements that are toxic or environmentally damaging. A similar campaign could be applied to fashion with maximum impact.
A wave of brands has prioritized taking accountability, calling out their mistakes and putting steps in place to improve. This is essential for 360 transparency and helps position brands as relatable and trustworthy. Ace & Tate addressed the fact that it didn't prioritize social impact, didn't have Corporal Social Standards (CSR) clearly outlined to its suppliers, and wasn't conscious of other environmental factors outside of CO2 emissions - all issues it's now tackling. Ganni has avoided branding itself as "sustainable" altogether. The Scandi brand stated on Instagram that it thrives on creating newness and, although is working to be more responsible, has initially been afraid of being accused of greenwashing for not doing enough. The brand now openly shares its transparency progress for each season along with its plastic consumption and also breaks down sustainable terminology and materials.
Image via Ace & Tate
Learn From The Metaverse
Why take note
From digital runways spurred by COVID to luxury brands experimenting with NFT technology, fashion and digital are becoming more intertwined, where non-physical items and processes could potentially unlock a realm of scalable sustainable solutions. While storing data leaves an environmental footprint, it's an area worth exploring. According to Dress X, the production of a digital garment emits 97% less CO2 than a physical garment and saves 3300 liters of water per item.
How to act
Virtual fashion has been a growing area of interest. Now, brands are tapping gaming as an enriching selling tool to break boundaries and build hype. Balenciaga has used this format to present collections, including collaborating with Fortnite to sell physical and virtual apparel.
A concept that goes hand-in-hand, retailers can harness NFT technology for authentication and transparency, making their impact on the environment and garment workers traceable. Given the high environmental impact of runway season, digital solutions such as runways, samples and immersive showrooms can help offset the impact of traditional fashion processes - helping to produce fewer physical goods.
Digitally rendered samples are becoming a more accessible opportunity. PVH is making its 3D design startup, Stitch 3D, available to brands outside the conglomerate to scale digital design capabilities. This cuts down on costs and waste associated with physical samples and designs with the Gen Z consumers' digital identity at the fore.
Balenciaga x Fortnite