Kayla Marci

October 28, 2020

The Sustainability EDIT 2020 Retail Analysis

The EDITED annual report unpacks the question of what is sustainable fashion and analyzes the growth of categories, evolution of materials and price points.

2019 was dubbed the Year of Sustainability, where more major players started waking up to the industry’s detrimental effects on the planet and redefining what is sustainable fashion. Despite the disruption of COVID-19, sustainability commitments are still critical across business agendas.

According to the US Cotton Trust Protocol and Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), which surveyed 150 executives from retail businesses across Europe and the US, three in 10 companies stated that the availability of reliable data holds the key to a greater understanding of sustainability over the next decade.

This is where the EDITED Market Intelligence Platform can help.

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Retailing in 2020 has been far from what anyone could have predicted. Despite the challenges retailers faced, coronavirus drew critical attention to environmental efforts. A major theme was a much-needed slowdown in the fast fashion sector. 

New arrivals across this market dipped in February and March as COVID first broke out in China, hitting their lowest point in April when the US passed 1 million confirmed cases. As the industry returns to some sense of normalcy, there’s signs of recovery with new products entering the market. Yet, fast fashion is still not dropping products at its regular cadence. In the US and UK combined, the number of new product arrivals for Q3 2020 are 11% lower than in 2019.

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Will newness return to pre-COVID levels? It might not. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The fast fashion sector is constantly under fire for creating excess items that end up on the discount racks or unsold and added to landfill. The pandemic has presented an opportunity for retailers to focus on buying into the right products and trends instead of excess quantities, which will end up damaging margins in the long run. 

Despite less newness dropping in the market, the number of products described with sustainable keywords or more eco-friendly materials attributed have increased over time. 

While organic cotton is free from pesticides and chemicals, it still requires vast quantities of water to produce. Even the more sustainable materials aren’t without their pros and cons. However, they shape up to be less harmful to the planet than the oil-based fabrics that still dominate the fashion industry.

The EDITED Market Intelligence Platform determined arrivals in organic cotton are up 238% since 2018 and 97% YoY. Econyl® has grown 171% since 2018 and 40% YoY. Combined, bamboo and hemp products are up 2% YoY and 28% since 2018. Tencel™ products such as Lyocell and Modal have dropped 18% YoY but are up 14% since 2018. While still the most commonplace material, linen has seen arrivals wane.

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In contrast, all analyzed non-recycled oil-based materials have experienced a decline compared to one and two years prior. Polyester arrivals have fallen 18% since 2018 and down 29% YoY. Elastane has declined by 18% since 2018 and 27% YoY. Nylon is also down 23% since 2018 and 30% YoY, while acrylic decreased 24% since 2018 and 34% YoY. If fast fashion brands continue to trim back their assortments and sustainable alternatives become more mainstream, we can expect these materials to continue to trend down.

Additionally, businesses are calling for a reset to traditional retail processes, which will benefit all sectors of the market. Fast fashion players have long tailored their products and processes to satisfy the Gen-Z consumer’s appetite for newness. However, the global pandemic and the spotlight on the Black Lives Matter movement has propelled younger consumers to become more conscious and more educated on social, political and environmental issues.

The events of 2020 have made it clear that the fashion industry has to do better with the future of sustainable fashion and go beyond converting T-shirts to organic cotton or launching one-off capsule collections. Transparency and waste management from overproduction needs to be brought to light and labels cannot truly identify as sustainable if they ignore the fight against social justice – regardless of the fabrics listed on the care tag.

For more insight into sustainable retail in 2020 and beyond, download our free Sustainability EDIT Retail Analysis here.

Stella Mccartney
Image via Stella McCartney