Fashioning a Greener Future
by Katrin Scholz-Barth, President, SustainableQATAR
We all want to look our best, dress fashionably and chic. Fast fashion has made it possible and affordable to buy, wear, dispose of, and keep up with changing our wardrobes as fast as evolving trends. This model has gotten the fashion industry into trouble because it comes at the expense of people and planet, wreaking havoc on both with these unsustainable business practices. This is changing because consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the impact of fast fashion on human and environmental health and started to demand actions from their favorite brands. Not only luxury brands have come to realize that environmental impact is a liability to their brand and reputation, it is everyone by now.
Many multinational companies and mass fashion brands, such as Marks & Spencer, Gap, and H&M, have recognized sustainability as an essential business practice. They have taken action toward implementing sustainability into operations that reduce energy and water use and eliminate toxic materials in processes that result in cost savings from resource efficiency. These companies respond to growing customer awareness and investor pressure by reporting on their environmental social governance (ESG) performance to be recognized as sincere sustainable retailers. However, by its very business model, fast fashion is inherently non-sustainable and new business models are needed to address the fashion industry supply chain.
“Did you know that 80% of the impact of a garment is decided at the design stage? With fewer than 1% of garments being recycled into new clothing each year and only 20% of textiles being recycled at all, designers can play an important role in ensuring that products can be fed into a circular economy.”Post by Tamsin Lejeune, CEO at CO, Founder, Ethical Fashion Forum on LinkedIn
The luxury markets have traditionally been insensible to mass consumer pressures such as environmental impact of products and luxury purchasers have traditionally been less concerned about sustainability in their decision-making. Many customers are still unaware of their power of choice to influence market dynamics and supply chains through purchasing choices.
We need to dig deeper to find solutions for a regenerative and circular economy and things are changing fast. Kering, the umbrella company of high-end luxury design brands Gucci, Alexander McQueen and Saint Lauren Paris has put sustainability front and center of its brand strategy. Becoming more aware of the reputational risks to high-end brands, Kering committed to responsible sourcing of raw materials, manufacturing processes and products, to measure and put a monetary value on the environmental impact. Results have been published in annual Environmental Profit and Loss reports since 2013 and it is all good news. Harvard Business Review just named Francois-Henri Pinault, head of Kering, the 3rd Best-Performing CEO in the World in 2019, based on an increased importance of environmental social governance (ESG) performance, weighted at 30 percent overall, a critical change in methodology in 2019, not only on financial performance and bottom line metrics. As a result, Kering will go completely carbon neutral.
What do we as consumers and change agents need to know about sustainable fashion? What levers do we have? There is good news and bad news. The most important thing is to be informed and to ask questions and not blindly following marketing campaigns! We need to understand that “not all that shines is gold.” Green fashion can be tricky and misleading. Let’s take clothes made from bamboo, for instance. It sounds so good but the devil is in the details. Making bamboo fiber wearable is a very toxic process that exposes the people working on to great health risks.
While bamboo as a raw material has a strong selling point, the production process of bamboo fiber is questionable. Converting bamboo cellulose into viscose can be a non-eco friendly process, based on chemical carbon disulfide, a highly toxic chemical that’s very harmful to workers. Cellulose is dissolved in sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide. The fibers are then drawn through an acid bath before spun into yarn, then woven into fabric. Regular viscose, produced from commercial bamboo, and therefore the clothes and garments made from it, no longer possess the desirable bamboo characteristics, such as UV blocking and antibacterial properties. Regular bamboo viscose is no longer a green product. Doesn’t that sound depressing when we actually want to make a difference and thought we had found a solution? So, if not bamboo, then what is the solution to green fashion?
There is really exciting news! From shoes to clothes to suits and accessories, fashioning a greener future is entirely possible. Entrepreneurs are working tirelessly to invent new materials. Take for instance t-shirts made from waste milk, Allbirds (shoes made from wool), or Air Flake (sustainable insulation – a biomimetic material inspired by down, an alternate insulation, which is made from recycled polyester).
Fashion is responding to climate change and it’s encouraging to see. We all have a responsibility for educating ourselves, asking questions about materials and ingredients, similar to food, to protect our personal health as much as our environment and dress more sustainably.
“Every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned.”What Is The Circular Economy?
Ellen MacArthur Foundation
We have dedicated the month of November to shine some light onto fashion and how we – with the clothes we buy and wear – decide whether we want to be part of the problem or the solution.
For the next four weeks we will share tips on how to wear our values, how to extend the life of our clothes to profit from their full economic value and help reduce ocean microplastics, and how to engage in a shared-fashion-economy by assessing what we already have.
Our goal for November is to dress and look fantastic while reducing our carbon footprint through personal choices and actions and we will explain why it matters, addressing SDGs #3 Good Health and Wellbeing, #6 Clean Water and Sanitation, #8 Decent Work and Economic Growth, #9 Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, #12 Responsible Consumption and Production and #13 Climate Action.
- Harvard Business Review, Best-Performing CEO in the World in 2019, Nov-Dec 2019
- Magnifeco, Your head-to-toe guide to ethical fashion and non-toxic beauty by Kate Black, Accessed 2 Nov 2019
- Common Objective
- Al Jazeera, Is damaging the environment a crime against humanity? Sep 18, 2019
- European Parliament, Environmental impact of the textile and clothing industry: What consumers need to know, Jan 2019
- SynZenBe, How Fashion is responding to Climate Change, 2 Oct 2019
- SynZenBe, WEAR: Fashion takes Action, 2 Oct 2019
- Gap, H&M, Marks & Spencer published Sustainability reports since 2014, available online
- Quartz, H&M’s sustainability report hides the unsustainable reality of fast fashion, 12 Apr 2015
- Jean- Noël Kapferer and Anne Michaut-Denizeau. “Is luxury compatible with sustainability? Luxury consumers’ viewpoint.”.Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 1350-231X. 7th August 2013
- Ellen Macarthur Foundation, What Is the Circular Economy?, Accessed 2 Nov 2019