This summer has made it clearer than ever that the climate crisis has arrived. The Pakistan floods, East China heatwaves and European droughts are only a few examples of recent climate catastrophes. It’s never been more important for companies to prioritise their sustainability initiatives. This particularly applies to the fashion industry, which accounts for up to 10% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing an impact of that magnitude will not happen overnight.
However, a new generation of sustainable brands is emerging. They are built around minimising their impact from the ground up and are providing shoppers with more climate-friendly options than ever before.
Let’s take a closer look at why the work of these innovative companies is hugely important and what exactly they are doing to help us unlock a greener future.
The mammoth task facing the fashion industry
The recently released Fashion Transparency Index provides a useful glimpse into the challenges the industry now faces and must address in order to reduce its climate impact. This review of the world’s 250 biggest fashion brands and retailers has found that only 31% of these companies have set science-based targets that include emissions from their value chain. These so-called Scope 3 emissions typically account for 90% (!) of a company’s overall impact. These figures are particularly worrying given that setting a science-based target is only the starting point. The difference will ultimately be made as brands start to make progress towards and achieve the targets they have set.
The fashion sector as a whole relies heavily on fossil fuels. Polyester, which accounts for more than half of fibres produced globally, is typically derived from petroleum. Roughly 70 million tonnes of oil are used each year for the production of polyester fibres alone. There are similar issues with the plastic packaging used by the fashion industry, and large parts of fashion’s supply chains continue to depend on coal-generated electricity and heat.
Moving away from these unsustainable structures in time will require enormous efforts by brands and retailers, a widespread shift in consumer sentiment, and likely also increased regulation.
How fashion’s changemakers excel
A new generation of brands have recognised these problems and decided to do things differently, from the ground up. These changemakers are reducing their impact in various ways, from selecting suitable manufacturing partners to advancing circular production models.
Building sustainable value chains
Fashion supply chains, especially those of big brands or retailers, are often large, opaque and complex. Making such value chains more sustainable can be a huge undertaking that may entail steps such as tracing the supply chain, using different transport methods, incentivising existing suppliers to improve their practices or changing suppliers.
Brands that are founded with a mission to be sustainable do not face these challenges – they can build green value chains from the ground up.
Underwear brand Peachaus is a great example. It has decided to collaborate with four production partners who offer a range of green credentials, from responsible chemical management to the uptake of renewable energies. It has also ensured that the supply chains of its direct suppliers are visible. Most of its production is done in Portugal, while the majority of its materials are acquired in Europe. Such localised supply chains typically also reduce transport emissions.
Championing low-carbon materials & environmental projects
Choosing the right materials is one of the most important ways a brand can reduce its footprint. This is one of the ways in which Lerins London makes a difference. The brand uses low-carbon materials including grape leather, recycled cork, rubber, and marine plastic for the production of their sneakers.
Every pair sold also raises funds for the World Land Trust. This organisation, whose patron is Sir David Attenborough, is on a mission to prevent deforestation and maintain and manage global ecosystems sustainably. Such initiatives are key to halting climate change and by actively supporting them, brands not only create a direct positive impact but can also increase awareness of such projects, which can lead to additional support.
Moving towards a circular economy
Championing circularity is another way for brands to reduce their climate impact and at the same time help tackle another of fashion’s environmental problems, namely the enormous amounts of waste the industry produces (an estimated 92 million tonnes per year).
A circular approach in the fashion industry entails keeping materials in use as long as possible while minimising waste and safely returning it to the biosphere. It affects almost all parts of a product’s lifecycle, such as design, material choice, recyclability and/or end-of-life disposal.
Making fashion circular involves promoting end-of-life options from the outset, and giving more support to designs that place an emphasis on longevity and recyclability. Omnes excels at this. Not only does the brand utilise largely recycled or biodegradable materials, but it also lowers textile waste throughout the manufacturing process, develops its merchandise to be easily recyclable at the end of its life, and maintains a recycling program.
Sustainable fashion is not a trend – it’s the future
Given the severity of the climate emergency and the industry’s immense carbon footprint, fashion has arrived at a turning point where companies need to take effective and decisive action. It is encouraging to see a new generation of brands setting new standards and building sustainable value chains. One important factor in how this might all play out is the decisions consumers make. Fortunately, we all have more options than ever before to shop more consciously, reduce our impact, and support the fashion industry’s changemakers.