While sometimes used interchangeably, ethical and sustainable fashion are not the same. The first focuses on how clothes are made and how workers are treated, while the second is concerned with reducing the environmental impact across the product lifecycle. In practice the two issues are often interdependent in achieving a more scalable industry for the future, converging to create an approach focused on sourcing, manufacturing and designing clothes, which maximises the benefits to the fashion industry and society at large, while at the same time minimising its impact on the environment.
If, however, as Stella McCartney recently suggested, the fashion industry’s role in climate change has been flying somewhat under the radar to date, the G7 summit which took place last month set the wheels in motion in driving a long overdue adjustment to both governmental and public perception.
The statistics make for fairly uncomfortable reading. The second most polluting industry in the world (after oil), clothing production has risen by 400% in the last decade, fuelled largely by the popularity of fast fashion, and with around 85% of it destined for landfill at the end of its life. Add to this the fact that fashion makes up 10% of the world’s carbon emissions, 20% of all wastewater, and consumes more energy than the airline and shipping industries combined, and it’s easy to see why change on a major scale is needed.
Part of the problem is that many consumers are simply unaware of the industry’s impact. Who knew, for example, that viscose is sourced from trees, and that 150 million are felled each year in the quest to serve the fashion industry? A recent FSC survey identified that 84% of UK consumers were simply in the dark on this practice.
Of course, more sustainable, alternative approaches are available. Stella McCartney for example sources sustainable wood pulp from Sweden, and many brands are using sustainable cotton initiatives to reduce water, energy and chemical use. Other initiatives include new dyeing technology to reduce water consumption by up to 50%, as well as numerous energy and chemical saving schemes throughout the supply chain.
But driving change and improving sustainability at scale remains a challenge.
While early days, one of the trends to come out of the Covid crisis has been an increased awareness of, and interest in, sustainability. Some evidence indicates that many European consumers expect fashion players to act responsibly and consider the social and environmental impacts of their businesses, with research showing that 67% of consumers consider the use of sustainable materials to be an important purchasing factor.
The good news is that sustainable apparel can reward manufacturers from both a pricing, and a demand perspective, resulting in a win-win situation which is not only good for the environment, but good for business.
Technology of course has a huge and valuable role to play, with many fashion businesses looking to technology to help, investing in new systems to underpin valuable efficiency savings. At the heart of production efficiency lies the need to synchronise the entire production lifecycle, unifying all business processes to provide a comprehensive, in-depth view of the business at all times. It’s only by doing this that businesses can readily identify any inefficiencies, with a deeper understanding of the complex interdependencies across the fashion supply chain allowing businesses to optimise operations quickly and effectively.
Many fashion businesses have capitalised on capabilities of modern ERP and PLM applications to expand visibility and reduce the amount of resources consumed while minimising waste. Through ensuring greater accuracy and increased levels of efficiency from design to despatch, the entire product lifecycle can be synchronised to create a profile of each and every garment.
However, the step change needed to create a truly sustainable business, factoring in materials sourcing; working conditions, practices and transportation, requires transparency and accountability across the entire supply chain through to returns, re-use and recycling.
Our next blog will focus on how technologies such as IoT, AI and Blockchain can extend the value of ERP, PLM and SCM platforms, representing genuine game changers when it comes to creating, and indeed sustaining, a more ethical, sustainable and scalable fashion industry.