This year may mark a change of tide for ethical fashion, according to a new report.
And brands and retailers will increasingly need to take up the task of being transparent about their sustainability.
“We’re at a pivotal point where consumers are becoming more aware of the environmental and ethical impact of fashion and are demanding designers and brands do better,” said Edited market analyst Kayla Marci. “With this increased interest in conscious purchasing, retailers offering products categorized with sustainable-related buzzwords have a responsibility to educate their consumers on the role their products play from inception to end use on people and the planet.”
In its annual sustainability report released last week, Edited said the “degrowth movement” may be a big part of what rewrites fashion’s future.
“The events of 2020 have made it clear that the fashion industry cannot return to its pre-pandemic processes and levels of mass production. There is an increasing mind-set shift around the degrowth movement — working less, buying less and making less,” the report noted. “Going beyond the need for minimalism, retailers need to encourage consumers to make slower and more ethical fashion choices, spotlighting the concept of ‘buy less, buy better.'”
And that runs counter to fast fashion’s ethos.
Edited, a retail market analytics firm that publishes reports on runway and retail trends, said COVID-19 has caused a blow to fast fashion’s typically quick cadence despite some signs of recovery. In the U.S. and U.K. combined, new product arrivals for Q3 2020 were 11 percent lower than in 2019, owed in part to the pandemic-induced supply chain pause. But the fact that levels haven’t picked back up indicate that fast fashion’s pace of product pushes may not return to pre-COVID-19 levels, particularly as disdain for inventory glut and its often landfill fate rises.
While some fast-fashion companies have looked to launch sustainable capsule collections to counter their status quo, those lines won’t cover the trails of excess.
“Launching a sustainable or conscious collection in conjunction with dropping a vast amount of products on a regular basis shouldn’t be seen as a bare minimum of a brand’s environmental commitment. Going forward, there needs to be accountability held, especially for fast-fashion brands introducing these ranges,” Marci said. “They need to share what other steps they are taking to offset their environmental impact and improve their processes to benefit both people and the planet.”
The report also looked at the growth of categories like sustainable activewear, which is up 45 percent year-over-year for women’s and 65 percent for men’s.
“The sustainable pandemic wardrobe is mainly made up of organic cotton T-shirts. However, the interest surrounding soft and cozy fabrics has encouraged retailers to invest in conscious cashmere, linen and even bamboo — a material that boasts antibacterial properties and is a growing area of interest in the COVID-19 era,” Edited said.
In other categories, sustainable sneakers were up 118 percent, loungewear was up 135 percent for women’s, and recycled denim was up 108 percent. When it comes to the size-inclusive category, however, Edited warned that the limited, sustainable size-diverse options could derail the slower fashion movement, as less than 20 percent of conscious products in the major markets cater to above-average sizes.
Despite the momentum in some areas, the usual greenwashing risk remains prevalent.
“I think there’s considerable risk of the meaning of the words ‘conscious’ or ‘eco-friendly’ concerning fashion evolving to become hollow if brands continue to label a product as such without providing any further transparency to their materials, processes and business objectives,” said Marci. “Without this level of transparency, there may be mistrust associated with the brand, which can be perceived as potentially greenwashing their ranges.”
As cities and brands look to renewable energy and lowering their carbon footprints, among other measures, some industry advocates call for fashion to be regulated akin to the organics food industry, regarding consumer-facing, vetted sustainable labeling.
“From a top level, the industry needs to collectively define what the criteria is for products and set out guidelines to what degree they need to meet them to be classified as ‘conscious,’ ‘sustainable,’ ‘environmentally friendly,’ etc.,” reiterated Marci.
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