Fashion Sustainability In 2020: Trends, Achievements And The Road Ahead
Contributor: Simonetta Lein
The new year is a time of new beginnings, fresh starts and turning points when each one of us can resolve to be a better person and contribute more to our community and the wider world. One of the key areas I will be focusing on personally in the new decade is an issue that has been very close to my heart for some time now: sustainable fashion.
The fashion industry is second only to the oil industry in regard to the amount of damage it causes our planet. Without direct action, it is predicted that the fashion industry will be responsible for a quarter of the world's carbon budget by 2050. It's a terrifying statistic, but I firmly believe 2020 is the year when we can, and must, collectively turn a corner.
Thankfully, sustainability was a driving concern for the fashion industry in the past decade, particularly for millennials who believe in spending their money on sustainable products and who identify strongly with companies that are socially and environmentally aware.
Trends And Achievements
In recent years, brands that have successfully managed to integrate the holy trinity of social, economic and environmental concerns into their companies’ core values have become trendsetters that have inspired us in the industry that there is a better way.
In the last decade, it has dawned on more and more of us that both the food we eat and the clothes we wear have a direct impact on our environment. I've observed that many of today's consumers want clothes that do not put the welfare of the planet at risk and are made to last, while limiting the amount of wasted fabric in production.
In the last ten years, people cottoned on in a big way to a revolution in textiles and technology. It involved ditching cheap synthetics such as polyester and nylon in favor of materials that are grown naturally, such as cotton and linen, and are more sustainable and less detrimental to the environment.
Think about this for a minute. Polyester T-shirts may be cheap and wrinkle-free, but when you wash them, microplastics break off and end up in the ocean. They can also take up to 200 years to decompose. That's a price the planet shouldn't have to pay.
Visionary leaders are working to develop and use more sustainable fabrics. For example, Megan Eddings, founder and CEO of Accel Lifestyle, “developed a proprietary sustainable fabric that is both versatile and better for the environment.” Elsewhere, designers such as Stella McCartney produced clothes using organic cotton and recycled polyester and plastic.
Carbon-neutral runway shows were all the rage last year, with key players such as Burberry in London and Gucci in Milan getting involved. Dior even used 164 real trees to adorn its runaway before replanting them after the show. Environmental activist and teen icon Greta Thunberg was recently featured in i-D magazine, which declared, "Her wardrobe is limited, she doesn’t want new things."
Most significantly, last summer, 32 companions in the fashion industry pledged to focus on sustainability and signed the "Fashion Pact" introduced by French president Emmanuel Macron. It was a historic moment and signified a real commitment within the industry to tackle the environmental crisis head-on.
The Road Ahead
According to a 2017 Unilever survey, one third of consumers prefer brands that show a commitment to environmental and social good. That's good news, but even with direct action, many people remain concerned that fashion sustainability is just a fashion gimmick. They are concerned that fashion isn't becoming more sustainable, but just another trend that people are keen to adopt because it makes them look holier than thou.
Critics say that a brand doesn't necessarily become sustainable just by using recycled materials or pledging to become carbon neutral. And they're right. To become truly sustainable in the 2020s, I believe brands must look at and revolutionize every corner of their businesses. From the supply chain to workers' rights, from recycling to making the process of manufacturing far more energy-efficient, things need to change on all fronts if the fashion industry is to become sustainable in a way that counts.
I have high hopes that the new decade will see the fashion industry tackle the issues of minimizing waste and making the most of resources with a new and determined resolve. With new names appearing on the scene, and new business models focusing on sustainable and recycled materials and donating a percentage of profits to social enterprises and charities, it's an exciting time for the industry.
Make no mistake: the road ahead for brands, influencers and consumers will be difficult. But if we all pull together, we can show the world that fashion may be our passion, but so too is the health of the planet and everything and everybody dwelling on it.