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Going Green: Retail giants shift industry focus toward sustainability

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Climate, biodiversity and oceans. One might wonder what they have to do with retail, and the answer is: a lot! The Retail Industry worldwide, and especially the fashion retail sector produces enormous amounts of waste, while using an immense amount of resources. Like all manufacturing sectors, producing retail products too has a severe impact on the environment.

Faced with the alarming prospect that the Earth will begin to run out of natural resources that are imperative for mankind to survive, retail leaders – convinced that the industry has the potential for intervention to integrate sustainable practices – are working towards switching to eco-friendly practices. They are working towards taking ecologically responsible decisions which can help protect the environment and sustain natural resources for current and future generations.

For many retailers, the focus has shifted to introducing sustainable products and sustainable ways of producing products. Recently, 16 retail fashion brands signed the Su.Re (sustainability resolution) project launched by the Textile Ministry, IMG Reliance and Clothing Manufacturers Association Of India (CMAI). Brands like Spykar, Westside, Trends, Shoppers Stop, fb b, House of Anita Dogre and Lifestyle and Max have recently joined themovement that aims to develop sustainable sourcing policy for consistent prioritising and utilising certified raw materials that have a positive impact on the environment.

However, understanding the subject of sustainability and its impact is still emerging in India because the country is still experimenting and learning, not only in fashion retail, but in almost all industries as on date.

In this article, IMAGES Retail explores how brands are going sustainable and how they are putting are their best forward to make sustainable fashion cost-eff ective. The article also explores how viable is sustainability as a model for various retail brands.

Trends Shaping Sustainable Fashion

The fashion industry is fast undergoing ecological awakening, transitioning into a more sustainable zone, leading to adoption of sustainability in thought process, design, production process and disposal by the industry at large. Trends that are actively shaping sustainable fashion are the use of materials like recycled nylon, recycled polyester, TENCEL Lyocell fibres, Pinatex and BCI (Better Cotton Initiative) Cotton.

Highlighting other trends, spokesperson from SELECTED HOMME shares, “Conversations on going on a fashion diet in order to shop less and wear more are also doing the rounds a lot these days. Repeating clothes is another trend that is catching on. People have no qualms about donning the same outfits again or giving them a new lease of life by adapting new styles.

“People are also opting to wear clothes that tell a tale. We have seen consumers leaning towards products like their grandfather’s cufflinks, their father’s necktie, and brother-in-law’s socks while enhancing them with products from their own wardrobes. It’s beautiful to see that every outfit now has a narrative,” he adds.

Apart from this, a lot of online and offline stores have started renting out and outsourcing wardrobes. This is a trend which will soon be affecting the buying and consumption pattern of garments.

“In sustainable fashion, apart from the trends, the process is very important. Usage of recycled yarn fabric, zero liquid discharge, treatments that use minimal water are widely seen,” says Sanjay Vakharia, Chief Executive Officer, Spykar Lifestyle.

Weaving Cost-Effectiveness into Sustainability

Sustainable fashion concerns are more than just addressing fashion textiles or products. It comprises of addressing the whole system of fashion. This means dealing with interdependent social, cultural, ecological and financial systems.

It also means considering fashion from the perspective of many stakeholders – users and producers, all living species, contemporary and future dwellers on earth.

“Adopting sustainable methods whether in terms of using raw material like blended fabrics, using organic cotton which uses lesser chemicals, using special yarns made from post-consumer waste etc. or switching to sustainable processes that involve use of better technology which helps reducing consumption of water/ chemicals for industrial washes, use of zero discharge technology and recycling the water etc every such step towards sustainability involves increased costs. However, by way of recycling/ using lesser of consumable natural resources and by sourcing and producing more efficiently, and by controlling/ monitoring the processes closely, the cost can be kept under control,” says Manjula Gandhi, Chief Product Officer, Numero Uno.

Brands like LivaEco, B Label are putting in their best foot forward to provide sustainable fashion at cost-effective prices to the consumers.

“LivaEco garments in retail are available at almost similar price as any other garment. Also, LivaEco is a fabric, and fabric comprises a very small percentage of the overall garment cost,” shares Shardah Uniyal, Vice President – Branding & Communications at Liva, Birla Cellulose.

“B Label offers sustainable hemp clothing at affordable prices. There are not many brands that off er competitive prices for eco-friendly clothing. Our goal is to create a large community of individuals who care to co-exist and don’t have to spend large amounts of money to do so.

We would like to be an alternative option to fast fashion brands in order to make sustainable fashion easily available to all,” says Chirag Tekchandaney, Co-Founder and Director of Marketing and Human Resources at BOHECO. Tekchandaney is also Business Head of BOHECO’s apparel brand, B Label as well as their accessories brand, B Label Handlooms.

Can Fast Fashion & Sustainability Coexist?

Fast fashion work is repetitive, monotonous and the opposite of fulfilling, resulting in large volumes of production. Sustainable fashion as an approach maximises benefits to people and minimises environmental as well as commercial impact. Every garment has an environmental footprint at every stage in its production and that is why there is a deep-rooted contradiction between the fast fashion business model and the concept of sustainability.

“Fast fashion compels consumers to buy more; also, the rate at which clothing gets discarded and ends up in landfills is increasing disturbingly as consumers chase latest fashion trends. Hence, fast fashion is considered as one of the major causes of sustainability issues the industry faces. Slow fashion, on the contrary, should become the norm, with consumers wearing classically styled garments that last for years instead of months or weeks,” states Gandhi.

“The growth of ethical consumption has not materialised in mainstream fashion. Infact, certain ethically minded brands believe that it is the consumer and his insatiable need for buying the latest fashion trends that drives fast fashion. This combined with their lack of awareness of the issues faced by the industry or through an unwillingness to pay the premium for sustainable products makes sustainability a far-fetched possibility,” she adds.

Resonating the same thoughts, Harkirat Singh, Managing Director, Woodland Worldwide says, “Circular production model is one innovative concept where the end product is entirely recycled and transformed back into the original fibres and other components so that it can be recreated again, as good as new. Although it leads to almost entirely zero waste, but it cannot be a solution for fast fashion.”

“Sadly, fast fashion is associated with low-cost trendy products, exploitation of people and the huge number of unsold products being discarded as waste that end up in landfills. The products themselves are not designed to last a long time. Larger brands need to adopt a more sustainable approach to production using more durable materials, adopt fair working conditions, donate, recycle or even up-cycle their waste; it is only then fast fashion and sustainability can coexist,” says Tekchandaney.

Encouraging Conscious Consumerism

Millennials and Generation Z are the largest leaders in the sustainability movement, according to the ThredUP 2019 Resale Report. They belong to a newer generation who defy norms, are more informed, aware and conscious of their surroundings, they feel responsible and concerned for preserving the natural environment.

“A study says that 66 percent of global millennials are willing to spend more on brands that are sustainable. The value they place on how brands do business and what brands stand for is off -the-charts compared to any prior generation. It’s a two-way road and to construct it better, we educate the shoppers about the core values that are behind the purchase they have made. If one informs them about how sustainable fashion is contributing to make socio-economic and environmental status better; they not only appreciate it but are willing to extend a helping hand too,” says Singh.

Similarly, the increase in consumer consciousness concerning ethical and sustainable issues in the personal care industry is driving a socially responsible actions from many beauty brands. “Rewards and appreciation are two methods that have worked in our case to encourage consumers who support our eco-friendly ways. We extend discount to our customers when they send back old, used plastic bottles for us to recycle them. We also run promotions on special days like on every billing, we plant trees in their name,” says Natasha Shah, Founder, The Nature’s Co.

Future of Sustainable Products in India

Retailers in India have started to realise the impact on environment which has led to a shift in their focus. While this a very welcome change, it isn’t about the legal obligations of CSR anymore. The use of recycled fibres and the introduction of innovative fibres is on the rise. The market for sustainable products is set to grow in the coming years and Millennials as well as Gen-Z are helping spread awareness about the benefits, there by bringing about an increase in demand for sustainable products.

“The consumer is becoming more and more conscious of the environmental damages of fast fashion and the need for a circular economy. In India, leading international and domestic brands have already started making brand statements by introducing special eco-friendly lines, and soon we will start seeing the rest of the market emulating the same.”Uniyal shares.

Resonating the same thoughts, Singh shares, “In the coming years, the demand and need for sustainable fashion is only going to increase as people are now aware about the importance of sustainable fashion and its impact on nature. Consumers’ positive mindset towards sustainable brands with environment concern, business plans and techniques, is increasing, which will lead to the growth of a sustainable fashion industry.”

“Consumers today are more cognizant and appreciating of the fact that brands are conscious about being eco-friendly. With conducive government policies, the sustainability pledge would get meatier and see more and more consumers subscribing to it,” says Vakharia.

And it’s not just the fashion retail industry which is pledging to go green. The Beauty & Personal Care sector too is more eco-conscious, working towards adopting green practices. “Conscious consumerism has led beauty and personal care brands, to come up with eco-friendly and sustainable products. With the change in consumer lifestyle and adaptation of healthier habits, the sustainable products industry under different verticals is going to expand,” says Rahul Agarwal, CEO, Organic Harvest.

“Today’s consumers are well read, conscious of its surroundings. If industry owners decide to move brands towards sustainable products, the consumers will be more than happy to support them. It’s a small contribution everyone makes at his or her own level,” concludes Shah.



To be people and planet positive is integrated in the way IKEA does business. Sustainability is part of the brand’s roots and the vision to create a better everyday life for the many people – including suppliers, co-workers, customers and the communities around them. That includes caring for people and the planet. Making more from less and fi nding new, creative ways to deal with limited resources are part of the IKEA way of working. Today, this is more important than ever as the world faces huge challenges such as climate change, increasing inequality and unsustainable consumption.

“IKEA constantly challenges itself to improve its sustainability footprint. With 4 million people visiting the Hyderabad store last year and more and more people shopping online for their products, IKEA has a great opportunity to inspire and enable people to live sustainable lives,” says Peter Betzel, CEO & Chief Sustainability Offi cer, IKEA India.

All of IKEA’s textiles are made from 100 percent better cotton, all lights are 100 percent LED and 77 percent wood in IKEA products come from more sustainable sources. In Hyderabad, the aim is to have 100 percent home deliveries with electric vehicles (EVs) by 2025 and as of today 20 percent of home deliveries in India are already done with EVs.

IKEA has collaborated with different stakeholders to turn rice straw, a rice harvesting residue that is traditionally burnt and contributes heavily to air pollution in North India into a renewable material source for making IKEA products. This collection is called FÖRÄNDRING which will be launched soon in IKEA stores around the world.

The brand is removing all single use plastic from our range by this year. It is taking many steps towards achieving their goal which is that by 2030, IKEA will use only recycled and renewable materials.


One of the pillars of H&M’s sustainability strategy is to become 100 percent circular and renewable. This includes, among other things, a circular approach to how products are made and used and the goal to only use recycled or other sustainably sourced materials and renewable energy in all the direct operations.

Cotton is the material that the brand uses the most to make their products. The aim is for all cotton in the range to come solely from sustainable sources by 2020. Hence, the cotton goal is a key player in the global ambition of becoming 100 percent circular and the goal to only use recycled and other sustainably sourced materials by 2030, thanks to their further investment in organic, recycled and Better Cotton (see below defi nition for Better Cotton).

For the H&M group being 100 percent circular and renewable means having a circular approach to how fashion is made and used, including the goal to only use recycled or other sustainably sourced materials by 2030. In this way, products will never be seen as waste at the end of their lifetime, they will be treated as a valuable resource instead by reusing and recycling them over again.

The new sustainable materials that were used for the Conscious Exclusive 2019 collection were-
– Orange fibre is made from citrus juice by-products, repurposing them to create silk-like cellulose fabric.
– Piñatex® is a natural leather alternative made from cellulose fibres extracted from pineapple leaves, the waste of the pineapple harvest
– BLOOMFoamis a plant-based flexible foam using algae from freshwater sources at high risk of algal bloom


Every season, Lee Cooper aims to get better and outdo itself. In the bid to be a responsible, environment friendly brand with a legacy of over 110 years, it has adopted the following innovations: e-Flow Washing Technology: Uses considerably lesser amount of water and energy whilst replacing harmful chemicals with alternative formulas.
– G2 Cube Technology: Allows the brand to eliminate the usage of toxic processes like bleaching and paramagnet altogether.
– Laser Technology: Recreating the traditional denim look by using laser, in turn reducing the energy consumption.
– Indigo Dyeing: Replaced Indigo powder by patent pended Liquid Indigo from DyStar to save gallons of water.


Pepe Jeans believes that the future of denims is sustainable. The brand has been working on addressing its environmental impact for the last few years on a global level. Keeping in mind the need for sustainable clothing, Pepe Jeans introduced a range of environmentally conscious denims including True-Fresh and Tru-Blu in 2018.

The True-Fresh range of denim uses a revolutionary technology that neutralizes odour causing bacteria on contact, in turn keeping denims fresh for longer. Denims treated with this technology can be worn more often without washing. Even after days of continuous use, the denim retainsits freshness. Tru-Blu is a pioneering denim collection with zero chemical washes, resulting in radical reduction of water consumption. This sustainable production process includes natural ozone gas treatments and sophisticated new three-dimensional lasers to create astonishing depths of indigo contrasts on jeans.


For Arvind, sustainability goes beyond the usage of environment friendly products and processes. It is a lifestyle where all their day to day steps contribute to a sustainable society. Arvind considers environmental, social and economic sustainability major pillars of its business model and is fully focused on adhering to it in all their endeavours. The practices and processes are geared not only to optimize utiliation of the resources, but also nurture their roots and bring out the best of their innovation and design.

There is a lot that goes behind the scenesin making denims more sustainable and this is a way of life at Arvind. Fromfarming of crops to finished garments, the brand is innovating in all aspects to create more synergies and value drivers for consumer’s business and making their jeans as sustainable as possible.

Internationally, customers who lean towards sustainability work with the brand because Arvind is considered to be an innovator of sustainability. Sustainability has become way of doing business for Arvind and is not merely a unique selling proposition and the brand is happy to showcase their leadership in transforming the industry.


Woodland has recently introduced its latest range of bio-degradable shoes which strengthen its association with the environmental care. The launch of bio-degradable footwear was the brand’s CSR Project, Proplanet – a wing dedicated to making the mother Earth a better place to live. It is one of the most exciting environmental innovations to be witnessed by the footwear industry. Aside from this, Woodland is well known for its eco-friendly initiatives and for informing consumers about the importance of keeping Earth clean and green.

The brand also has apparels which are eco-friendly:
– Organic Cotton T- shirts: Free of toxins and pesticides, Woodland’s Proplanet t-shirts are made of 100 percent organic cotton. The brand is committed to minimising its ecological footprint throughout all phases of the production process and is working towards making the production lineeco-friendlier.
– Pure Green T-shirts: These pure green t-shirts are made from recycled PET (plastic) bottles. The plastic bottles are sterilised and processed into fibre strands. These strands are knitted together to create a fabric, which is used to produce 100 percent recycled T-shirts.


Given that sustainability is one of the key values of the brand, the way it designs and procures products to create SELECTED is what makes all the difference. Organic fibres with no hazardous chemicals are used, waste materials like leftover fabric or plastic bottles are processed into recycled fi bres and reborn as new textiles.


For Numero Uno, sustainability is not just about making a contained range and labelling it as conscious/sustainable. It is about inciting a real change at every stage of the product lifecycle possible, from manufacturing to washing and finishing, to delivery, to recycling and disposal.

Numero Uno has taken significant steps towards setting up an ethical and sustainable ecosystem from the beginning, adopting eco-friendly processes and technology with emphasis on low water consumption, restricted use of hazardous chemicals and good working conditions for its workforce.

Recently, the brand has collaborated with Gen-Next designer Anurag Gupta for LakméFashion Week to create ‘denim master pieces’ from garments in stock. The aim behind this collection was to reuse the stock of unused denim into new pieces with innovative designs. This collection was a step towards sustainable fashion as water is getting saved in the entire process. The collaboration used eco-friendly methods of production resulting in pieces that evoke a youthful and modern vibe.

There has been a conscious, gradual and consistent shift towards sustainable methods, adoption of effective technology like extensive use of laser machines instead of hand-scraping for benefit of workers’ health. The use of ‘E-Soft, Ozone/ G2, Cold-Eco Dyeing’ has helped in reducing water and hazardous chemical consumption.

Besides this, rainwater harvesting to replenish ground water, use of solar waterheaters and energy-efficient lights in the factory also help in reducing burden on natural resources.

The brand has also installed an ETP which cleans water and operates on zero liquid discharge technology such that all the water used in washing process is completely recycled making us a truly ecoconscious & responsible brand.

In 2017, NU collaborated with Jeanologia of Spain and created a sustainable collection of denim called ‘One Glass Water Denims’ wherein only one glass of water is consumed during the washing/ finishing process.


Liva, the fabric brand of the Aditya Birla Group, was launched in 2015. It is natural fl uid fabric which is made from the eucalyptus, aspen, birch, maple and fir trees. The launch of Livaeco by Liva is an initiative in this direction. Whilst Liva itself is a highly sustainable fabric, Livaeco is a Gen-2 version of Liva with better sustainability credentials. It uses raw materials from sustainable and certifi ed forests. It boasts of the lowest water consumption and low greenhouse gas emissions during the manufacturing process.

To build credibility, the brand has added a unique tracer in the fabric thus ensuring source credibility. Tracer is a method of identifying the journey of the fi nal garment and its origin from fibre stage. This is a globally accepted method and gives visibility of source.


B Label is driven by the potential that sustainable fashion holds for a greener future. As a brand, it strives to be sustainable at their core and to support this it works with one of the world’s most durable and eco-friendly natural fibres – Industrial Hemp.

Hemp is a carbon negative crop; it requires 400 times less water to grow than cotton does. Additionally, hemp is a fast growing crop, so the use of fertilizer and pesticides is minimal. Hemp as a fabric is much more breathable and long-lasting, making the life span of each garment much more than other fibres. Apart from producing clothes with this wonderous fibre, the brand has mindfully attempted to distribute their clothes in zero-plastic packaging.


Spykar is conscious of production techniques and its impact on the environment. With that in mind, the brand is collaborating with vendors and service providers who comply with nature conservation norms for producing apparels. Fashion denims that traditionally have been the villain in the environment conservation story are now the epitome of sustainable product, from the Spykar stable. 100 percent of Spykar’s fashion denim range – which is about 50 percent of the overall jeans production – is done at a super compliant plant at Tarapur that follows several measures of environmental preservation. This 50 percent follow the following environment-friendly processes and aiming to exponentially increase the share in the future:
– A new-agelaser treatment for intricate patterns eliminates chemical footprint.
– Ozone technology is used to harness the natural bleaching capabilities of O3 – leading to 50 percent reduction in water and chemical usage.
– Likewise, cloud technology uses mist formed by inducing high pressured air into the water creating nano-bubbles, thereby covering larger surface area in minimal water.
– Drying is done through infra-red rays to ensure fossil fuels are conserved.
– Pumice stones are discarded to maintain the ecological balance.
– A water recycling process ensures 90 percent water is recycled.
– From whopping 125 ltrs/jeans, the consumption has now reduced to 1 glass of water/jeans.
– Zero fossil fuel usage and relies on solar power for 30 percent of their energy requirement. Solar dependency to increase to 60 percent by 2021.
– Measures have also been taken by the government to ensure the land for the facility was not used for agriculture; an arid plot was hence assigned.


Wrangler®, a part of Kontoor Brands, Inc. has introduced the first denim apparel dyed with foam, an innovative technique that uses 100 percent less water than conventionally dyed denim. The global product launch of foam-dyed denim follows Wrangler’s promise to discover and implement throughout its supply chain the most sustainable ways for dyeing denim.

Indigood™ Foam-Dye entirely replaces the traditional water drums and chemical baths of traditional indigo dyeing, reducing by 100 percent the amount of water required to turn denim that belovedshade of indigo blue. The new dyeing process also reduces energy use and waste by more than 60 percent compared to the traditional denim dyeing process.
The Indigood™ products will be featured in the ICONS Collection, giving consumers access to Wrangler’s most iconic products with the highest level of sustainability available on the denim market today. In addition, with absolutely no compromise to quality, the Indigood™ products include recycled cotton, laserand ozone fi nishing.


Organic Harvest is not just a personal care range; it is a lifestyle. ‘Sustainability’ lies at the core of our brand philosophy. The motto of the brand is to make this worlda better and beautiful place to live in and endorse ‘a chemical-free and organic lifestyle’ as a universal mantra.

It is one of the pioneers of campaign against the use of chemicals in personal care products as they seep into consumer’s skin via your everyday creams, lotions and products and lead to grave damage to the environment as well as on the skin.
It is continuously making efforts to promote awareness towards ‘organic way of life’ by adhering to various principles and actions. It urges people to switch to an organic regime of skincare as organic products are environmentally sustainable and skin friendly.
Through their products, the brand is urging people to take a closer look at their consumption patterns and adopt an organic sustainable lifestyle. Through its continuous efforts, it is trying to build the momentum for a better and healthierlife style and bring a positive change on the horizon.


Apart from being all natural, the brand’s philosophy has been a step ahead of being completely Vegan. All products are certified by PETA-India. Not only the brand, the vendors selections is done on basis of no cruelty on animals, no use of animal bi-products or even not testing the products on animals.

The usage on one-time plastic (bubble wraps) has been replaced by Kraft Corrugated Sheets. New product range of candles is introduced in glass jars instead of plastic.

September 15 is marked as Pro-Green Day – an initiate of The Nature’s Co. where every year the brand takes eco-friendly steps like planting of trees for every bill, distributing seeds to customers with every order, using cloth/ jute bags instead of plastic bags, recycling used plastic containers through their eco-barrel, e-bill etc.


Responsible and sustainable growth is one of the eight core values of L’Opéra which also includes elements such as commitment to excellence and quality, collaboration and mutual respect, gender equality, honesty and transparency, meritocracy and equal opportunity, courtesy and ownership and accountability. At L’Opéra, the owners are creating a brand which would last for generations.

This fundamental ‘sustainability’ requires a profound and honest relationship with all stakeholders, namely the staff , the customers and the shareholders but also with the society and with the environment.

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