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The Next Big Question: To be or not be sustainable

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Even as fashion retail businesses have remained shut and balance sheets have been stressed due to unprecedented challenges led by the outbreak of COVID-19, there has been a simultaneous demand for companies to accelerate their progress on sustainable initiatives in order to be competitive in the market that will emerge post-pandemic.
Sustainability, at the core of their business models, will help fashion brands and retailers rebuild resilient and sustainable businesses post COVID-19.
“COVID-19 has elevated the importance of sustainability. It is
now up to industry leaders to grab the opportunities for their companies to advance with sustainable business models in an environment that has become even more volatile,” said Eva Kruse, CEO, Global Fashion Agenda.
According to ‘Weaving a Better Future: Rebuilding a More Sustainable Fashion Industry After COVID-19’, a report by Boston Consulting Group, Sustainable Apparel Coalition and technology company Higg Co, “Tempting as it may be for an industry reeling from global pandemic lockdowns, fashion companies should not shelve their sustainability investments,but should instead protect the human capital and relationships in their supply chains and maintain key social and environmental programmes.”
“Many of the innovations in fabric, or reductions in energy use, or new ways of making clothing will be emerging from Asia, which often doesn’t get credit for its critical role in the sustainability ecosystem,” the report highlighted.
“Technologies such as pollution sensors, real-time energy monitoring and reporting, digitised and standardised social audits, and phone-based worker surveys allow for new ways of measuring, managing, and reporting sustainability,” the report further added.
“To survive this pandemic and emerge stronger, leaders in apparel, footwear, and textiles must incorporate sustainability within stabilization and new growth strategies, rather than retreat from commitments. The post-COVID consumer will prioritize trust and purpose and will likely evaluate companies based on how they acted during and after the crisis. Transparency will be highly relevant for all stakeholders. Sustainability will be enabled by technology and can be leveraged to drive innovation across design, supply chain management, and new business models,” the report further states.
Brands Go Sustainable
Recycled & Sustainably Sourced Materials at the Center of H&M’s New Collection
H&M is continuing the commitment to a more sustainable fashion future with a collection made from recycled and sustainable sourced materials. This is yet another step towards the goal to only use recycled and sustainably sourced materials by 2030 and to make sustainable clothing available to everyone. The collection launches beginning of June and will be available worldwide on and in selected stores. The new collection includes a variation of dresses ranging from mini to maxi in length, emphasises freedom and strong femininity by contrasting smocking with voluminous movement. The majority of pieces in the collection has been made entirely from recycled or sustainable sourced material, such as organic cotton, Tencel™ or recycled polyester and pieces in blends are made from at least 50 percent sustainable sourced materials. It is a collection of dresses for today in materials made for tomorrow.
Walmart Partners with thredUP to Enter Popular Fashion Resale Market
Over the last few years, Walmart has focused on expanding assortment of quality, on-trend, accessible fashion to help customers outfit themselves no matter their personal style or budget. In fact, Walmart has added nearly 1,000 brands to online assortment, including national brands like Champion, Jordache and Levi Strauss.
It also offer private label brands Time and Tru, Terra & Sky, Wonder Nation and George, and customers love their exclusive, elevated brands like Scoop, Sofia Jeans by Sofia Vergara and EV1 by Ellen DeGeneres.
Walmart will be offering even more fantastic brands with its entry into the popular fashion resale market through online partnership with thredUP, the leading resale platform for fashion and accessories at mass market prices. Customers can find nearly 750,000 pre-owned items across women’s and children’s clothing, accessories, footwear and handbags.
“We are excited to join forces with Walmart to power a sustainable, secondhand shopping experience unlike any other. From Calvin Klein and Nike to Coach and Michael Kors, this digital partnership enhances Walmart’s fashion offering with fresh brands at amazing prices that their customers will love,” said Jenn Volk, Director of Product Management, thredUP.
Zalando To Retail Eco-Friendly Labels by 2023
“We see a clear link between sustainability and continued commercial success. Our sustainability ambitions will help us stay ahead of customer demand after this crisis caused by the coronavirus. Both our current and future customer base are calling for more sustainable choices in fashion. Nine out of ten Generation Z consumers believe companies have a responsibility to address environmental and social issues. By committing to sustainability, we can secure our long-term growth, stay relevant to our customers, and establish market-leading differentiation against our competitors,” said Kate Heiny Director, Sustainability, Zalando SE.
Contrasting Ideas
Sustainability was the buzz word of 2019 and would have continued to increase in prominence in 2020. However, the global outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) will bring progress to a halt, according to GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.
“Making changes to materials, logistics and production processes to improve the sustainability of products and operations will slow, as sustainability is no longer top of retailers’ and consumers’ agendas. This is due to long-term adjustments being costly and many non-food retailers will be financially unstable as they emerge from this crisis after a significant period of low or no sales,” said Emily Salter, Analyst at GlobalData.
Sustainability and single-use plastic will be less important to many consumers in the short term where hygiene and cleanliness is more of a priority to prevent the spread of the virus. Prior to the outbreak, shopping habits were starting to shift – 74 percent of nationally representative UK consumers
surveyed in 2019 said they would prefer to shop at a retailer that has more loose fruit and vegetables. However, the prioritisation of health over the environment has led to a drastic increase in sales of anti-bacterial gel and hand wash in plastic bottles, with little regard for plastic-free alternatives or refills that may be available.
“Another issue is the problem of unsold stock that retailers will be stuck with, as all non-essential stores and some websites have ceased trading temporarily. Some items and ranges could be able to be sold at a later date, but this may not be the case for highly seasonal and trend-led pieces, raising questions about how these items will be disposed. Given Burberry came under fire for burning stock in 2018, retailers must be careful how they deal with this issue. Acting quickly, Kurt Geiger has announced it plans to donate some of its stock to NHS staff , clearing through the excess while also generating positive press,” Salter added.
Additionally, during the outbreak consumers will be less likely or unable to buy second hand items – sales via some Facebook neighbourhood groups for instance are being discouraged or stopped, and willingness may decline after the crisis is over due to lingering concerns about the hygiene of used products.
“Although sustainability will slowly become more important again once the spread of COVID-19 has ceased, the increased awareness of cleanliness and germs is likely to remain at the forefront of shoppers’ minds and will continue to hinder the growth of sustainability initiatives, such as refill stores,” Salter concluded.

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