From bedding, bathing, fashion apparel to accessories, the buzzword now is sustainability. Fast fashion is soon passing into ages as today the slow movement has been catching up to rule each of our hearts and minds. Brands across categories are refurbishing and redesigning their offerings, making them as close to being sustainable as possible. Not just the products and merchandise that they produce but even the stores are being built using sustainable materials. The consciousness to save the earth is growing. We take a quick look into the dynamics of sustainable fashion.
To set the context of the discussion, it is imperative to understand the need for fashion industry to move to sustainable ways of doing their business. Sustainability, along with traceability and transparency has been a key challenge for the textile industry for some time now. The area of sustainability in the fashion and textile industry has been challenged more than ever due to the resources that it uses and the contribution it makes to the economies. The industry produces about 8 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions while generating less than 2 percent of the global GDP. If the fashion industry continues along these lines, it will consume more than a quarter of the total carbon budget that would be necessary to limit climate change to 2°C by 2050. In a recent study by The Economic Intelligence Unit, about 60 percent of executives pick sustainability as the top strategic priority for their organisation.
In India, it is interesting to note that brands are proactively turning towards remodeling their businesses to have a more sustainable line of their products / merchandise. Homegrown brands like Spykar, Madamme, Indian Terrain, Numero Uno, Metro Shoes etc. are all turning towards imbibing a greater sustainable way to working. Not just brands, even companies like Arvind, Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail, Raymond etc. too are joining hands with organisations like Fashion for Good, Fairtrade etc. to show in their commitment to save Mother Earth. 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, fbb, House of Anita Dogre and Lifestyle and Max have recently joined the movement that aims to develop sustainable sourcing policy for consistent prioritising and utilising certified raw materials that have a positive impact on the environment.
The Slow Movement
As mentioned earlier, fast fashion is moving into ages. And rightly so. The perils of fast fashion are too many to be ignored. It is time that brands and customers together to being in a change and understand the blunder that’s been created with the notion of fast fashion. Varun Bansal, Founder of streetwear brand Vrone shares an interesting take, “We, as buyers, have not been very conscious when it comes to our buying patterns within the fashion stream. We are partaking in this tornado of constantly changing trends and the need to stay updated and relevant, but at what cost? Fast fashion supports the glamour and glitz that is the fashion industry, encouraging constantly changing trends, clothes that don’t last more than five to seven washes but are conversely designed to give us a sense of confidence. Sadly, all this comes at a great cost to the environment, since fast-fashion retailers use non-biodegradable materials in their endless collections and depleting the Earth of its resources for every garment that is put on those fast-selling racks in a bid to cut costs and work towards skyrocketing profits. Our production processes have increased by 200 times in the last 15-16 years, and consumers must pause and assess if the implications of their buying habits are worth it. The notion that needs to be popularised among our consumers, no matter the age bracket, is to Buy Less and Buy Smart as every purchase matters, and every product counts.”
Karan Bose, Managing Director, Hula Globals shares that the future of the textile and fashion industry rests with bring environmentally conscious and hence it is only fair that the stakeholders involved work their way out to make it as inclusive as possible – starting now, “There has been a change in the fashion manufacturing industry’s way to deal with sustainability and the environmental crisis. Including activities to reduce waste, fossil fuel releases and plastic use, while improving working conditions in the supply chain, will be the focus of businesses in the future. Regardless of the money involved, manufacturers must build their sustainability endeavors in 2021. The eventual fate of the fashion and textile industry will be completely customer-centric and innovation-driven,” Bose added further.
The Coming Together
Where at individual levels, each brand is working its own way to save the environment, there are a fair share of organisations that have come together to spearhead the movement with their own expertise. Majority of the established brands today have a Sustainability Officer/ Executive and this is a welcome step forward towards strengthening the initiative for sustainable fashion.
In a recent webinar by India Fashion Forum, the Cotton Council International highlighted its commitment towards the environment by bringing together major stakeholders from the fashion industry who primarily use cotton. Elaborating on the initiative and its success, Stephanie Thiers-Ratcliffe, European Director, Brands and Retailers, UK, Cotton Council International stated, “The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol™ was started in July 2020 and we are very proud to work with some of the leading brands. We have more than 500 growers signed on to the Protocol, and we expect upto 7 percent of the US 2020 crop enrolled, that is equivalent to about 1 million bales of cotton. We also have 17 merchants and coops, 225 mills and manufacturers and 20 brands. In India, 18 companies have signed on already.” As the third largest producer of cotton in the world, cotton farms in the United States have been committed to continuous improvement for decades. US cotton aims to achieve these goals by banking on new technology, producer funded research and a continuous improvement program by the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol™.
On the benefits that one gets on joining the trust protocol, Tara Luckman, Sustainability Advisor, Cotton Council International, shares, “The most important thing that you will receive as a member is quantifiable and verifiable data that will help you to analyse how your use of US cotton is allowing you to progress against your environmental goals as a business. Brands and retailers can easily join the program by registering at trustuscotton.org.”
Supported by founding partner Laudes Foundation, co-founder William McDonough and corporate partners adidas, C&A, CHANEL, BESTSELLER, Galeries Lafayette Group, Kering, Levi Strauss & Co., Otto Group, PVH Corp., Stella McCartney, Target and Zalando, and affiliate and regional partners Arvind, Birla Cellulose, HSBC, Norrøna, vivobarefoot and Welspun, the various programes initiated by Fashion for Good are gaining momentum.
Headquartered in Amsterdam, Fashion for Good is a global platform for innovation, made possible through collaboration and community, convening brands, retailers, suppliers, non-profit organisations, innovators and funders to make all fashion good. At the core of Fashion for Good is their innovation platform. With a regional programme in South Asia, the platform also supports innovators through its scaling programme and foundational projects, driving pilots and supply chain implementation with partner organisations. The Good Fashion Fund catalyses access to finance to shift at scale to more sustainable production processes. As a convener for change, the platform houses the world’s first interactive museum dedicated to sustainable fashion and innovation, a Circular Apparel Community co-working space, and creates open-source resources and reports.
Earlier in May, Fashion for Good launched the Sorting for Circularity Project to the challenge of textile wastage on a scale greater than ever before. Bringing together key brands and industry leaders from across Europe, the project will conduct a comprehensive textile waste analysis using more accurate, innovative Near Infrared (NIR) technology, while also mapping textile recycler’s; capabilities. The Sorting for Circularity Project is driven by Fashion for Good with catalytic funding provided by Laudes Foundation and facilitated by brand partners, adidas, BESTSELLER, and Zalando, as well as Inditex as an external partner. Fashion for Good partners Arvind Limited, Birla Cellulose, Levi Strauss & Co., Otto and PVH Corp. are participating as part of the wider working group.
“The aim of the 18 month project was to create a greater link between textile sorters and textile recyclers; stimulating a recycling market for unwanted textiles that can generate new revenue streams for sorters. Traditionally, the sorting industry generates income through the sale of reusable textiles, with the remainder being downcycled, incinerated or landfilled. To achieve a circular system, a new end-market for non-reusable textile is required, with an infrastructure and digital matching system that can support activities of sorters and recyclers,” stated Katrin Ley, Managing Director, Fashion for Good.
The analysis will provide the most representative snapshot of textile waste composition generated in Europe apart from mapping the current and future capabilities of textile recyclers in the region – illuminating crucial gaps between the sorting and recycling industry, and the innovation, investment and policy changes required to accelerate circularity.
Another platform that well deserves limelight is Fairtrade – a global movement that aims to protect the environment and empower the farmers and workers who grow and make our food and clothes. Fairtrade works with smallholder-farmers to implement better social and environmental practices and connects these farming communities to businesses committed to greater sustainability. Thus, by connecting brands to farmers Fairtrade offers an opportunity for businesses to use trade for change by creating Fairtrade Labelled products.
Fairtrade India hopes to create awareness about the impact our everyday choices have on the life behind the barcode. Fairtrade India works on a program funded by the European Union to promote the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production. One of the leading Indian brands to have associated itself with Fairtrade is Indian Terrain and off late the brand has substantially been growing its sustainable collection.
Recently, Indian Terrain presented its second edition of exclusive Fairtrade fashion line along with its Spring Summer 21 collection. The brand’s initiative with Fairtrade, now in its second year, aims to educate consumers about what they purchase, as well as serving as a reminder of their power as a consumer – to help shape and create a better life for all the employees in trade. Commenting on the launch, Charath Narsimhan, Managing Director, Indian Terrain Fashions Limited said, “This pandemic has made everyone realise how important it is to be a socially responsible person in day-to-day life and I can see it (social responsibility) becoming a part of new aspirations for many. We are deeply proud to have commenced our collaboration with Fairtrade India last year to expand our role in a more responsible manner and contribute our part towards building responsible citizens with our everyday clothing.”
Some Recent Brand Initiatives
Where a lot many brands have been associating themselves with various platforms like the ones mentioned above, at individual level too there are brands taking in spectacular initiatives to show their commitment towards the environment.
Sportswear brand ASICS recently launched their new Earth Day Pack which they claim to be the most planet-friendly cross-category collection to date having been created using a circular manufacturing approach that saw around 5 tons of textile waste, the equivalent of 25,000 t-shirts, recycled into new shoes. As shared by the brand, the Earth Day Pack’s smaller environmental footprint is not just down to the materials it is made from. The socklining of the shoes are developed using a resource-saving technology called solution dyeing that reduces CO2 emissions by around 45 percent and cuts water use by around 33 percent compared to conventional dyeing processes. The environmental sustainability story behind the new Earth Day Pack is further brought to life in its design, with each piece featuring the sunflower logo as well as an intricate seed graphic representing ASICS’ ongoing commitment to planting the seeds of a brighter future. The two arrows in the centre of the emblem denote the brand’s ambition to help build a circular economy.
Arvind Ltd, has adopted its sustainability policy in 2015, with core focus on manufacturing. To pick a quote from Abhishek Bansal, Head of Sustainability, Arvind Limited from the IFF webinar, “We decided to convert our manufacturing business into a more sustainable one. We wanted to do it in a fundamental level so that even a layman could gauge it. e.g., we shifted focus to recycle water. We have also reduced our dependence on non-renewable sources and have been progressively banking on renewable energy sources.
To talk about Woodland, the brand lead the way to launch a remarkable range of bio-degradable shoes as part of their CSR Project, Proplanet – a wing dedicated to making the mother Earth a better place to live. It is considered to be one of the most exciting environmental innovations to be witnessed by the footwear industry. Apart from that, they also launched Pure Green T-shirts that 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.
ABFRL’s sustainability policy is propelled by the philosophy of sustaining business in the long term without compromising on societal and environmental responsibilities. “Our sustainable frame work is not only about business responsibility but also includes stakeholder engagement as well. We endeavor to bring all our stakeholders – customers, suppliers, vendors, society, investors, etc., – on the same definition and understanding of our sustainability policy,” stated Naresh Tyagi, Chief Sustainability Officer, ABFRL at the IFF webinar. ABFRL’s sustainability policy was started in 2012 and focused 10 aspects, right from energy, carbon footprint, water conservation, to green building, CSR and safety.
Denim brand Numero Uno, recently collaborated with Gen-Next designer Anurag Gupta for LakméFashion Week to create ‘denim master pieces’ from garments in stock. This collection was a step towards sustainable fashion as water is getting saved in the entire process. 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.
Another denim brand that has been at the forefront of introducing sustainable range of denims is Pepe Jeans. Way back in 2018, the brand introduced a range of environmentally conscious denims including True-Fresh and Tru-Blu. The True-Fresh range of denim uses a revolutionary technology that neutralises 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 retains its 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.
GAP was founded with the sole motto of doing more than just clothes. The company has been very proactive about concerns like sustainability, employee engagement, equality, etc. “Last year, we had modernised our mission and purpose statement which is currently inclusive by design. We take that to mean that it is inclusive of the planet, the people who make our clothes and our customers as well. We look at both social and environmental sustainability. We look at water consumption as well as green house gas emissions in our supply and value chains. We also have a very natural focus on raw material sourcing and understanding the impact that the materials that we use have on green house gas emissions and water consumption,” said Agata Smeets, Director – Sustainability Sourcing Strategy, GAP Inc at the IFF webinar.
Benetton as a brand has gone a step ahead to not just engage in sustainable manufacturing of its merchandise but recently it also set a new benchmark with its new boutique in Florence. Featuring intensive use of sustainable materials and state-of-the-art, energy-saving technologies, the new store is part of a major sustainability project that Benetton is carrying out to consolidate best practices, improve its environmental and social performance throughout the supply chain and become a model for sustainable fashion – not only in Italy, but throughout the entire world. The 160-square meter, single floor boutique makes abundant use of upcycled natural materials. The floor is made with gravel from the river Piave and waste wood from beech trees brought down by Vaia (a storm that hit the Italian Veneto region in 2018), while the walls are treated with a mineral paint with antibacterial and anti-mold properties that can also reduce pollutants in the environment. The store interiors are made with new materials created from textile industry scrap: the perimeter platforms and bases of the display stands are made with a compound created from used buttons (difficult to dispose of) mixed in hydro-resin; recycled wool (in its raw wick state) is reused in the design of the perimeter lining and as decoration for the curtains of the dressing rooms; shelves, display bases and mannequins are made in “rossino”, a material created from upcycled, mixed textile fibres. The shop window displays make use of sustainable solutions that reduce the use of resources.
The Armani Group up too has been committing itself towards using sustainable raw materials for their eyewear lines from Giorgio Armani and Emporio Armani. The 2021 collection will include various sunglasses and optical glasses for men and women produced using sustainable materials and procedures. Over the year around twenty different models made with eco-friendly and sustainable formulas will be presented: from 100 percent recycled materials stemming from an industrial waste recovery and subsequent regranulation process, to highly-valued bio-acetate composed of cellulose and plasticiser mainly deriving from renewable sources. The glasses will be completed with lenses made from partially bio-based materials or pure crystal. The packaging, from the boxes to the cases, has also been revisited with the use of materials like recycled polyester and paper.
H&M launched their first version of the Higg Index Sustainability Profile, sharing environmental performance scores for materials on selected products across their online stores in Europe and the U.S. Released by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) and its technology partner Higg, H&M is one of the very first brands to apply the new Higg Index Sustainability Profile to products. Higg Index Sustainability Profiles are part of the SAC’s new Higg Index transparency program and are based on independently verified environmental impact data from the Higg Materials Sustainability Index (MSI).
Each product is given a score based on the environmental impact of the materials used to make it. Scores range from “baseline” to “3.” Baseline scores are given to products made from conventional materials and scores of 1,2 and 3 are given to products made with materials that have lower environmental impacts. On each product, customers will also see detailed data on impacts relating to water use, global warming, fossil fuel use and water pollution.
“We are thrilled to launch a first version of the Higg Index Sustainability Profile with material environmental performance scores now available on selected products in all our 31 European online markets & the US. This is a major milestone for us and something we have been working towards for a decade. We firmly believe transparency is key to transforming the fashion industry and we are excited to see this tool further develop so that we can share even more environmental and eventually social data with our customers across our products in the near future”, says Pascal Brun, Head of Sustainability at H&M.
And to conclude, Tara Luckman’s quote from the IFFF webinar sums up the entire ongoing concentration on sustainability and its future, “We are in an interesting, heightened time of awareness for social and environmental injustice around the planet. Coupled with unemployment and insecurity triggered by the pandemic, the retail world has witnessed immense change. Consumers are spending more carefully – making fewer and considered purchases of products that are going to last. They are increasingly open to new experiences and opting for most cost savvy options like second-hand trading. This is creating an interesting dynamics for brands. Should they be taking a share of this new emerging markets for circular business or should be focusing on investing in design and manufacture of products to ensure that they are going to meet the changing consumer needs of quality, re-usability, resale, etc. So we can see quite an interesting time around decision making for sustainability.”