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Sustainable Fashion; Idolised Ideal or Attainable Attire?

Fashion plays an important role in the global economy and is responsible for annual worldwide revenues of in excess of £1 trillion; supporting hundreds of millions of jobs around the world. Yet, currently surrounded by predictions that ecologically sustainable fashion will be at the centre of innovation in the fashion industry in 2018; just what alternatives can we resource, and technologies can we use, to ensure that the manufacture and recycling of our garments pollutes the environment as little as possible, whilst still satisfying our desire for style.

Encouraged by the idolised ideal of sustainability, many fashion suppliers are now investing in new technologies. Technologies which are increasingly facilitating the creation of innovative pieces and recreating classics, whilst achieving the over-arching goal of simultaneously minimally impacting the environment and upholding a company’s social responsibility for newfound clothing manufacture sustainability.

Inside Industry 4.0 and entertaining a generation that pays attention to environmental friendliness and fair payment when it comes to clothing manufacture; figures from the 2015 ‘Green Generation’ study by Nielsen, reported that the population, specifically millennials, are prepared to spend more on products by brands that are committed to environmental or social principles, with this commitment increasing from 55% in 2014, to 72% in 2015.

By way of supporting this, many new and exciting technologies and business innovations are beginning to dictate the run-way and subsequent consumer trends; ultimately helping to fashion the future of the industry. Yet despite this, the fashion industry’s current success and consumer-centric affordability, does come at a high environmental cost.

More specifically fast-fashion, and the element of quick manufacture of non-sustainable fashion items, which are quick to deteriorate and consequently, quickly discarded by the consumer, result in an immeasurable amount of post-consumer waste.

This non-sustainable, and non-ecologically friendly manufacturing model of fashion clothing, is not just a problem due to the quantity of waste produced year on year, but is more-so an issue, due to the irresponsible use of damaging plastic microfibres from polyester fabrics and artificial suede used to manufacture these throw-away items; the fibres of which ultimately, and seemingly unavoidably, are repeatedly making their way into, and steadily damaging our environment.

So just how hard is it for suppliers to shift to using sustainable materials and innovative technology?

Technology not only makes it easier for the consumer to research supply chain visibility, but also provides the consumer with ever more information about how and where a company sources their materials, treats labourers, and ultimately provides the story of the journey of each individual garment produced for resale. Because of this, new fashion trends becoming predominantly popular, involve creating items that people love, look after, and want to keep using for longer periods of time. It is this idea of emotionally durable design which is further facilitating an increased range of sustainably produced fashion, to grow faster than it has ever done before.

One major break-through for sustainability and ecologically friendly clothing within the fashion industry, is the advancement of mass production technologies, to enable increased fibre recycling, at lower more affordable costs; from 3D printed shoes and lab-grown leather, to recycling initiatives being enrolled throughout stores, to facilitate the break-down of polyester for re-use in new textiles.

Another innovation is companies opting to use natural fibres. Not only is this important from the aspect of being sustainable, but it also shows that companies are making a conscious effort for this to be reflected within their branding and appealing to the consumer; to choose a more environmentally friendly manufacturing process for their products. Examples of these involve suppliers choosing to invest in ecologically advanced materials, including pineapple leather, organic cotton and plant based-rather than synthetic materials, for the manufacture of their materials and products to be sold under their consumer-facing recognised brand.

A fine example of which, back in 2017, was retailer H&M, vowing to become 100% circular by 2030, aiming to use only recycled or other sustainably-sourced materials.

It is conscious and marked efforts such as this, which will encourage other leaders to set similar sustainability goals.

By aiming overall for a low carbon future, the fashion industry needs to learn how to drive innovation and value by integrating sustainability across the entire value chain. Until sustainable fashion processes evolve from being a collection of fragmented initiatives, to instead becoming recognised as an integral and defining part of the entire fashion value chain, this accomplishment will not be fully achieved.

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