If sustainability once had a niche status, the whole fashion industry has now embraced this burning issue.
Eager to prove that fashion can be green, brands are speeding up the implementation of sustainable actions with communication strategies. Indeed, as clients crave transparency, brands have adopted visibly eco-friendly measures to demonstrate their proactive commitment.
However, in this battle for planet earth, all cheating attempts are more than risky.
The empowerment of an eco-conscious generation on sustainability
The development of sustainability awareness among the fashion client can be linked to the naturality search available in the beauty sector. As clients longs for plant-based ingredients in cosmetics products, beauty product comparison app like Clean Beauty by Officinea are gaining popularity. Shoppers, especially millennials and gen Z, are increasingly drawn with brands committed in ethical causes. 2018 Millennials Pulse Report by Shelton Group declares that 90% of millennials favour brands respecting social and environmental causes.
Now, as “citizen conscious warriors”, millennial long for true and demonstrable commitments from fashion brands. Brands are expected to convey a trustworthy transparency in their messages, especially to millenials who have the power to act as transgenerational prescribers.
As such, brands like Armedangels, Skunkfunk or Bleed, show a military approach towards sustainable fashion through their committed mission or products. For example, the Belgian brand Made & More puts a QR code in each of their clothes that links to a video showing the manufacturer’s workshop in Europe.
Therefore, we have slided from a “storytelling” era, to a “storyproving” era.
However, sustainability as the first key driver in the purchasing act of millennials should be nuanced.
The shopping trends survey conducted by LIM College found that sustainable development motivation is outweighed firstly by price, then value and uniqueness.
It also declared that if the purchase of sustainable fashion items is low relative to the desire for sustainable fashion items, it is due to the offer provided by youth-eco-friendly brands is too short to meet the demand.
It seems that Michael Jackson with his songs like earth song (1982) and heal the world (1991) but, most of all, the view of engaged documentaries such as Al Gore’s An Inconvenient truth (2006) and moreover Andrew Morgan’s The True Cost (2015), have both influenced fashion entrepreneurs and clients to be part of the world’s rescue.
As Cécile Lochard, luxury expert and author of the reference book Luxury and sustainable development: the new alliance, once said, “Sectors of fashion and beauty cannot remove rare raw materials anymore without worrying about the biodiversity collapse or animal pain. At the least mistake, information move on social media and brand image can suffer from it.”
Australian app Good on you testifies the holistic sustainability concept significant demand by evaluating fashion player’s ethical commitments following 3 widespread criterias: ecological commitment, working standards conditions and animal welfare.
Therefore, the decision of Gucci, like Michael Kors or Versace, to join the forces of the fur-free alliance can be perceived as a sustainable position as well as Balenciaga’s designer, Denma Gvesalia deciding to support the World Food Program through a dedicated sweater design.
Positive luxury consultancy, in its 2018 Luxury prediction report, forecasted the power of “Emotion” conveyed by sustainability as the main analytic of the year.
The holistic conception of sustainability could be brought closer to Japanese Mottanai’s philosophy which can be translated as “waste not, want not”.
In the buddhist philosophy it consists in respecting nature and feeling gratefulness towards its benefits by limiting waste with recycling and upcycling behaviours.
Upcycling movement echoes this ancestral philosophy by bringing life into old belongings and was adopted by Martin Margiela since its outset and by the Viktor & Rolf duct duo for their AW16 couture’s catwalk.
Among them, Marine Serre, 2017 LVMH prize award-winner designer, released her third collection composed of patchworked dresses made of 1500 vintage scarves, tired denim jeans and swimsuits.
United by Blue put waste reduction as the core purpose of its values inviting clients to join its green cleaner squads: for every product sold, the sustainable outdoor brand removes one pound of trash from oceans and waterways.
Fashion & commitment: a REgenerated engagement strategy
In the luxury world, Kering can claim the champion’s title, thanks to the experience effect of one of its houses, Stella McCartney but also thanks to its activism on the subject.
Gucci recently created an environmental income statement available through the My EP&L app to measure the Kering group environmental impact.
In order to bring efforts to clothing recycling, Nike, H&M, Burberry and Gap recently join the sustainable movement on May 2018 through the Ellen McArthur foundation’s membership. The goal of this philanthropic foundation consists in accelerating a business model transition to a circular economy by developing scalable sustainable initiatives for industry global players.
According to the Pulse Fashion industry report 2018, 10% of the brands are still not involved in sustainability but for those who are, they show a stronger engagement with 66% of brands applying 5 sustainable initiatives (+11 points from 2017).
Most of the time, fashion brands get into sustainability through the launch of an organic fabric capsule collection with a key player of the sustainable movement.
There’s also the insetting action, consisting in replanting trees like Siizu do it by contributing locally to the preservation of the American forest.
Faithful to their innovative DNAs, luxury players seek out for the novelty in materials and trustful certified labels.
Further, Burberry moved closer to Rainforest Alliance and Vivienne Westwood, renowned for her support to ocean preservation, to release an upcoming capsule collection.
To reach the heart of clients with emotions, sustainable brands actions have to be consistent with the brand’s mission, be based on a specific and recognisable expression territory and, most of all been both tangible and visible on web and in-store.
To communicate on its commitment against overfishing, Kenzo teamed up with the Blue marine foundation to release its No Fish No Nothing line during SS14 collection and built up a digital pop-up store for the occasion. Raising awareness among clients can be an asset for brands.
The major disruption seems to come from the 100% sustainable fabric American brand Reformation, renowned for its party dresses and its tagline “Being naked is the #1 most sustainable option, we chose #2”.
This “new-generation Zara” allows clients to know the carbon and water footprints for each clothes bought through its online REFscale indicator.
The new eco-friendly mindset of fashion brands came with the economic performance source linked to an image improvement vector.
According 2017 Global Fashion Agenda Pulse Report, if embracing sustainable fashion remains an important investment, generally unaffordable for small or medium sized companies (SME), it’s a worthy long term policy as it can generate by 2030 a 1 to 2% EBITA margin growth.
A quest for alternative materials serving creativity
Patagonia was the first alternative brand to set the tone of “radical transparency” from 1973 and took the industry by surprise in 1993 by making fleece jackets from discarded recycled product like plastic bottles.
Stella McCartney pioneered the globalized sustainable movement in fashion and luxury seventeen years ago, bringing back together environmentally-minded philosophy and glamorous image.
She also settled the veganism movement by banishing genuine leather or fish glue from its collection, and replacing it by unconventional eco-materials like mycelium-based leather, spider silk or regenerate cashmere. Naturality and its corollary organic materials is at the centre of all the attentions.
As natural fibres remain not inauxistible, shaping the fashion of tomorrow implies using biotech materials and thinking of it since the beginning of the creative process.
Thus, to handle the challenge, brands are betting on R&D with innovative startups.
Stella McCartney and Adidas partnered hand in hand with Parley For The Oceans to launch the Parley ultra boostX sneaker in 2017 using a performance yarn made of recycled ocean plastics.
Adopting creativity with a conscious move implies education. Kering well understood it as it recently unveiled its online platform Gucci Equilibrium, to further commitment sustainability, explain sourcing process and engage its employees.
Among promising biodegradable materials, there’s cork and sea fishnets Salvatore Ferragamo partnered with a specialized italian firm, Orange Fiber, to build up a collection made of citrus fruits.
Tencell and lynocell, biodegradable fibres made from regenerated eucalyptus cellulose are increasingly adopted by Fashion designers like Mara Hoffman in their collections (a 19,7% year-on-year increase).
Tencel is more absorbent than cotton, softer than silk, it wrinkles less than cotton, uses 70% less land and 5% less water.
Step by step, renowned designers and newcomers, with the likes of Stella McCartney and Yael Aflalo’s Reformation, convert themselves to the conscious schism and are integrating sustainability on the catwalk as the italian Genny, the spanish Maria Lafuente, even in China with Reclothing Bank.
As Bruno Pieters, founder of the transparent label Honest By, said to Business of Fashion: “If you don’t do it now, you’ll have to adapt when complete transparency becomes mandatory. I think it’s wiser to be a leader who’s ahead of the rest rather than behind behind because, you know, it will become mandatory one day.”
After experiencing it two years ago, Viktor & Rolf seems convinced to this back-to-basics re-initiated with the RE:CYCLE capsule collection for Zalando, the first one for the marketplace and maybe the beginning of a long following.
Limiting waste and unsold articles is an increasing worry for clients.
Our goal at Heuritech is to help you to reduce overstock or out of stock risk thanks to weak signals on the desirability of your products over time and regions. So, why don’t you take the plunge?
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