If you realised that annual greenhouse gas emissions from textiles production were worse for the environment than all international flights and maritime shipping combined, would it make you think twice about purchasing a new season ‘treat’, or upgrading last summer’s wardrobe?
Carbon emissions are just one of the many shocking environmental implications of the textiles and fashion industries. People are increasingly aware of the fashion industry’s poor track record of using cheap labour and compromising human rights in the supply chain, but there is still a large awareness gap when it comes to understanding the shocking environmental toll the industry is taking at present, from sourcing materials to chemical waste water.
If demand for polyester, a high-street fashion staple, continues unabated, 2050 will see clothing’s total carbon footprint more than double the carbon emissions of India. It would also mean that the fashion industry alone would need to account for 25% of the global carbon budget limit (the entire amount which can be used to prevent further global warming).
It’s clear that fast fashion is causing a serious problem, yet a recently published Attitude-Behaviour Gap Report by retail brand Zalando concluded that while 60% of consumers say sustainable fashion is important to them, many don’t know where to begin when it comes to better choices. Of those 60%, only 25% of those surveyed regularly bought second-hand, even though it’s one of the simplest ways for the majority of consumers to source items more sustainably and extend the fashion ‘lifecycle’.
Those differing statistics – 60% caring about sustainable fashion, but only 25% buying secondhand – indicate a 35% gap of potential clothing resale customers: a largely untapped audience base waiting to be offered a sustainable solution to their fast fashion shopping fix. While resale and rental platforms such as Depop or Endless Wardrobe are growing at a phenomenal rate, the growth could be even bigger if the environmental credentials of second-hand clothing are at the forefront of external messaging.
Fast fashion as an industry isn’t going away any time soon. Our digital-based economy and social media consumption has cemented demand for ‘style over substance’ garments that are produced quickly and cheaply, and are disposed of just as fast. It is a mentality fuelled by social media and celebrity culture– we have likely all seen headlines lauding the Duchess of Cambridge for her ‘repeat outfits’, as if the concept of wearing something twice in public is so outlandish that it requires extensive media analysis. How about we flip the narrative?
Fit-for-future brand positioning
We are a society which admires newness and craves competition, but we need to re-define ‘new’. As we wake up to the environmental impact of garment production, the resale and rental revolution is perfectly placed to usurp the fast fashion brands and offer a solution which ticks both boxes.
Through buying or renting a second-hand dress on HireStreet or The Devout rather than another Primark purchase, a product’s lifespan extends and starts reducing the ‘demand’ for cheap clothing. It also prevents the item becoming part of the 1m tonnes of clothing (£140m worth) which goes to landfill in the UK each year.
One company leading the change is Depop, which publishes its sustainability goals and aims to be carbon neutral by the end of 2021. The organisation talks openly about the issues it has faced such as the rise in dropshipping from Chinese factories (now banned on the Depop platform), paying living wages and the gender pay gap amongst others. Its tagline is that ‘together, we’re shaping a new fashion system. One that’s kinder to people and kinder to the planet.’
It’s no coincidence that Depop has managed to tap perfectly into its target audience of millennials and Gen Z – who care about their purchases’ origins, but also want to follow trends, cost-effectively. Its corporate messaging has aligned beautifully with its consumer image, and has allowed the company to emerge as a true leader within sustainable fashion.
However, the 2020 Fashion Transparency Index, which surveys 250 major fashion brands, highlighted many inconsistencies and issues with environmental targets and policies, citing ‘information dumping’ as an ongoing problem – the practice of a brand repeating the same sustainability jargon across multiple platforms with little insight into their actual policy implementation, targets or results.
There is a clear need for concise and accurate corporate messaging around the fashion supply chain – within mainstream fashion itself, but also from emerging companies within the second-hand clothing space.
Organisations should publish their operating principles and process transparently, can create Trust and Safety teams to monitor sustainability and fairness measures (as Depop does), and ideally they should put sustainability on the C-suite agenda. Escalating the issue to the top creates the opportunity for meaningful change but also more open communication with consumers: a committed CEO or Head of Sustainability can help evolve public discussion by discussing the environmental implications of fast fashion with the media, igniting a call to action to change the way we create, consume (and dispose of) textiles.
For example, Jane Shepherdson – ex-CEO of Whistles and current Chair of MyWardrobeHQ – discussing her own switch from primary to secondary retail (and why) is hugely beneficial from a corporate brand perspective and underlines the rising importance of circular fashion even amongst retail’s big names. Similarly, Loanhood’s Lucy Hall and Jen Charon have been active with circular economy discussions on Clubhouse, and this can be expanded into further calls to action across mainstream media.
Consumers largely want to be sustainable, they often just don’t know where to start. If you are a fashion changemaker who is challenging the fast fashion status quo and moving towards a more sustainable operating model, speak up and speak loudly, and implement a PR strategy which incorporates this corporate ethos. By doing so, resale and rental sites will soon be seen as much a part of the fashion ecosystem as their high street counterparts, and their commitment to change only stands to gain commercial advantage.
Are you a fashion changemaker with a voice to be heard, or a fashion resale brand with an operating model that’s challenging the norm and reducing the environmental impact of fashion? Get in touch with our award-winning team today to discuss how we could help.