By Adam & Emma (featured in HMKM Eye #2 - Selling Sustainability)
Fashion's Future Footprint
As ‘‘throwaway fashion’’ and overconsumption take an increasing toll on our planet’s resources, is it time for brands to adopt a new way of retailing? Adam Shilton and Emma McHugh find out.
In the last couple of years, consumers have increasingly become enlightened to the damage so-called ‘‘throwaway fashion culture’’ is having on our planet. British shoppers now buy twice as many clothes as they did a decade ago (more than any other EU nation) and as of 2015, Americans are purchasing 5 times as much clothing as they did in 1980. The global fashion industry produces 1.2 billion tons of CO2 a year (more emissions than international flights and maritime shipping combined) which in 2018, prompted the UK Parliament to join the debate. Members of Parliament wrote to the UK’s 10 biggest High Street fashion retailers, inviting them into Parliament to present their sustainability credentials and outline what steps they are taking to reduce their environmental impact. Just this year, 10 different United Nations organizations launched the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, in an attempt to scrutinize and analyze the efforts of UN agencies in making fashion sustainable – identifying opportunities for them to create positive action and drive governmental change.
Whether it's marine mammals ingesting plastic on David Attenborough’s Blue Planet documentaries, receding polar icecaps, or unsafe drinking water, the plight of our planet has become a daily topic of conversation, increasingly influencing the brands we choose – and avoid. But there’s hope on the horizon. Because brands are beginning to respond.
A brand’s ability to proffer their ethical credentials will resonate with consumers more than ever in 2020. Consumers are demanding sustainability in the supply chain and non-exploitative labor conditions from brands. A recent Nielsen report found that 73% of millennials are willing to spend more on goods that are sustainable and with brands that convey a genuine social conscience.
Several retailers are already responding in earnest, perhaps none more so visibly than apparel brand Everlane. With its ‘‘radical transparency’’ mission statements and ethical-from-source credentials, Everlane places social conscience at the very heart of the brand’s DNA. As mentioned , luxury conglomerates are also making greener gains: LVMH's partnership with UNESCO and Kering’s 2025 Sustainability Strategy are standout examples.
Rent, Reuse, Resell
A spotlight will also continue to shine on the disposable nature of fashion with apparel rental, resale and reuse high on the ethical agenda next year. Satisfying the consumer desire for constant newness but without the associated price tag or environmental impact, Rent the Runway offers women’s designer apparel and accessories via a subscription model.
Instead of owning items, customers can rent them on an ad-hoc basis through Rent the Runway’s website for as little as 10% of the garment’s original retail price. Initially online only, Rent the Runway have expanded to numerous brick-and-mortar sites in the US where clients can access personal stylists, self-service checkout kiosks and quick return points.
The brand has also partnered with Marriott W hotels to enable guests to rent items of clothing during their stay at the hotel – easing the stress of packing through a guilt-free experience.
At the opposite end of the resale spectrum sits Depop, a global, online fashion resale marketplace. Depop allows users (mostly Millennial and Gen Z) to buy and sell unwanted garments through its visually slick mobile app. Combining the intuitive nature of Instagram with the convenience of eBay, Depop saw its users swell from 8 to 12 million last year and it has recently ventured into brick and mortar in LA and New York. As retailers respond to the need for greater accountability and as the fashion industry heads towards a circular economy, retailers must seek to access this rapidly growing market in order to offer affordability, traceability and provenance to their customers.
A recent Business of Fashion report cited that 9 out of 10 Gen Z customers will only purchase from brands with a commitment to social and environmental responsibility. Similarly, nearly three-quarters of people believe their purchases make a moderate-to-significant positive impact on social or environmental issues, according to a report by Sustainable Brands.
Responding to this desire for greater transparency in the supply chain, apps such as Good On You are connecting consumers with purpose by providing information about the ethical and sustainable credentials of over 3,000 fashion brands. Online luxury marketplace Olivela also connects consumers with purpose by giving 20% of proceeds to charitable causes such as the Malala Fund. Over 250 luxury fashion and beauty brands are represented on the Olivela platform, with an incredible 174,031 days of school being donated to underprivileged children. Since 2018, HMKM have worked with Olivela to create its first brick-and-mortar stores, bringing the brand’s message to life within a physical environment and further connecting consumers with the brand’s philanthropic work.
So What for Stores?
As we consider the emergence of these values-driven, eco-driven startups, the bigger brands are at risk of losing their competitive advantage. If you’re a billion-dollar brand like Burberry, and committing to being wholly sustainable, in theory, you would have to change your entire supply line for all your stores across masses of markets.
Fortunately, there is space for the bigger fashion brands to regain their edge – a literal, physical space, by way of their stores and shop floors. Country Road Group and Stella McCartney are examples to learn from, but there are others. Versace recently opened their first LEED-certified store in Sloane Street, London – using sustainably sourced materials and climate-control systems designed to save water
and electricity. Patagonia’s store in Victoria, Canada used sustainable construction methods and the wood used in the store was wastage retrieved from the Pacific Ocean and leftovers from a local yacht club. And Primark is sharpening its sustainability focus both in-store and online with its Primark Cares initiative.
The Time Is Now
Sustainability and transparency shouldn’t be regarded as market trends, nor should they be PR orientated initiatives. They are fundamental commitments that every brand should be doubling down on.
As consumers’ shopping habits evolve to be more holistic, retailers that have a transparent attitude to their ethical credentials will increasingly be rewarded, while those with a closed door policy will come under greater public scrutiny.
It is no longer enough to sell sustainable garments, especially if your stores don’t match. Making a genuine difference, both with products and in physical spaces, should be fundamental to every retail brand’s future thinking, and to ultimately reducing fashion’s future footprint.
To read more of our thoughts on Sustainability, check out HMKM Eye #2 - Selling Sustainability: https://rebrand.ly/HMKM_WeLove1