Is Fashion’s Eco-Consciousness More Than a Label Yet?

Original source: Bloomberg

Several prominent clothing retailers are revamping their manufacturing and tailoring their brand images for just this kind of change. J. Crew Group, for example, recently debuted its “Eco Jean,” a selection of denim it boasts is made from “sustainably dyed organic Italian cotton.” Earlier this year, Levi Strauss & Co. announced a new initiative that eliminates many chemicals from its jeans manufacturing process and reduces textile waste. In Europe, luxury group Kering SA, Swedish fast-fashion chain Hennes & Mauritz AB, and British retailer Marks & Spencer Group Plc have all undertaken environmental and social projects. These range from a library of 3,000 sustainable fabrics that Kering’s luxury brands can draw on, to recycling over 30 million garments over the past 10 years at M&S stores.

These brands have very good reasons to take these steps and highlight them in their messaging to customers.

The environmental concerns around clothing manufacturing are more acute than ever before. Nearly twice as much apparel was sold in 2017 than in 2003. Some of that reflects growing spending power of consumers in emerging economies. But it also reflects the rise of fast fashion, which has trained shoppers to think differently about the shelf life of the goods in their closet. People are tiring of their wardrobes more quickly, with global clothing utilization — or the number of times a garment is worn — declining significantly in recent years.

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Piles of Clothing

Annual clothing units nearly doubled between 2003 and 2017. Meanwhile, people are discarding their clothes after fewer uses.

Meanwhile, Helga Vanthournout, a sustainability expert at McKinsey & Co., points out that very little of our clothing is recycled, in part because it can be a technical challenge to do so for blended fabrics such as a cotton-polyester.

Policymakers are taking notice of this issue, such as in the U.K., where a committee of lawmakers has launched an inquiry into the sustainability of the fashion industry. Against that backdrop, clothing companies are going to want to have good answers for how they are going to be part of the solution to a mounting problem. If they don’t, they might find themselves painted as corporate bad guys.

But beyond that, and even more importantly, apparel makers don’t want to risk being late to what could be a consequential shift in consumer preferences. Chip Bergh, the CEO of Levi Strauss, told Bloomberg Opinion this summer that he has observed sustainability being particularly important to younger shoppers — the ones retailers covet most.

“There’s no question, millennials care about it more than baby boomers. And Gen Z cares about it more than millennials,” Bergh said.

YouGov, an opinion and data-research company, has found that younger consumers are more likely than older ones to like it when brands take a stand on something. So why not do so on sustainability?

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