In a recent article in Raconteur, I read that the handling of materials, chemicals, water, emissions and waste poses a serious problem for the clothing industry. Each year the industry uses enough water to fill nearly 32 million Olympic swimming pools and emits carbon dioxide levels equivalent to 230 million cars, according to the Pulse of Fashion report. Meanwhile, consumers annually throw out 92 million tons of clothing that could have been recycled or donated.
Clothing Industry vs. Planet Earth
The clothing industry has struggled with excessive and wasteful production, but sustainable manufacturing is at last topping the agenda. The nature of the industry however according to experts makes it extremely difficult to follow the sustainability trends of other industries. Carrying out a life-cycle assessment on the volume of products that are produced in the fashion industry is difficult compared to other industries that do not change as rapidly.
“The era of willfully ignoring environmental impacts in fashion is coming to an end,” says Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) chief executive Jason Kibbey. The organization’s Higg Index, used by nearly 40 percent of the industry, enables greater scientific benchmarking of the impact of designs, material, energy, water, chemicals and distribution.
A Shift in Clothing Industry Manufacturing
Chain H&M, a SAC member, is targeting using only sustainably sourced materials by 2030. The key to its success could be in its aim to become completely circular, so clothes are made entirely from reused materials. Its stores already allow collection of clothes and the company amassed nearly 16,000 tons of used clothing last year.
There is a new generation of textile-to-textile recycling technologies that will enable raw materials, like polyester and cellulose from cotton non-rewearable clothing, to be recaptured, restored back to new quality and reintroduced back into the supply chain. When this becomes cheaper than using untapped materials, it will be impossible for brands to ignore.
Manufacturing to demand and customization of clothing is one way to minimize waste. Producing to stock and speculation creates excess finished goods inventories, excess WIP inventories and the need for additional quantities of other materials that might never be used. In today’s “I want it yesterday with free shipping” mentality, producing to order or producer with a shorter interval forecast might work from both a business and a eco-friendly sense.
Do Customers Want Sustainable Clothes?
Success in sustainability, of course, relies upon consumers wanting environmentally friendly items. With clothes buying expected to increase by 63 percent by the end of the next decade, according to the Pulse of Fashion report, many fashion brands are encouraging consumers to change their buying habits. As in food buying, consumers are now starting to look at sustainability in fashion.
Trends drive the industry and in turn, the social media culture is driving trends. Manufacturers are trying to come up with diverse assortments of products, options and customizing alternatives to drive consumers wish lists. In the end, it’s all about pleasing the customers and meeting their needs. What are your thoughts? Is sustainable clothing the future for the industry?