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Industry Talk

Sustainable fashion industry ‘possible within 16 years’

Fashion and sustainability global experts point out pathways that can make radical change happen.

21st November 2019

Knitting Industry
 |  Zug

Knitwear, Knitted Outerwear

Currently, the fashion sector is one of the major polluting industries globally. © Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Experts from across the global fashion industry have painted a bleak future for fashion if we continue with business as usual - but say a sustainable sector is possible within 16 years, with the right effort, courage and commitment.

Their views have been gathered in a report, The Future of Sustainability in the Fashion Industry, which takes stock of where the industry is heading and sets out what needs to be done to put it on a different path.

Currently, the sector is one of the major polluting industries globally, while poverty wages and worker exploitation remain common across supply chains.

Neither people nor planet are getting a good deal and despite bold commitments from industry players, experts agree these do not go far enough. If current trends continue, 75% said it will be impossible to achieve a net-positive impact on the natural environment and 62% believe poor working conditions and poverty will remain unresolved. We face a future where workers and the natural environment will continue to suffer in the name of fashion.

However, a sustainable fashion industry is possible – and experts say it could be achieved within as little as 16 years. “One of the terrific findings of this research is that it goes from not possible, to possible. The experts are saying that, with the right efforts, it can in fact be done,” said Kacper Nosarzewski, Partner, 4CF, one of the authors of the report.

14 strategies for sustainability

The report outlines 14 strategies for sustainability, evaluating each for its potential impact and the earliest timeframe in which it could become mainstream - then ranks these in order of strategic priority.

All 14 are seen as achievable by 2035, while two-thirds could even reach mainstream within a decade - assuming radical action is taken. This will involve collaboration, policy change and a multi-tactic approach to address complex and interrelated issues at every point of the production and consumption cycle. These include:

  • Increased global awareness
  • Fibres and processing innovation
  • Highly detailed sustainability reporting
  • Worker-driven initiatives
  • High concentration / cooperation
  • Extended producer responsibility
  • Wages in the fashion industry
  • Clothing as a service
  • Automation revolution
  • Circular economy
  • Consumer level sustainability index
  • Resale/second-hand models
  • Majority of clothing is locally produced
  • Tax regulations for increasing sustainability

“Succeeding in one area - for example, fibres and processing innovation – will not be enough; we need to see coordinated action across every field of activity. And where we see positive signs of change today, we need to make sure those strategies are far more widely distributed and implemented,” commented Cornelia Daheim from Future Impacts, another contributing author.

Building global awareness

Introducing standards for transparent, comparable Highly Detailed Sustainability Reporting will be key, while one of the immediate priorities is to build a global awareness movement that takes advantage of heightened concern over sustainability issues, such as that generated by Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for Future movement, among others.

“The industry widely acknowledges that things need to change; now we can see just how far that change needs to go. Brands and industry stakeholders have a clear set of actions to get to net-positive impact,” said Lee Alexander Risby, Head of Effective Philanthropy at C&A Foundation, sponsors of the report.

“It will require huge effort and cooperation from brands, government and policy makers, even consumers. But against the context of heightened concern about environmental and social justice issues, positive change can take place quite rapidly. This is a hopeful call to action for the industry to go ahead and do it.”

Download The Future of Sustainability in the Fashion Industry report here

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