To mark Earth Day, here are five ways fashion is shaping up for consumers and the climate – from the rise of the resale market to repair services offered by brands
You don’t have to cast your mind too far back to imagine a time when the idea of rival luxury fashion houses collaborating on new materials would have been unthinkable. Equally, just a few years ago, a brand announcing it was going to make fewer products would have signalled disaster, not progress. And yet in 2022, this is where the push for a less impactful industry has taken us. The solutions being tabled are ever-evolving, and while we haven’t reached the point where we can declare “problem solved”, the industry certainly looks pretty different.
With Fashion Revolution Week upon us, here, we chart where sustainable fashion is headed in 2022:
Resale, resale, resale
The secondhand market is far from being a new concept – Vestiaire Collective launched in 2009, and Depop dates back to 2011 – but the adoption rate of resale has reached critical mass. In mid-April, luxury retailer Moda Operandi announced a partnership with Rebag, the New York-based platform for buying and selling pre-loved designer handbags. Copenhagen favourite Ganni launched its own resale platform the same month, and in March, Mr Porter followed in Net-a-Porter’s shoes and launched Mr Porter Resell, facilitated by Reflaunt. Vestiaire Collective, which Kering has a five per cent stake in, also expanded its reach this year by acquiring competitor Tradesy.
The brands announcing resale join the likes of adidas, Gucci, Balenciaga, Farfetch, and Alexander McQueen, using a variety of different models – from hands-off consignment services to peer-to-peer selling. Of course, keeping clothes in use and out of landfill is a positive, but it’s even more positive when secondhand fashion actually discourages new production.
Fashion and degrowth (a purposeful reduction in growth) would seem to be natural enemies, given that the fashion industry makes increasing amounts of money by selling more and more stuff. However, it’s something brands are beginning to explore in different ways.
A number of brands are looking to use the income from resale to offset the need for the production of new goods. “We aim to always balance our pre-owned and even our remade or limited edition (made from leftover fabrics) with our new collections,” says Jodi Everding, Sustainability Director at Filippa K, which launched Preowned in October 2021. “The goal is to be able to set that a percentage of our total business comes from circular models like the preowned.”
AnotherTomorrow, which launched in April, is taking a similar view. “The key issue in all of this sustainability piece is unless we break this growth for growth’s sake model, nothing is going to change,” brand founder Vanessa Barboni Hallik said in 2020, upon launching the brand. “I felt strongly about embedding resale into our own model from the get-go. Because then it creates an incentive structure to make products that last a lifetime that you can sell over and over again.”
Ralph Lauren has also been experimenting with degrowth, albeit under a different name. As reported in The New York Times, it has decoupled production from profits, with its “financials” getting better despite making fewer units compared to five years ago. In February, British brand Toast also revealed that it will be producing 20 per cent fewer styles than previous seasons, and reducing collection drops from six to four.
Collaboration is key
Keeping our planet habitable must be done via collaboration – something fashion has embraced in a big way. The Global Fashion Agenda (GFA), the non-profit behind the Copenhagen Fashion Summit (which already brings together the likes of Kering, Nike, and Ralph Lauren together), has now partnered with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to accelerate fashion’s carbon reduction efforts, aiming to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
Taking a different approach, Fashion Declares – launched in January 2022 – is a “bottom-up movement” aiming to create a community of professionals from all levels of the industry. Founding signatories of the letter, which calls for action such as decarbonisation, social justice, and radical transparency, include Zandra Rhodes, Caryn Franklin, Patrick Grant, and representatives from Vestiaire Collective, Ganni and Farfetch.
The new Fashion Taskforce, announced in October 2021, brings together the likes of Burberry, Chloé, Stella McCartney, and Selfridges with a plan to create a “Digital ID system, designed to inform consumers of the sustainability credentials of their garments”. And the collaborations don’t stop there. Mycelium technology company Ecovative launched a cooperative with Bestseller and PVH Corp to develop custom mycelium (mushroom) materials. Adidas, Kering, and PVH Corp are among others working on innovations to transform the dyeing process, aiming to reduce emissions by 89 per cent and cut water consumption by between 83 per cent and 95 per cent – both projects were spearheaded by Fashion For Good.
Repairing is caring
Unlike fast fashion, where the initial investment is so low that replacement is often cheaper than repair, luxury fashion is a magnet for proper aftercare and restoration. Just like rental and resale, repair isn’t a new concept, but the fact that brands outside of the ‘sustainable’ sphere are rolling it into their official brand offering is.
Where once you had to trawl through Google trying to find a reputable repairs service, brands are making it easy by partnering with third-party platforms for approved aftercare. Farfetch, Browns, Manolo Blahnik, Nicolas Kirkwood, Harrods, and Harvey Nichols have all partnered with luxury aftercare provider The Restory. Ganni has teamed up with Sojo to offer free on-demand repairs and tailoring, while Uniqlo even launched a repair studio in its flagship New York store this year.
Legislation is coming
While much of the thrust toward sustainability has been self-propelled by brands, they might not have a say in some of the changes that are coming – thanks to a raft of new legislation.
The EU, for instance, wants to introduce “mandatory Ecodesign requirements” which will “increase textiles’ performance in terms of durability, reusability, repairability, fibre-to-fibre recyclability and mandatory recycled fibre content”. Measures proposed include banning the destruction of unsold or returned textiles and encouraging on-demand custom manufacturing. It’s being positioned by the media as an anti-fast fashion law, but luxury brands are just as capable of creating waste and manufacturing products with short life spans, so they will by no means be exempt.
Another piece of legislation on the horizon is the New York Fashion Act, which will apply to apparel and footwear companies operating in New York with more than $100million in revenue. That accounts for a lot of brands, from Gucci to boohoo. It’s hoped the act will be brought to a vote in late spring, and if it passes, it will require brands to map a minimum of 50 per cent of their supply chain, to disclose how much of certain materials they produce, and share details such as where their biggest environmental and social risks lie. Those who don’t comply and don’t fix the problems can be fined up to two per cent of their annual revenue.
Given that we’ve already seen the introduction of a host of new laws and regulations including greenwashing rules in the UK, and garment worker protection laws in the US, it seems that it’s only a matter of time before the rules tighten even further. This might make things trickier for brands, but it’s great news for consumers and the climate.