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The hidden sustainability costs of the fashion industry have been gaining more media prominence lately.

Even if a brand commits to sustainable sourcing, it’s still not clear whether intermediaries further down the supply chain stick to the same practices. The footwear industry, for example, has come under fire for sourcing leather from Brazil – a fact that could have at least partially contributed to deforestation and increased incidence of forest fires in the country.

Inquiries into the sustainability of the fashion industry have even contributed to conclusions about the overall lack of commitment and even the will to initiate change in production practices. The Pulse of the Fashion Industry report takes a look at sustainability goals and implementation efforts in the world of apparel and footwear. According to the report, efforts have been made and improvements have been achieved over the past few years. In 2018, however, these efforts slowed down.

At the same time, consumers are pushing for more sustainable fashion. Industry analysis shows that millennials are particularly interested in environmentally-friendly and fair-trade products. A March 2018 survey by Element Three and SMARI shows that 87 percent of millennial buyers in the US are willing to pay more for products that are sustainable.

Keeping these shifting attitudes in mind, why are companies slow when it comes to adopting sustainable practices and how could they introduce sustainable, long-lived change?



Slow Sustainable Measure Implementation: Why?

Forecasts suggest that by 2030, the fashion industry’s water consumption will grow 50 percent. In addition, the carbon footprint will reach 2,791 million tons and the amount of waste created through production will reach 148 million tons.

Several factors contribute to a relatively slow change in the apparel and footwear industry, as far as the environmental footprint is concerned.

Consumers are partially to blame. Their insatiable appetite for fashion pushes many to buy more and more, which makes it difficult for industry reps to keep up with the introduction of truly sustainable, mass production practices. Not only are consumers buying more, the rate at which they’re discarding clothing is also faster than ever before.

Fast fashion is considered a primary cause of environmental issues. Ethical consumption is the one thing that could lead to a paradigm shift in this realm. While many people are looking for ethical and sustainable clothes, this demand has not yet largely materialized in mainstream fashion.

So how can the discrepancy between the attitudes of consumers and their actual behavior be explained?

The problem stems from data that is largely theoretical. Surveys aren’t based on actual purchasing decisions but rather on the attitudes of consumers towards sustainable fashion. This data is obviously the subject of bias. Actual purchasing data can shed a lot more light on what today’s consumers demand and how the apparel/footwear industries can address these preferences in a sustainable way.

Additionally, the fashion world will have to address the waste problem.

Some have already launched recycling programs. These are a good way to collect items no longer being used but what happens to these items next? The right infrastructure and the technology required to effectively recycle clothes and shoes are still largely missing.

The model of the fashion industry is designed in this specific way – it generates excessive waste by delivering a high volume of new garments. Until this model starts to change through radical shifts (on top of consumer education), sustainability measures will deliver partial results at best.



Winning the Sustainability Battle

There are several things apparel and footwear brands can do to win the sustainability battle.

According to the Pulse of the Fashion Industry report, 40 percent of fashion companies have not started their sustainability journey due to the lack of tangible targets and rethinking of their supply chain. In addition, introducing solutions alone will not have a massive impact. The large industry players will need to start working together for the main sustainability challenges to be tackled in an effective manner.

The right legislative framework, investors supporting brands for the implementation of higher standards and constantly growing awareness about the scope of the problem will all result in the push for change that’s needed to kickstart innovation.

Apart from these broader measures, there are also specific steps within the industry that can initiate change.

Companies can develop standards and practices for the recycling and reuse of clothing that lead to the easier utilization of such resources. Investing in the development of new fibers that require fewer resources to be produced (in comparison to cotton, for example) is another viable option. Educating consumers to prolong the lifespan of their clothes is another worthwhile initiative. 

Making the supply chain more transparent is another very important goal. Suppliers need guidance and resources for meeting environmental standards and being held accountable. 

Solutions like ERP systems and business intelligence tech can easily maximize supply chain transparency, reduce waste and provide the technological platform that will fuel innovation. Modern business software for the apparel industry offers strong stock management, material requirements planning, forecasting, product lifecycle management and advanced warehouse management – functions that can all contribute to much more sustainable fashion brands.

If you want to stay ahead of trends and set up the right kind of green reputation for your apparel/footwear brand, get in touch with Sapphire Systems today. We can help you meet your goals and make sustainable practices and integral part of the production process.

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