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HOW FAR WILL THE INDUSTRY GO FOR SUSTAINABLE FASHION?


At COP 26, where net-zero “commitments” were being announced, ‘phase-down’ versus ‘phase-out’ of coal was being debated, and even methane pledges were being made, it was the coal, oil and gas lobby representatives who were walking around smug and grinning as they had dodged the bullet once again, thanks to the rich countries who were seemingly once again protecting their interests.


Synthetic fibres represent over two-thirds (69%) of all materials used in textiles, which is expected to reach nearly three-quarters by 2030. The production of polyester alone leads to annual GHG emissions equivalent to 180 old style coal power plants (without carbon capture technology), and this is projected to nearly double by 2030.


Apart from that, the mounting toll on the environment, exploitative wage systems, and a need to preserve age-old crafts—the reasons for making the switch to sustainable fashion are multiple and compelling. However, price can serve as a deterrent for many looking to make the change to a more ethical wardrobe. The price tag on a sustainably-produced garment with fair wages for labour can often be much bigger compared to an off-the-rack, mass-produced design, causing the perception that sustainable fashion caters only to an exclusive clientele. However, in ensuring that every garment produced has minimal impact on the environment, several factors come into play that ultimately affect the pricing of a product.


So what are the crucial cost drivers that are involved in the pricing of sustainable fashion.



1.Ethical Sourcing

The biggest differentiator for sustainable fashion is its kindness towards the environment and longevity—by swapping synthetic fabrics for purer, long-lasting alternatives, there’s a smaller footprint left behind on the ecosystem it is developed in.


2.Fair Wages

Ensuring that workers are provided with a sufficient working wage serves as another crucial factor driving costs. “Ethically-produced fashion pays not just a minimum wage, but a living wage—which means the women who make our clothes are able to afford a life of dignity and safety.


3.Small Batch of Production

The scale of production also serves as another fork-in-the-road moment for the fashion industry. While high street brands are often driven by speed and seasonality, slow fashion has emerged as an antithesis—championing the joys of a slower pace of consumption—which plays into the scale of production. 


4.Craftmanship

In addition to sustaining the environment, ethical fashion also maintains a sharp focus on ensuring that age-old crafts and skills are sustained and passed on to the next generation.



In December 2018, the United Nation launched an initiative called the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Change, which aimed to drive apparel manufacturers to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions no later than 2050, in line with the goal of keeping global warming below 1.5C. And more than 125 companies have committed to the climate action.


By 2020, some of the largest fashion brands in the world also put their names on Science Based Targets initiative net-zero corporate standard. Big brands like Adidas, Burberry, Decathalon, Fossil, Gap, Levi Strauss, Ralph Lauren and Mango are among the companies that are participating. But their carbon targets and initiatives remain voluntary, and even as brands make impressive-sounding sustainability declarations, the companies behind the brands are reluctant and perhaps not always transparent about what real steps the industry is taking to reduce its carbon footprint or rein in overproduction.


This lack of transparency then resulted in how they try to find middle-ground by doing rampant greenwashing across their voluntary products and commitments rather than doing circular solutions, in which the products will be designed to be more durable, usable, repairable and recycable.


But how to faced legions of shoppers who’ve been trained to expect seasonality and speed?


It becomes the brands’ responsibility to relook at the way they are communicating fashion. A powerful way for sustainable brands to contradict fast fashion’s constant-churn model is to offer hyper-customisation and market one-of-a-kind products. The approach involves reviving our emotional connection with the clothes we wear. Customers cherish unique and mindfully designed products that are made with care. Humanising the makers behind garments with creative storytelling is also an effective way to deepen the connection with shoppers. Helping customers understand the connection between women’s empowerment, climate impact and sustainable fashion is the best way to encourage greater adoption to a more ethical way of living.


But will the big brands and the on and off-line retailers actually take the steps to make it happen? That we will have to see. Maybe they were chatting with the oil and gas folks at COP26 and figuring out their escape clauses.




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