The 1980s were a memorable decade for fashion. We were introduced to distressed jeans, big hair, neons and all things spandex. It was also in the 1980s that the Brundtland commission released, “our common future” or the Brundtland report. The document was the first to introduce the idea of sustainable development.
The purpose of sustainable development was to create long-term environmental strategies that translated to cohesive solutions for development across industries.
Sustainability in fashion is evolving the process of production, distribution, and consumption towards economical, ecological, and social cohesiveness. It also encourages an evaluation by all stakeholders, namely the producers and the consumers.
Sustainable fashion is a multifaceted process. It comprises of material choices, ethical practices, packaging and distribution mechanisms, and an evaluation of fast and seasonal fashion trends.
One of the key components of this industry as a whole is research and development. The last 2 decades have seen a consistent investment being made towards perfecting alternate materials that are either made from recycled fibres and/or are negligible in terms of waste generation in their production.
Luxury brands like Gucci, Prada, and Burberry have opted for Econyl, a fabric resembling nylon, made from repurposed waste and using a fraction of the oil and water. Alternate materials like Parley, a polyester substitute created from ocean waste and Telcel, a biodegradable fibre made from repurposed wood pulp have been adopted by brands like Kering, Adidas, LVMH, Furla, Versace, and Vivienne Westwood.
The variation in cost Econyl and EcoVero are 15-20% more than the actual material and should be seen as an investment by an industry that generates nearly 100 million tons of waste a year.
Another aspect of the industry’s contribution lies in Fast fashion. Shopping as a recreational activity has reduced fashion to an “expendable and inexpensive means of entertainment” by marketing, the idea of “new is necessary”. Fast Fashion’s impact on the environment has been cited as more dangerous than aviation and shipping combined.
The digital rupture brought with it the trend of e-commerce. This brought about another means of satisfying the compulsive need for “retail therapy”
However, this also birthed the idea of “re-commerce”, a digital platform the provided solutions for recycled and repurposed fashion. Websites like eBay, theRealReal etc, brought the experience of “thrifting” to your doorstep, made luxury accessible and revolutionised the process sourcing, inventory and dead stock.
“Recommerce” capitalises on sustainability as a marketing strategy.
Development if AI also expanded the inventory and customisation further without having to invest in actual production.
The growing need for sustainable solutions has also lead to the development of an entire new occupational opportunity. Luxury fashion houses around the world are now looking at Chief Sustainability Officers to innovate means of combining sustainability and profits, through product development, manufacturing, and marketing.
There is a deeper understanding of sustainability in fashion as not being an independent function but an inter-industry collaboration towards research, development, and problem-solving.
At Lakme Fashion Week 2019, The Union Minister for Textiles, Smriti Zubin Irani launched Project SU.RE. The project is an initiative towards developing sustainable sourcing policies, traceability, and transparency in the production process and educating consumers of ethical environmental practices by the year 2025.