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Why the fashion industry needs to improve its integrity

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Have you ever stopped to think about the environmental impact your clothes have had? In a world before Covid, the fashion industry was responsible for producing 10% of annual global carbon emissions. This is more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, it takes an average of 3,781 litres of water to make just one pair of jeans, from the production of the cotton to the delivery of the finished item to the store. This process equates to around 33.4 kilogrammes of carbon emitted into the atmosphere.  If the fashion industry continues to drive at this pace,  greenhouse gas emissions will surge more than 50% by 2030, according to the Worldbank.

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted luxury and high street fashion trade significantly. It has exposed many fashion retail businesses to various vulnerabilities, as well as providing them with an opportunity to re-evaluate their commercial, ethical and environmental values.  And it’s not just priorities across the industry that have changed: consumers are responding in a way that indicates shopping habits and behaviors are more aligned to a sustainable and socially-conscious way of life than ever before.

There has been a rise in conscious consumption enabled by new consumers who want to drive social change and make the planet more sustainable. A study states that 49% of consumers under the age of 24 had avoided certain products or services due to the negative environmental impact, and a further 81% of consumers say that it is the responsibility of companies to help improve the environment. In particular, millennials and generation Z shoppers are driving this trend: a staggering 73% of millennials will spend more money on a product if comes from a sustainable or socially-conscious company. These two demographics represent a huge chunk of the global consumer community, accounting for 85% of global luxury sales growth. Therefore learning how to engage with these consumers is vital.

The expectation from these consumers is that brands should align to their personal values, which have a direct link with their shopping behaviours. Those that don’t are heavily penalised. Only a few months ago, fast fashion label Boohoo dominated headlines with accusations of modern slavery for paying its garment workers as little as £3.50 an hour. Retailers Next and Asos were the first of many to stop selling Boohoo items on their platforms. In light of these allegations, Boohoo’s executive chairman has promised to rectify these failings across the business.

To avoid the fate of Boohoo and remain relevant to the consumer, fashion retailers and luxury fashion houses must take steps towards enforcing sustainable and ethical practices. So what can we learn from brands that are doing this well?

1. Ensure you are making sustainable choices, from your product range through to your supply chain

The Kering Group, a luxury holdings company responsible for household names such as Gucci, Balenciaga and Stella McCartney, recently purchased a 5% stake in Vestiare Collective, an online shopping destination dedicated to the resale of luxury goods. Gregory Boutte, digital chief at Kering, sees this step as essential to attract the new environmentally-conscious consumer.

He was quoted saying: “We recognise that this is a fundamental shift that’s happening in the way clients are relating and engaging with luxury fashion, so we don’t want to close our eyes and pretend it’s not happening ... we want to embrace it because we think it’s a big opportunity for us to provide an additional service to our clients.”

Another great example of this is Asos, who identified that 91% of emissions are produced during the transportation and delivery of products. In an effort to reduce its carbon footprint, Asos has set up The Sustainable Sourcing Programme to create, promote and sell products that are more socially and environmentally responsible. Asos is working with suppliers to find more efficient methods of transportation, and have expanded its fulfilment offering to use more local centres and electric vehicles in London.

2. Collaborate with other brands and organisations to create powerful sustainable initiatives

Fashion brands have learnt that leveraging sustainable efforts from others creates powerful initiatives that consumers love. For example, Selfridges has launched its Project Earth initiative: an eco-friendly edit, comprising of products from over 100 brands that are actively championing environmentalism. These brands include Stella McCartney, Calvin Klein and Ganni, to name a few. The edit forms part of the ‘Buying Better’ labelling scheme which provides full transparency to shoppers of how the items they are purchasing are helping the environment.

Similarly, Farfetch has demonstrated its willingness to disrupt fast fashion through its collaboration with Thrift+. Thift+ is a donation service for pre-owned fashion: shoppers can order a Thrift+ x Farfetch donation bag, package up their items for charity, and receive Farfetch credit in return. Reports suggest that pre-owned fashion could overtake the fast fashion market by 2029.

3. Incorporate social issues into your engagement strategy

Many brands and retailers are seeing the value in making social issues a key part of their engagement strategy. Companies such as Nike have taken a clear view on social issues, supporting Colin Kaepernick, the face of the NFL's ‘anthem protests’. Levi’s has publicly fronted a campaign against gun control, while Gucci has also supported this cause, donating half a million dollars to a student-led march.

Asos is also addressing ethical issues in partnership with Katherine Hamnett. All profits and sales of her exclusive lingerie line will be given to the organization ‘Help Refugees’. The benefit of acting on behalf of those who cannot act for themselves drives home the message to the emerging segment of socially-conscious consumers that they care, and are using the power of social as a tool to reinforce this message.

There’s hope for the future...

Being socially responsible is now fashionable. The industry has woken up to the impact it has had on the environment, and is taking responsibility for their share. Brands are becoming increasingly more aware of the responsibility they have to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint and drive social change. The industry’s response has been nothing if not a move in the right direction; from adapting product offerings to incorporating pre-owned fashion, to speaking on behalf of marginalised groups who can’t speak for themselves.

In April 2020, 32 of the largest brands from fast fashion to luxury fashion houses committed to the Circular Fashion Pledge, dedicated to “taking specific actions in 2020 to lead the industry toward a more circular model [and] ... substantially reduce waste generation by 2030”. Movements like those promoting a more circular economy signal that there is hope for the future, but there is a long way to go.

At Capgemini Invent we’re passionate about ensuring your purpose is activated throughout your business goals and strategy. To find out more, contact us here.

Alexandra Swabe is a senior digital marketing consultant at Capgemini Invent.

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