Fashion’s Green challenge - Part 1

08 Oct 2019

Fashion’s Green challenge - Part 1

Fashion and sustainability are not a natural fit. Can fashion brands really improve their sustainability credentials in response to growing consumer demand?

Fashion demands that we buy new and buy often. It encourages a throwaway culture often founded on low prices and quick delivery. This season’s ‘must-have’ item is next season’s obsolete style.

That culture means production doubled between 2000 and 2014. And in five large developing countries – Brazil, China, India, Mexico and Russia – apparel sales grew eight times faster than in Canada, Germany, the UK and the US.

Consumers prefer Green

Slowly, the world of fashion is changing. Consumers are looking for more from the brands they engage with. They are aspiring to buy from companies that can help them make a meaningful difference.

A 2018 survey carried out on behalf of sustainability consultancy and creative agency Futerra bore that out.

88% of UK and US consumers said they wanted brands to help them be more environmentally friendly and ethical in their daily lives.

In a 2019 survey for the fashion industry bible, Drapers, 91% of brands and retailers reported that their customers were showing a growing interest in environmental issues. Just 42% said they themselves offered a sustainable product range.

When asked about the barriers to sustainability, 34% said the lack of the required knowledge and skills within the business was an issue. Together, these findings indicate that it has never been more important for fashion brands to have a credible, workable sustainability policy.

Sustainability progress comes from the top

An effective sustainability policy requires a robust leadership team that understands that sustainability issues impact every area of business. This stretches from ensuring ethical production methods and minimising plastic use through to auditing every link in the supply chain to ensure the most is made from the least.

Catherine Broome, who leads executive search assignments within Odgers Berndtson’s global consumer practice in London, specialising in senior and C-suite roles within the fashion and luxury industries, is clear. The drive for sustainability must come from the top.

She says: “The two key traits to look for when choosing someone to head up a brand’s sustainability team are courage and vision.”

“Vision usually comes first from a top leadership perspective. When you are looking for someone to lead that change through an organisation, courage is so important.”

“There will need to be initiatives and actions that don’t make immediate sense in terms of revenue. It’s not just fashion – in any business where you propose something to reduce profits it’s counterintuitive, so that’s where courage comes in really strongly.”

Lead from the top

Amy Powney, Creative Director of London-based contemporary womenswear brand Mother of Pearl, is an advocate of leading from the top. She has said: “There’s no handbook on how to make a brand sustainable, but I wanted to know from start to finish where our product was grown or derived, who was making it and the social impacts along the way. I’ve journeyed to find the best factories, suppliers and farmers who care about the planet and its inhabitants as much as we do.” 

In the second part of this focus on sustainability in fashion, we hear about the key role of leadership, and which brands are making sustainability part of their designs for the future.

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