Is Sustainability the Future Of Modern Fashion Industry? Retailers around the globe are understanding the flipside of fast fashion and are moving towards sustainability

By Puneet Kapani

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The fashion industry is known for creating trends, and now it's working on its most important trend yet: sustainability. And unlike some questionable fashion decisions, this is a trend all consumers can get behind. Everyone is starting to wake up to the fact that consumer preference has changed, and she wants more eco-friendly products.

A lot of people, globally, have become conscious of what they consume, and have begun questioning whether or not companies source their raw materials and labour ethically. Because of this attitude, many industries have started rethinking and reinventing their production processes. This includes the modern fashion industry as well. It is a fact well known that the fashion industry produces a lot of waste per year, and people have thus started seeking out sustainable wear. Very soon, in order to simply survive, labels will have to start adopting sustainable means of production.

"We as a brand have always been sustainable focusing on the traditional crafts of India. For our recent collection, we have used nib painting and intricate kalamkari art using organic color on handwoven fabrics. Each piece that we create can be re-worn and styled differently. Additionally, it can be treated as a family heirloom passed on to generations to comge. Creating handcrafted pieces is a time consuming process and we have a controlled production for each collection, each piece is limited which results in reduced dead stock," says the designer Archana Jaju.

Increasingly, customers want to have a positive impact on the environment. Research shows that 88 per cent of consumers want brands to help them be more environmentally friendly. Yet, fashion is notorious for its wasteful practices that are hurting the environment. Fashion products are responsible for 10 per cent of the world's carbon emissions, more than international flights and maritime shipping combined. The fashion industry is responsible for 20 per cent of all water pollution worldwide. If the fashion industry continues on its current path, it will produce 26 per cent of the world's carbon footprint by 2050. Clearly, something needs to be done to control the situation and disrupt the industry.

"We are moving towards a more conscious future in all aspects, whether it's our work environment or personal spaces! Given the rapid change in the environment, it's only necessary that the fashion industry evolves itself and commits to a more sustainable process, towards minimal waste. As a conscious brand, SAND has adopted an all-around approach to this commitment. We're using organic plant-based fabrics such as linen, cottons, aloe Vera, rose, eucalyptus, soybean protein with fair trade certification by Ecological Plant Fibre. Even our packaging is made of recycled paper certified by ECOenergy and EMAS. It must be taken upon a fashion brand not only to practice but educate the consumer about their practices and its impact as end users," says Shirin Mann, founder, Needledust.

A study by The Shelton Group proves it: Millenials want to shop from sustainable companies. And because of the basic principle of supply and demand, luxury fashion companies take action and steps to a greener future. From Gucci's major sustainability and CSR initiatives that have gradually been made over the last couple of years to the ethical and sustainable trend of going fur-free that has been seen in a vast number of announcements of luxury brands.

"The pandemic has definitely changed our perspective on our craft. We've realised how prudent and imperative it is to design sharp and focused collections, reduce waste by designing less and ensuring each sample and each stitch and each cut of cloth counts. Our planet and nature need nurturing and so do our creative souls and there won't be peace if one comes at the cost of the other. The fabric is our immediate environment. Humankind has its environment in nature but the body's immediate environment is the clothing that we wear. From the stage to conception to execution, sustainability is an idea all designers must embrace. Even small individual contributions make a difference and we are doing it by reducing waste, using recycled materials, producing sensibly and making each item worthy of being bought with some conscience," shares the designer duo Pankaj and Nidhi, who runs a label by the same name.

Meanwhile, retailers around the globe are understanding the flipside of fast fashion and are moving towards sustainability as it is beginning to dawn on them that the harmful chemicals and plastic waste created due to their heightened usage of polyester and other raw materials is non-biodegradable.

Keeping the material in mind, designer Pankaj and Nidhi says, "For our last collaboration with R|Elan we used the most remarkable fabrics of the future such as GreenGold, made 100 per cent out of recycled plastic PET bottles but with a hand-feel as luxurious as silk. Others such as FeelFresh, which have permanently anti-microbial properties and KoolTex, which absorbs perspiration and keeps the wearer feeling cool and comfortable for a long time."

Fast fashion is a great example of the global supply chain's ability to produce a wide array of products to quickly meet new trends, and fashion brands have profited considerably as a result.

But in response to worldwide climate demonstrations at the end of last year, and shifts in sustainability attitudes due to COVID-19, many fashion companies are shifting their business models to accommodate consumers' growing awareness of the environmental impacts of their own spending.

Fashion brands big and small are more vocal about both their support of environmental causes and their own use of more natural or recycled materials. Even Zara, a major name in fast fashion since the 80s, has committed to use 100 per cent sustainable fabrics by 2025.

"We all must do our bit to take care of our planet and leave it inhabitable for future generations. The fashion industry, especially leather, fur, and fast fashion, is a significant contributor to environmental damage. So, we must relook at everything, realize our ecological footprint, and do better. At OOKIOH, eco-consciousness is in our DNA, and our sustainability measures start at the design stage. Our pieces can be worn for few years and still look trendy. Besides increasing wearability, it has helped us reduce our returns to 14 per cent, compared to an industry average of 30 per cent. We work only with regenerated and/or recycled fabrics for our swimwear. These choices reduce the usage of Nylon, the most popular material in swim and sportswear and a by-product of the gas industry. We are also working towards going plastic-free by 2022 and reducing our carbon footprints by moving production to the US or closer to it," says Vivek Agarwal, founder of OOKIOH.

Puneet Kapani

Former Features Editor

Puneet Kapani, former features editor for Entrepreneur India, is self-driven and passionate about happenings and nuances of the world. She writes on lifestyle, gadgets, beauty, wellness, entertainment and technology updates around the globe. She has previously worked with L’Officiel India magazine, FHM Magazine and Times Internet. 

Catch a glimpse of her work at @PuneetKapani on LinkedIn and @puneetkapani on Instagram.

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