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The State of Transparency in Fashion

Consumers deserve to know where their products come from. Who made them, under what conditions, where, what materials used, and how far a good travels are important aspects of tracking sustainability. Transparency often refers to information a company releases that answers questions about these facets amongst its supply chain.

The Global Reporting Initiative, International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and Carbon Disclosure Project are all structures or organizations that seek to organize and track sustainability performance of companies. These are just some examples of organizations aiming to track social, financial and environmental performance.

The state of transparency in the fashion industry is relatively low. Some major companies have been improving in their supply chain information signaling a potential shift in the industry. Many consumers already take sustainability into high consideration when contemplating consumption of fashion products. Based on the 2020 Fashion Transparency Index, companies such as H&M, C&A, Adidas/Reebok, Esprit and Patagonia head the list for highest ‘score’ in transparency. This measurement is based off 220 indicators ranging from animal welfare to chemical use.

The scores here reflect policy information that is available, published supply chain data and records that come straight from the companies available to the public. As a whole, the industry has a less-than-stellar performance. Greater than half (54%) of brands score 20% or less on transparency about social and environmental issues. The overall average score was 23%, up from 21% in 2019.

This information can shed light on important aspects of the industry, potential sustainability chokepoints, and overall trends in the face of the market. For the world to reach its goals outlined in the Paris Agreement, corporations and governments alike will need to align values. Organizations that measure, track and educate about this subject are increasing in both support and necessity. The fragmented global supply chain of fashion will require cooperation at every level and real transparency to be held accountable.

As a human sharing the same planet, these issues concern all of us. By improving the transparency within fashion, we can continue to innovate and improve where it matters.

How would you improve accountability within complex supply chains spanning multiple countries?

Source(s):

https://www.fashionrevolution.org/about/transparency/

https://www.iso.org/home.html

https://www.globalreporting.org/

The Fashion of Fur

Fur has been traded amongst civilizations for centuries as a commodity, warm clothing and to signal status and fashion as well. Many may be already familiar with issues surrounding the global fur trade as the material has come under increasing scrutiny.

Fur has been declining in demand, price and more recently, supply. A diligent shopper frequenting storefronts may have noticed increased lines of faux fur or a lack of fur products completely. In fact, since 2013 the amount of mink fur has decreased on the market as well as the price: a typical mink pelt sold for over $90 in 2013 and just $30 in 2019. From an economist’s perspective, this adjustment is indicative of a shift in markets and consumer demand. In short, consumers want less fur. 

This supports the decreasing trend in demand observed in fur since the 1950s (except for a period from 2000-2013). A Danish cooperative that supplies 40% of the global market share in mink has plans to wind operations down over the next 2-3 years. This comes after a country-wide culling of the animals in response to a new strain of coronavirus found amongst mink populations.

As an enduring market, fur is wobbling. The necessity for fur for its warmth may be filled through other materials and clothing items while further social attitudes towards the practice could phase it out of style.

However, this space opens a new debate over the sustainability of fur vs. faux fur. Real fur does not negatively affect the environment due to its inherently organic production (and biodegradability), while faux fur is potentially harming to the environment during its production and use phase on top of its inability to biodegrade. However, new technologies such as 3-D printing and innovation in faux fur has the potential to further unlock new opportunities.

How should the fashion industry move forward in fur? Is there common ground between ethics and sustainability?

Source(s):

Bertlin, Nathalie. “The Future Of Fur In Fashion – A Qualitative Study On The Future Of Fur In The Fashion Industry, And A Comparison Of Real Fur And Fake Fur Regarding Ethics And The Environment”. Beauty And Cosmetics, Vaasa, 2020.

https://www.media.mit.edu/posts/future-fur/

https://www.businessoffashion.com/news/luxury/flying-fur-prices-put-fox-in-focus-as-mink-cull-sparks-shortage

Ramchandani M., Coste-Maniere I. (2017) To Fur or not to Fur: Sustainable Production and Consumption Within Animal-Based Luxury and Fashion Products. In: Muthu S. (eds) Textiles and Clothing Sustainability. Textile Science and Clothing Technology. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-2131-2_2

Wong T.C.C., Ng R., Cai L.M. (2018) Sustainability in the Fur Industry. In: Lo C., Ha-Brookshire J. (eds) Sustainability in Luxury Fashion Business. Springer Series in Fashion Business. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-8878-0_8

How Sustainable is Bamboo Fiber?

Bamboo has gained popularity for use within fashion and apparel products. Reasons for this stem from its incredible growing speed, its ability to grow out of its own roots, relatively small water demand, and lack of need for pesticides or fertilizers.

The truth becomes murkier when analyzing the reality of bamboo’s journey into end-product textiles. The bamboo plant is harvested when mature (~2 years), cut into pieces, crushed into a pulp, treated with solutions and fibers are then combed out and spun into yarns (read more here). The growing properties of bamboo have excited both textile innovators and consumers however the equation becomes more complex when analyzing the sustainability behind the chemical processes employed in ‘bamboo rayon’ to yield those soft silk-like sheets and products.

Figure 1 from (Nayak & Mishra, 2016)

This step of the processing chain often times sees chemicals released back into the environment. The majority of bamboo production also occurs in China with skinny regulation and unclear sustainability reporting. Due to these facts, the viscose process used to produce rayon from bamboo is ranked low in sustainability metrics.

Figure 2 via (https://goodonyou.eco/made-by-environmental-benchmark-for-fibres/)

However, the ‘closed solvent spinning loop’ process employed to produce Lyocell fibers from bamboo is a more positive prospect in sustainable fiber production (up to 99% of chemicals recaptured) and is branded Monocel®. As noted in fig. 2, Monocel® is ranked more sustainable than ‘Bamboo Viscose’, due to the aforementioned differences.

In terms of pure sustainability, bamboo has much to offer. It may be about experimenting with the most efficient process until perfected. The full mosaic is more complicated than meets the eye, yet more innovation may turn bamboo into a textile of the future.

What would you do to push sustainable materials into a greater market share of fashion and textiles?

Source(s):

https://goodonyou.eco/bamboo-fabric-sustainable/.

Nayak, L., Mishra, S.P. Prospect of bamboo as a renewable textile fiber, historical overview, labeling, controversies and regulation. Fash Text 3, 2 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40691-015-0054-5

Rocky, B.P., Thompson, A.J. Production and Modification of Natural Bamboo Fibers from Four Bamboo Species, and Their Prospects in Textile Manufacturing. Fibers Polym 21, 2740–2752 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12221-020-1208-7

Yamuna Devi S., Indran S., Divya D. (2021) Futuristic Prospects of Bamboo Fiber in Textile and Apparel Industries: Fabrication and Characterization. In: Jawaid M., Mavinkere Rangappa S., Siengchin S. (eds) Bamboo Fiber Composites. Composites Science and Technology. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-15-8489-3_11

Recycling Challenges in Fashion: A Piece of the Circular Economy Puzzle

The concept of repurposing and recycling materials is important to consider when pursuing a circular economy. In contrast to the familiar input-output-waste economy model, fig. 1 displays key ideas of the circular economy model, which seeks to use materials swirling around an economy in the most efficient manner.

Figure 1 from https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org

A T-shirt may be recycled into a pair of running shoes at the end of its life, for example. But what challenges lie in the way of efficient recycling? Landfilling or recycling are two basic avenues that products cross at the crucial intersection of the use phase’s end. As discussed in a previous article, recycling rates for garments and fashion products are abysmally low.

This means that most of the products produced today in the fashion market end up sitting somewhere on the Earth, left to rot away or incinerated. From a business perspective; money has been left on the table—abandoning resources already processed, refined, treated, mined or grown. Plenty of growth and opportunity remain in recycling fashion products. In the collective British wardrobe alone, we find an estimated £89 billion worth of clothes.

When discussing obstacles, it is important to expand on recycling techniques. ‘Mechanical fiber recycling’ is the conversion of materials into new products without changing the chemical structure (shredding, respinning, re-bonding, etc.) while ‘chemical fiber recycling’ breaks down materials into chemical components allowing them to be recycled into various end products with additives or processes.

The main difference between the two is the potential end value of the product. Mechanical recycling often damages the fibers, which lowers the potential for conversion into new products while chemical recycling may be beneficial in reducing pesticide, water and petroleum demand. Both have potential for high-value recycling.

The intersections between the chemical industry, fossil fuels, fashion and material processes have contributed to the industry’s massive footprint—yet also provide unique opportunities for innovation. Trends are moving in positive directions. In a 2020 study surveying respondents from 34 countries, the majority cited environmental concerns motivating their disposal behavior of clothes and just 1.55% threw their clothes in the trash. It is important to consider the limitations of the sample (small size, skewed toward educated, access to online surveys) in any conclusions drawn.

How would you catalyze a transition to a circular economy model in the fashion industry?

Source(s):

Hilton, Simon. “The Chemical Recycling Of Clothes. Part 1; The Challenges”. AG CHEMI GROUP Blog, 2020, https://blog.agchemigroup.eu/the-chemical-recycling-of-clothes-part-1-the-challenges/.

Liu Z., Wang X. (2012) Study of Influencing Mechanism of Waste Clothing Recycling. In: Zeng D. (eds) Advances in Computer Science and Engineering. Advances in Intelligent and Soft Computing, vol 141. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-27948-5_75

Niinimäki K., Karell E. (2020) Closing the Loop: Intentional Fashion Design Defined by Recycling Technologies. In: Vignali G., Reid L., Ryding D., Henninger C. (eds) Technology-Driven Sustainability. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-15483-7_2

Paço, Arminda et al. “Fostering Sustainable Consumer Behavior Regarding Clothing: Assessing Trends On Purchases, Recycling And Disposal”. Textile Research Journal, 2020, p. 004051752094452. SAGE Publications, doi:10.1177/0040517520944524.

Whitson-Smith, Jade (2016) A dematerialised approach to fashion design. In: Circular Transitions, 23rd ­-24th November 2016, Tate Modern. (Unpublished). 

Global Manmade Cellulosic Fiber Production

Manmade cellulosic fibers are materials derived from plants (mostly wood) and processed into textile fibers. The classification of these fibers is tricky, as they are manmade but derived from natural materials. The distinction is often in the required chemical processing stage and treatment of the fibers.

Why does it matter? Manmade fibers have been increasing in variety, use and production volume as companies seek new value for their products. These hybrid natural-manmade materials such as viscose, modal, acetate, lyocell, etc., fill various niches of versatility, durability, look and comfort that consumers and designers alike desire.

These facts are important to consider as more manmade cellulosic fibers are being produced every year (Fig. 1). This represents a cost-benefit transition in fiber production—why are manmade fibers being made more and more?

Figure 1 (via TextileExchange, 2019)

As a starting point, viscose and other manmade cellulosic fibers may require less resources than polyester. Data from waterfootprint.org estimates that compared with cotton and viscose, the synthetic petroleum-based polyester had the highest water footprint; only surpassed by cases of conventional cotton farming in which toxic pesticides are used. In the same report, viscose was found to have the lowest average water footprint. The relative efficiency of resource use behind manmade cellulosic fibers is a key driver of the trend illustrated in fig. 1.

With sustainability and resource efficiency coming into an ever-brighter spotlight, the trade-offs behind production, consumption and future generations quality of life will be a paramount topic of global market conversation.

Are manmade cellulosic fibers an answer to future directions for the fashion industry or a steppingstone on the path?

Source(s):

Freitas, Alexandra et al. Water Footprint Assessment Of Polyester And Viscose And Comparison To Cotton. Water Footprint Network, 2017, https://waterfootprint.org/media/downloads/WFA_Polyester_and__Viscose_2017.pdf. Accessed 30 November 2020.

Periyasamy A.P., Militky J. (2020) Sustainability in Regenerated Textile Fibers. In: Muthu S.S., Gardetti M.A. (eds) Sustainability in the Textile and Apparel Industries. Sustainable Textiles: Production, Processing, Manufacturing & Chemistry. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-38013-7_4

“Preferred Textile And Materials: Market Report 2019”. Textileexchange.Org, 2019, https://textileexchange.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Textile-Exchange_Preferred-Fiber-Material-Market-Report_2019.pdf. Accessed 30 Nov 2020.

Rana S., Pichandi S., Parveen S., Fangueiro R. (2014) Regenerated Cellulosic Fibers and Their Implications on Sustainability. In: Muthu S. (eds) Roadmap to Sustainable Textiles and Clothing. Textile Science and Clothing Technology. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-287-065-0_8

Seisl S., Hengstmann R. (2021) Manmade Cellulosic Fibers (MMCF)—A Historical Introduction and Existing Solutions to a More Sustainable Production. In: Matthes A., Beyer K., Cebulla H., Arnold M.G., Schumann A. (eds) Sustainable Textile and Fashion Value Chains. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-22018-1_1

How Prepared was the Fashion Industry for COVID-19?

Short answer: blindsided.

Fashion has one of the most fragmented and geographically separated supply chains. Cotton fibers for a T-shirt could be grown in the United States, processed in Bangladesh, treated and dyed in India and then shipped to market in the U.K. We owe this supply chain thanks for our affordable and seemingly endless apparel choices. However as recent research2 has investigated, this model comes with looming environmental and human health consequences.

How prepared was the industry for a global catastrophe? A survey conducted by Ernst & Young in 2019 found just 20%1 of executives held confidence in their company’s ability to respond to a ‘large adverse risk’. Particularly for the fashion industry’s supply chain, this failure in foresight has hit companies hard. Due to COVID-19, 94% of companies1 in the Fortune 1000 experienced supply chain disruptions. 

These facts harp to a lack of planning for the future. Risk management, resiliency and flexibility are aspects of a successful business that will only become more important. To this end, digitization, dematerialization and big data analytics are tools that fashion companies can employ to be more resource efficient, communicate with suppliers and consumers, as well as maintain flexible operations.

Innovative tools that are available today could change the nature of consumption of resources within the fashion industry. With more adverse events on the horizon, the industry (and planet) needs all the solutions and help it can muster. Murphy’s law advises us on this resiliency. The atmosphere around the industry can seem hopeless at times, but innovation and brilliance are staples of human progress. 

“The barriers are not erected which can say to aspiring talents and industry, Thus far and no farther.” – Beethoven

How would you build a more resilient, sustainable industry?

Source(s):

1 McMaster, May et al. “Risk Management: Rethinking Fashion Supply Chain Management For Multinational Corporations In Light Of The COVID-19 Outbreak”. Journal Of Risk And Financial Management, vol 13, no. 8, 2020, p. 173. MDPI AG, doi:10.3390/jrfm13080173.

2 Niinimäki, Kirsi et al. “The Environmental Price Of Fast Fashion”. Nature Reviews Earth & Environment, vol 1, no. 4, 2020, pp. 189-200. Springer Science And Business Media LLC, doi:10.1038/s43017-020-0039-9.

Further reading:

Antomarioni S., Bevilacqua M., Ciarapica F.E., Marcucci G. (2019) Resilience in the Fashion Industry Supply Chain: State of the Art Literature Review. In: Rinaldi R., Bandinelli R. (eds) Business Models and ICT Technologies for the Fashion Supply Chain. IT4Fashion 2017. Lecture Notes in Electrical Engineering, vol 525. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-98038-6_8

Cleff T., van Driel G., Mildner LM., Walter N. (2018) Corporate Social Responsibility in the Fashion Industry: How Eco-Innovations Can Lead to a (More) Sustainable Business Model in the Fashion Industry. In: Horbach J., Reif C. (eds) New Developments in Eco-Innovation Research. Sustainability and Innovation. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-93019-0_12

(Very) Brief History of Fashion

A disclaimer: I am no historian, but I will do my best to recap important events that have brought the fashion industry to where it is today in a broad stroke.

Fashion has been a part of human culture for centuries. However, only recently has it adopted the model of fast-fashion and ready-made garments. Linked closely with slavery and the British industrial revolution, the modern model of ready-made garments began around the late 17th century with rudimentary second-hand shops.

Providing more supply to classes who could not afford tailoring their own clothes, these shops also built demand for choice, styles and ease. Much of the industry’s development can be tied to the cotton crop.

From (Linden, 2016)

Coupled with technological advances (cotton gin, power loom, sewing machine, etc.), slavery and increasing demand, the mid-1800s saw a boom in cotton trade, especially from the American south. Over 22% of Britain’s economy was cotton in 1831. Following this closely were factories and machine production in the late 1800s.

King cotton in the American south reduced the price of cotton further. Moving into the 1900s post-Civil War, the United States textile industry continued until World War II without drastic changes. Following the war, large retailers able to mass-produce cheap garments began to take over swaths of the market. Pursuing cost efficiencies, labor moved to regions with looser regulations providing an avenue for retailers to find cheap labor as global market connectivity increased.

Different markets, materials, and talent-sourcing are further reasons for supply chain relocation. Companies traded quality for speed-to-market and volume of trends, resulting in globally separated supply chains. As a consequence of this, we see the dominating fast fashion industry model today.

How do we bridge the gap between quality, cost and sustainable production?

Source(s):

Kang E.J. (2019) Dialectic of Fashion History in Modern Times. In: A Dialectical Journey through Fashion and Philosophy. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-15-0814-1_7

Linden, Annie Radner, “An Analysis of the Fast Fashion Industry” (2016). Senior Projects Fall 2016. 30. https://digitalcommons.bard.edu/senproj_f2016/30

McMaster, May et al. “Risk Management: Rethinking Fashion Supply Chain Management For Multinational Corporations In Light Of The COVID-19 Outbreak”. Journal Of Risk And Financial Management, vol 13, no. 8, 2020, p. 173. MDPI AG, doi:10.3390/jrfm13080173.

Okonkwo U. (2007) What’s in a name? The history of luxury fashion branding. In: Luxury Fashion Branding. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-0-230-59088-5_3

How Has the COVID-19 Pandemic Impacted Fashion in America?

The 2020 pandemic has rattled all facets of life. Emissions, retail consumption, toilet paper, as well as fashion. The incentives to stay in lockdown, social distance and financial difficulties contributed to stark declines in consumption rates early in the pandemic. Based off 2020 census data, a year-to-year comparison saw apparel and accessories sales drop 51% for the month of March and a whopping 89% in April of 2020 for Americans.

Due to the fashion industry’s massive retail presence, the decline in sales could be attributed to fewer storefront visits, less comfort in trialing clothes (fitting rooms, contact) and generally less traffic as more consumers stay at home. The question then arises; are these trends solely pandemic-induced or reflective of conscious change in consumer attitudes?

Dissecting the motivations behind observable trends is important to understand market directions as well as opportunities for improvement within the fashion industry. According to Cotton Incorporated 2020 Spring Coronavirus Response Survey 65% of consumers have become more concerned about sustainability issues (Fig. 1).





Figure 1 from https://lifestylemonitor.cottoninc.com/meeting-new-demands/

The trends in sentiment for environmental issues is a positive sign. The gap between consumer attitudes and behavior will be more challenging to bridge. As demonstrated by the figure the majority of consumers surveyed morally align with sustainable practices—however just 35% purchase sustainably made, circular or environmentally friendly products.

Where do opportunities lie for innovation? How would you incentivize a shift towards sustainable practice(s) within the fashion industry?

Source(s):

“ADVANCE MONTHLY SALES FOR RETAIL AND FOOD SERVICES, MARCH 2020”. Www2.Census.Gov, 2020, https://www2.census.gov/retail/releases/historical/marts/adv2003.pdf.

Ganguly A., Chatterjee D., Rao H. (2018) The Role of Resiliency in Managing Supply Chains Disruptions. In: Khojasteh Y. (eds) Supply Chain Risk Management. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-4106-8_14

“Sustainability During A Pandemic”. Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor, 2020, https://lifestylemonitor.cottoninc.com/meeting-new-demands/.

Sweet D.S. et al. (2014) Sustainability Awareness and Expertise: Structuring the Cognitive Processes for Solving Wicked Problems and Achieving an Adaptive-State. In: Linkov I. (eds) Sustainable Cities and Military Installations. NATO Science for Peace and Security Series C: Environmental Security. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-7161-1_5