The COVID-19 pandemic has made us re-assess our approach towards everything in life, especially fashion. The fashion industry has grown to be one of the most natural resource guzzling and polluting sectors, the COVID-19 crisis has spurred a change in people’s mindsets about ‘Sustainable Fashion’, a trend that had been slowly gathering pace among brands and consumers. Consumers are questioning their choices and its impact on the environment thus paving the way for a conscious effort to adopt a sustainable lifestyle. 

Consumer habits are changing, and brands are taking notice. The year 2020 if nothing else has ushered in what we believe a new era within the fashion industry where sustainability will take center stage. The pandemic made it clear that efforts to minimize impact on environment needs to be a brand’s focus. What were corner whispers in pre-COVID era has now become mainstream conversation as consumers are starkly aware of the damage done by fast fashion and depleting resources. 

The findings of a recent survey by McKinsey Sentiment towards Sustainability published in 2020 reveals that consumer sentiment across Europe is strongly tilted towards sustainability.  Of consumers surveyed by McKinsey, 57 percent have made significant changes to their lifestyles to lessen their environmental impact, and more than 60 percent report going out of their way to recycle and purchase products in environmentally friendly packaging. The study findings reveal that consumers are strongly considering sustainable materials as an important purchasing factor. Consumers now want to know who made the product, who is going to be benefitted from the product along with the origin, materials, and history of the product. In such a scenario, traceability becomes very substantial.

While, the change in consumer behavior is quite noticeable, similar changes need to be embraced by the industry as well. Globally, brands are proactively embracing sustainable alternatives to create their products, this trend is only seeing an upward growth in India across categories. 

The fashion industry has always been known to cause major pollution in terms of landfills and release of tonnes of plastic microfibres into the ocean. According to a 2017 report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, even before the pandemic, the global apparel industry was producing about 92 million tons of textile waste a year. 

The World Wildlife Fund recently shared that the textile industry annually emits 1.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide that is pumped into the air we breathe. Roughly 20,000 liters of water is needed to produce a kilo of cotton – the equivalent of a single pair of jeans – cotton can be found in nearly 40% of all clothing manufactured each year. Additionally, 85% of the world’s textiles end up in dumps annually where many of the synthetic materials cannot degrade. Other fabrics either release enormous amounts of micro-plastics into the ocean or rely heavily on animal leather. 

COVID-19 has only made this worse. The obvious environmental impact is already making ‘sustainability’ a top priority for the industry.

The textile and apparel industry currently re-looking at strategies to navigate the on-going pandemic. The environment changing consumer sentiment and business impact on the environment should be a key consideration for businesses. 

Started as a niche but vital part of apparel industry, sustainability is no longer a buzzword. It was quickly embraced by conscious industry experts and leading designers and fashion weeks , hence setting the right trend for the future. 

More & more brands and organizations are including sustainability goals as part of the commercial targets thus leading to an important economic transformation, the next step to which will be to deep diving into the processes to realize this. Sustainability has been an intrinsic part of our core strategy and in 2019 Lenzing announced that by 2030, it aims to reduce its specific CO2 emissions per ton of manufactured pulp and fibers by 50 percent. This is a huge undertaking. Leading global apparel brands such as M&S, Inditex, H&M etc have undertaken targets to shift towards more sustainable products and supply chain. M& S recently undertook science-based targets that include taking a pledge where by 2025 a quarter of their clothing and home products will be made using 25% recycled materials.     

While embracing more sustainable production and consumption patterns, the industry will also need to be mindful about managing value chains more effectively, identify and address labour and human rights violations and environmental impacts, combat counterfeits, and handle reputational risks. As part of this improving transparency and traceability needs to become a priority for the industry.  

According to a 2019 U.S. sustainability survey by Statista, less than half of Americans believe that global environmental problems can be solved by developing and implementing new technologies. Innovative technologies can help businesses neutralize their carbon footprint and also help create a trickle-down effect that makes these efforts even more impactful.

Among the innovations that have taken place in the space of sustainable fashion, one of the most crucial one is traceability. Traceability allows to trace the true sources of the end-product. It conveys the source location of the product at each step of the production process and at the same time the impacts the product is having on the environment and people around. Last year three sustainability pioneers in the fashion industry in 2020 – Lenzing, Armed Angels and Schneider – joined hands with TextileGenesis™ to create an unprecedented level of traceability. Adopting ‘first of a kind’ blockchain-enabled traceability for its fibers specially TENCEL™ and LENZING™ ECOVERO™ fibers makes them the most sustainable viscose.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a defining moment for the journey of sustainable fashion. The future of fashion has already taken its roots in sustainability. The question that needs to be answered now is how to take it to every conscious consumer.

BY: Avinash Mane,

Commercial Head – South Asia and Middle East, LENZING AG.